Army Report Card: Ball State

The Ball State Cardinals defeated the Army Black Knights 30-22 at Michie Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning threw for two touchdowns and the Cardinals jumped out to an early 14-0 first quarter lead. Army battled back twice to within a touchdown but never could get its running game completely untracked.

The Ball State Cardinals defeated the Army Black Knights 30-22 at Michie Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning threw for two touchdowns and the Cardinals jumped out to an early 14-0 first quarter lead. Army battled back twice to within a touchdown but never could get its running game completely untracked. Running back Jahwan Edwards rushed for 148 yards as the Cardinals improved to 6-3. The loss dropped the Black Knights record to 1-7.

PASSING OFFENSE: C
Quarterback Trent Steelman completed 3-of-5 passes for 38 yards. Chevaughn Lawrence caught two passes for 22 yards. Lawrence also drew a pass interference penalty. Steelman zipped a nice seam pass to Stephen Fraser for 16 yards on the final drive. Fraser took a big hit but held on to the ball. This is a play Air Force often uses in their passing game and I believe offensive coordinator Ian Shields should incorporate it more often. Shields called a running back option pass on the last series. Malcolm Brown's wobbly pass initially found the hands of wide receiver Patrick Laird for an apparent touchdown. The television announcers said it was a drop but when looking at the tape the Ball State defender reached in and swatted the ball as Laird was attempting to secure the catch. The offensive line allowed no sacks and gave Steelman time when he threw the ball. Considering how Ball state was playing a three man front and would fire their linebackers, I thought Ian Shields could have been more aggressive throwing the ball.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C+
The Black Knights rushed for 341 yards, averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. Those numbers aren't bad in the abstract but to be honest Army failed to finish. After the defense stabilized the game with a turnover and an interception all the offense produced in the second and third quarters were two field goals. Trent Steelman (17 rushes, 101 yards) missed a few reads but generally did a solid job distributing the ball. Ball State used a three man front defense with two outside linebackers on the outside of the tackles to take away the pitch. Trent made a nice fake on his 35-yard run to set up Army's final touchdown. Raymond Maples (11 rushes for 45 yards) was limited by this defensive scheme. He gained most of his yards on the quick hitting counter Shields uses which went for 23 yards

Larry Dixon (4 rushes for 8 yards) started at fullback but left the game for a while and was replaced by Hayden Tippett. Hayden ran 20 times for 100 yards. Tippett's bull in a china shop running style was highlighted on the first Army touchdown drive. He opened that drive with a 26-yard run. Tippett finished the drive by bowling over J.C. Wade to score on a 7-yard touchdown run. Tippett's fumble ended a promising drive just before the end of the first half.

Malcolm Brown (6 rushes, 44 yards, 1 TD) limped off the field early in the game but returned to score on a 15-yard touchdown run. Trenton Turrentine (4 rushes, 43 yards) demonstrated his physical downhill running style and his mediocre perimeter blocking when he played.

PASSING DEFENSE: D
Ball State's head coach Pete Lembo has a very prolific passing offense. Army did a decent job on paper allowing just 189 passing yards but they struggled matching up with the Ball State receivers speed. While this was only the second game Keith Wenning threw for under 200 passing yards this season, he did throw for two touchdowns.

Wenning was very proficient and was just a few inches away from making some big plays deep. Alex Meier (10 tackles, 1 sack) played his best game as a Black Knight. The plebe, who was the defensive MVP at USMAPS, last year as a safety looks more comfortable in his new Rover role. Meier had a sack to stop a drive and force a long field goal. Later he hit Wenning on a blitz as he was throwing the ball and forced the ball to flutter which was intercepted by Justin Trimble (2 tackles, 1 interception). Meier's hit was a big play because it likely would have been a touchdown pass as the Army cornerback Marques Avery (2 tackles) was beaten on the play with a double move. Avery had a rough game. He had trouble covering the lighting quick Jamill Smith. Avery hesitated on The Opening drive and gave up inside leverage on Smith's six yard touchdown pass. Avery later had decent coverage but was beat by a nice throw for a 13 yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone. Avery did make a nice tackle in the flat against the tight end to prevent a touchdown. Chris Carnegie (7 tackles, 1 pass def.) had his share of trouble with wide receiver Willie Snead on the other side. Carnegie has good feet but often takes poor angles and tackles too high.

RUSHING DEFENSE: D
The Black Knights allowed 224 rushing yards and one touchdown on the ground. Army had trouble with Ball State's zone option running attack. Often the Black Knights initially held the point but were unable to get off their blocks to make a tackle. Edwards often just stopped and waited for a running lane to open. Mike linebacker Geoff Bacon (11 tackles) plays hard and flies around but is missing too many tackles. Jarrett Mackey made 13 tackles but the truth is he is playing on one leg after his knee surgery. He is physically not the same player he was in 2010 and has no lateral quickness. Army was pushed around physically up front but did hold the Ball State offense below their yearly average. At defensive end Zach Watts made eight tackles while inside Bobby Kough led with six tackles although none were for a loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Field goal kicker Dan Grochowski hit two of three attempts. He nailed a 45-yard field goal and hit a 24-yard attempt from a tough angle. Dan's wide left miss on a 43 yard attempt late in the fourth quarter ended the Black Knight's hopes. Punter Chris Boldt averaged 39.5 yards on four punts. Eric Osteen had three touchbacks on his five kickoffs. Jamill Smith scared the Black Knights on two returns but overall the coverage teams were solid. Kick returner Julian Crockett averaged 20.6 yards on his five kickoff returns. Crockett has some quickness to make the first man miss but lacks a high end gear.

COACHING: C
Give some credit to Chris Smeland and Payam Sadaat for settling down the defense after falling behind 14-0. They had some success blitzing rover Alex Meier off the edge. This defense lacks size, talent and experience so holding Ball State below their season average was an accomplishment.

On offense Ian Shields had a solid day calling plays but I would have threatened Ball State's 111th ranked passing defense more. Rich Ellerson continues to be aggressive going for it on fourth down even in his own territory.

OVERALL GRADE: C
Army's defense lacks talent up front and is inexperienced in the secondary but after struggling early they settled down and gave the offense a chance. I believe this loss was on the offense as much as the defense. The defense gave up 30 points but that was to the 19th ranked offense in the country. For comparison Clemson allowed 27 points against Ball State. They've scored over 37 four times this year. The second and third quarters the offense put up just two field goals. I was disappointed more in the offense's performance. Army had a chance to win but didn't make it happen.

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