Key matchups: Army vs. Ball State

The second game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 128, 1-0) and the Mid-American Conference West, Ball State Cardinals (Sagarin 87, 1-0). The all-time series is tied 2-2, but Ball State has won the past two meetings. Last year, the Cardinals beat the Black Knights 30-22 at Michie Stadium.

Background
The second game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 128, 1-0) and the Mid-American Conference West, Ball State Cardinals (Sagarin 87, 1-0). The all-time series is tied 2-2, but Ball State has won the past two meetings. Last year, the Cardinals beat the Black Knights 30-22 at Michie Stadium. This is a big game for these teams as the both are trying to start 2-0. Army has not started the season with two victories since 1996, when the Cadets finished 10-2. Any Army victory would provide huge momentum for the Black Knights as they host top-ten powerhouse Stanford the following weekend.

Last Week
Last Friday night at Michie, Army scored on their first 3 possessions and opened up a 21-0 lead. The Bears were able to move the ball consistently, but numerous first half errors and the Army Defense handily contained them and Army coasted to a 28-12 win.

Angel Santiago, in his second start, ran 16 times for 120 yards and he scored three touchdowns; he was also 4/8 for 101 yards and one touchdown.

Larry Dixon ran for 107 yards on 12 carries. Hayden Tippet and Raymond Maples were also effective when they carried the ball. Junior Chevaughn Lawrence caught two passes for 26 yards and a touchdown and freshman Xavier Moss caught two passes for 75 yards.

The offense opened the game with three passes on their first drive. Angel Santiago showed that he has developed some touch as he looked terrific completing two of the throws for 32 yards. It appears Santiago's throwing technique has been thoroughly revamped and coached up since we last saw him in action. He looked nothing like the QB who could barely throw the ball 10 yards downfield against Rutgers two seasons ago. His passes were crisp, his spirals were tight, his release was quick, and his decisions were outstanding. Lawrence and Moss are tall and looked fast against the Morgan State defenders. The threat of the pass opened up the run, and Santiago scampered 33 yards on an option keeper for the opening score.

The passing threat also allowed Army to blow over the Bears' Defense on the second drive as Maples, Dixon, Baggett and Santiago all had runs.

Patrick Laird forced a fumble on a botched punt attempt on the following drive. On the second play of the ensuing drive, Santiago hit Lawrence on a fade pass to the end zone for the score. This was probably the best throw that we have seen from an Army quarterback since Ronnie McAda was at the helm. Army fans all over the world were stunned in their joy to see such a display.

Army was held on their final drive of the half at the goal line after marching 76 yards on 8 plays.

We were hoping to see A.J. Schurr in the second half, but instead we were given a very conservative version of the option. Army held their two touchdown advantage and finished winners.

On defense, Army allowed 301 yards. Freshman Lamont Brown rushed for 75 yards on 19 attempts. He often made it past the line of scrimmage, but was met by an Army linebacker or safety within three or four yards.

The two Morgan State quarterbacks, Robert Council and Seth Higgins were 6 of 10 for 116 yards. However, Army did a very good job pressuring the two as they had three sacks and they rarely allowed the quarterbacks ample time to look for second and third receivers. The coverage was terrific and Army was only beat downfield a couple of times.

The standout on the day was Geoffery Bacon, who has moved to safety. He had nine solo tackles and assisted on another seven. He is only a junior, but if he plays like this each week, he certainly will be considered for several individual awards at the end of the season.

Overall, the team was better prepared for their opening game than at any other time during the Rich Ellerson era. Santiago was a very pleasant surprise as he looked fast and he threw the ball very well. The offensive line looked good and the receivers added a new dimension to this offense. While Santiago has worked on this throwing ability, we would really like to see him pitch the ball. He seems, as he has in the past, reluctant to give the ball up when the play calls for him to make a read and a decision. I would imagine Ball State will key on this from the very first play this coming Saturday.

The defense looked like the defense should. They applied pressure and they did not allow any game breaking runs. But they did allow Morgan State to hold the ball for 35 minutes. We felt that Morgan State would try to follow their big line and run over Army. They did not fully succeed, but they did gain 14 first downs, and they had plenty of success running between the tackles once they stopped committing penalties. After only one game, we don't know if Army will be able to contain FBS teams in the same manner. Watching other MEAC games over the weekend, we do not feel that Morgan State will lose more games than they will win this year. They are probably going to be one the larger teams that Army sees this year, but they are an FCS team and we don't know if this translates into a similar performance against Ball State. Is Army this much improved, or was Morgan State just a patsy? And if it was the latter, then there is reason to be alarmed that Army did not win the game more easily. However, the hot and extremely humid conditions last Friday led to dehydration and cramping issues for both teams. It is not that surprising that the second half was played at a far lower energy level than the first, and that may have kept the game from turning into a true blowout.

In Muncie, Ind., Keith Wenning passed for three touchdowns and ran for two and Ball State defeated FCS play-off team Illinois State 51-28. Wenning was 24 of 40 for 340 yards and his principle receiver was Willie Snead, who caught two TD passes and finished with nine catches for 164 yards.

Illinois State jumped on Ball State and led 21-9. In the second half, the Ball State defense stiffened and the offense came alive; scoring five touchdowns on six drives and they cruised to an easy victory.

Ball State gained 420 yards, only 80 of them were on the ground on 32 attempts. Illinois State only gained 74 yards on 36 rushing attempts.

Who is favored?
Ball State is favored by 7 points.

What to look for?

This is going to be a very interesting game. Ball State is a pass oriented team. While they will rush to keep the defense honest, their strength is in the passing game, led by senior quarterback Keith Wenning. They do not appear to have the personnel to run consistently between the tackles and hurt Army in what remains their most glaring weakness – the very middle of the defensive line, where there are still not enough big bodies to effectively stuff a power running attack.

We think that Army's defense will be much improved and the offense will be effective. However, Army has not won a road game in two years (0-12). Although Army was surprisingly mistake free in their first game, during this road losing streak they have found every which way possible to lose their composure and take themselves out of these games early with mostly unforced errors. For Army to have a chance in this game they absolutely must avoid the bad start – early penalties and turnovers, scores by Ball State on their first few possessions, etc. and the contest will be decided quickly. Getting off to a good start, asking Santiago to play a near perfect game in his third career start and asking the young secondary to contain Wenning is probably just too much to ask.

We think that the new and improved Army team will play close to error free and stay in the game, but most likely will fall a little short.

Final Score – Ball State 38 – Army 28 (predictions in 2013, 1-0)

Game will be shown on ESPN3.

InsideArmySports.com Top Stories