HEAD TO HEAD: ARMY VS. BALL STATE

Army visits Ball State on Saturday. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. We also make a prediction on the game's final score.

The Army Black Knights travel to Muncie, Indiana to face the Ball State Cardinals of the MAC conference this Saturday. Army won their home opener 28-12 over the Morgan State Bears. Ball State fell behind Illinois State 21-9 last Saturday but the Cardinals used their high powered passing game to rip off 42 unanswered points to cruise to a 51-28 victory. Ball State beat Army 30-22 at Michie Stadium last year.

ARMY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
BALL STATE PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: Ball State
REMARKS: New quarterback Angel Santiago made some nice throws in the passing game last Friday. Santiago completed 4-of-8 for 101 passing yards and a touchdown. Santiago threw two of the prettiest passes seen from an Army quarterback in years. In the second quarter he hit receiver Chevaughn Lawrence with a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown. Later in the first half he hit exciting plebe wide receiver Xavier Moss in stride for a 51-yard completion. Last year Ball State's defense often chose to fire their linebackers and cornerbacks to take away the pitch back. If Santiago can throw the ball as accurately as he did in the opener he can make them pay this game. Army's offensive line allowed two sacks due to blown assignments and need to tighten up their pass protection.

Ball State recorded two sacks against Illinois State. Ohio State transfer senior Jonathan Newsome led the Cardinals with 8 ½ sacks last season. Newsome is a force at defensive end coming off the edge rushing the quarterback. He teamed up with new linebacker Ben Ingle for a sack in the opener. The Cardinals have struggled the past few years in pass coverage in the wide opening MAC conference. They were ranked 93rd in the country in pass defense in 2012. Junior cornerback Eric Paterson is the best in the defensive backfield. He had two interceptions, 61 tackles, nine passes defensed and forced a fumble last year. He earned third team MAC All-Conference honors. Junior safety Brian Jones had a busy night against Illinois State as he led the team with ten tackles.

ARMY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
BALL STATE RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: Army
REMARKS: Last Friday the Black Knights rushed for 295 yards, averaged seven yards per carry and new starting quarterback Aaron Santiago scored all three touchdowns. Santiago did a nice job managing the game as he ran 16 times for 120 yards and avoided any turnovers. B-back Larry Dixon (839 yards, 6 TDs in 2012) ran for 107 yards on twelve carries against Morgan State before leaving the game after being shaken up in the fourth quarter. Dixon was full steam at practice this week and will start. Senior running back Raymond Maples (1,215 yards, 2 TDs in 2012) and junior Terry Baggett didn't have many carries in the opener. Last year Raymond Maples had a similarly uneventful day (11 attempts for 45 yards) against Ball State because the Cardinals employed a defensive scheme to take away the pitch back.

In last year's game Ball State used a three man defensive front with two outside linebackers lined up outside the tackles to take away the pitch back and force the game between the tackles. The Black Knights still rushed for 341 yards, averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns but failed to finish a number of drives. The Cardinals limited Illinois State to just 74 rushing yards on 36 carries in their opening game. Ball State returns three starters on the defensive line. Senior defensive tackle Nathan Ollie (51 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 4 sacks in 2012) been named to All MAC teams in each of the past two seasons. He had a career high nine tackles against Army in 2012. Ball State had to replace their entire starting linebacking corps. Army fans will get a chance to see what might have been when they watch big Joel Cox (6-1, 288) operate at nose guard for the Cardinals. In 2010 Joel Cox was Rich Ellerson's top defensive line recruit after being named Indiana's Mr. Football for defensive linemen his senior season. Cox was expected to be a 2010 direct admit and the likely heir apparent to Mike Gann at nose tackle but was medically disqualified and signed with the Cardinals.

BALL STATE RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: Ball State
REMARKS: In 2012 Ball State was ranked 28th in the nation in rushing as they averaged over 203 rushing yards a game. Jahwan Edwards led the Cardinals in rushing with 1,410 rushing yards on 232 carries and he scored 14 touchdowns. Edwards averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Edwards is a big back (225 pounds) with speed. Sophomore Horactio Banks (586 yards in 2012) is a quick, change-of-pace running back who also sees playing time. Army has had trouble with Ball State's zone read running attack since Lembo was named head coach. Ball State had to rebuild their offensive line this spring as they returned just one starter from last year. The only returning starter is guard Jordan Hansel (6-4, 326), a two-time all-conference selection, who missed the opener with a knee issue. Hansel is questionable for Saturday's game. Quarterback Keith Wenning is basically a pocket passer despite rushing for two short touchdowns against Illinois State.

The Black Knights allowed 224 rushing yards and one touchdown on the ground against Ball State at Michie Stadium last year. Army often initially held the point of attack but were unable to get off their blocks to make a tackle. Edwards at times just stopped and waited for a running lane to open. Army has experienced difficulties matching up with the big physical offensive lines from the MAC conference the last few years. The Black Knights run defense was pushed around by Morgan State's big offensive line in the opener. The defensive line was often pushed back as tackles were made five yards down the field. The good news for the Black Knights is that the Cardinals new offensive line is inexperienced and had problems without Hansel and struggled establishing the run in the opener against an FCS opponent. Ball State ran the ball 32 times for just 80 net yards against Illinois State's defensive front which other than their nose tackle is similar in size to the Black Knights. Based on recent history, and Army's performance against Morgan State, you have to give the edge to Ball State's running game.

If Jordan Hansel doesn't play this match-up could be more competitive than the last two seasons. However, the Black Knights have to start shedding blocks more effectively or we'll probably see a repeat performance by the Cardinals.

BALL STATE PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: Ball State
REMARKS: Head coach Pete Lembo's no-huddle, pass-first offensive scheme is explosive. They had a slow start falling behind against Illinois State and then ripped off 42 unanswered points. Senior quarterback Keith Wenning hit seven different receivers as he threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns. Wenning completed 301 of 460 passes (65.4%) for 3,095 yards with 24 touchdowns against 10 interceptions last season. His favorite target is junior Willie Snead (89 rec., 1148 yards, 12.9 AVG, 9 TDs in 2012). He caught nine passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns against Illinois State. Speedy Jamill Smith (69 rec, 706 yards, 10.2 avg, 6 TDs in 2012) is a tiny 5-8, 140 pound run and shoot type of receiver who had a touchdown reception on the opening drive of last year's game at West Point. Tight end Zane Fakes earned First team MAC All-conference honors last season. He caught 57 passes for 461 yards and five scores. The Cardinals deep passing game offers other weapons like senior receiver Connor Ryan (44 for 357 in 2012), sophomore big play threat KeVonn Mabon (23 for 355 in 2012) who caught a touchdown pass in last year's game at West Point and sophomore Jordan Williamson who had a touchdown reception in the opening game. The past two games Wenning has completed 73.7 percent of his passes and thrown five touchdown passes against Army. The Black Knights did a decent job on paper in 2012 as they allowed just 189 passing yards but they struggled matching up with the Ball State's speed at wide receiver.

The Army pass defense allowed Morgan State's quarterbacks to complete 6-of-10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. The Black Knights best defense against the pass was their ability to generate pass rush pressure. They had three sacks versus MSU and should have had at least two more. Army will have to rely on similar pressure against Wenning if they hope to pull the upset on the road. Ball State's rebuilt offensive line had some protection breakdowns in the opener as they allowed three sacks. Army should benefit from welcoming back starting cornerback Chris Carnegie (49 tackles, 3 PD in 2012) and moving Hayden Pierce back to SAM safety. Geoffrey Bacon was a force as he made a career high 16 tackles in his first start at free safety.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: Ball State
REMARKS: Ball State lost their All-MAC kicker Steven Schott and punter Scott Kovander to graduation. The new kicker Scott Secor struggled a bit in the opener. He missed an extra point and hit one of two field goals against Illinois State. New punter Kyle Schmidt had a great first game as he averaged 46.7 yards on three punts. He placed two punts inside the twenty yard line. BSU's coverage units have improved under Lembo. They do a good job covering kicks unless Kent State's amazing Dri Archer is returning them. The Cardinals can create big plays of their own in the return game with speedy Jamill Smith. He averaged 25.58 yards per kickoff return and led the MAC in punt returns averaging 13.82 per return in 2012. In the opener Smith just missed scoring a touchdown when he ripped off a 90-yard kickoff return.

The Black Knights did a nice job on special teams against Morgan State. Lawrence Scott used his speed to create pressure off the edge and helped force a turnover. New punter Alex Tardieu averaged 38.7 yards on three punts with good hang time and saw none of his punts returned. Head coach Rich Ellerson expressed some concern about the punt coverage team getting down the field fast enough last Friday. Army kicker Dan Grochowski had a touchback and hit all of his extra point attempts. Senior kick returner Julian Crockett had two kickoff returns for 39 yards. Crockett tweaked his hamstring in practice this week and his status for the game is currently questionable. Larry Dixon returned one kickoff 21-yards and will probably handle the bulk of the returns if Crockett can't go. New freshman punt returner Jalen Noble needs to at least fair catch the ball instead of allowing everything to bounce in front of him.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: Ball State
REMARKS: Ball State is at home and should have plenty of confidence since they handled Army rather easily the past two years. Army has lost its last eight games against MAC conference opponents and haven't won a game away from Michie Stadium since the 2010 Armed Forces Bowl. This is a pivotal game as the Black Knights head into the most difficult portion of their schedule.

COACHING
EDGE: Ball State
REMARKS: This is Pete Lembo's third season in the FBS after spending nearly 20 years in the FCS and lower. He led Ball State to a bowl and a 9-4 record in 2012. Lembo has a tremendous (95-46) career record and has won everywhere he's been a head coach. He is an offensive genius who's had tremendous success turning around programs at Lehigh, Elon and now Ball State with his no huddle, hurry up passing system. Lembo has overwhelmed the Army's flex defense as the Cardinals have averaged 39 points per game the past two years. He's used max protection to limit the Black Knights pass rush pressure in those contests. Army's only pass rushing success came from rover Alex Meier blitzing last year. Ball State's quarterback Keith Wenning has had plenty of time to pick apart Army's secondary.

Rich Ellerson had his team ready to play the opening game unlike the past two seasons. The offense played a clean game with no penalties or turnovers. It's the first time that has happened since the Black Knights beat SMU in the 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Army defensive coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland saw their defensive line pushed around in the running game last week but they were generally sound. They have to use stunts and twists on the defensive line to create pressure against Ball State's young inexperienced offensive line that allowed three sacks last game. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields should feel more confident in the ability to stretch the field with the passing game. The last two years Ball State focused on taking away the pitch back and often fired their linebacker and cornerbacks on run blitzes. If Santiago throws the ball like he did in the first half against Morgan State he can make them pay.

PREDICTION: Ball State, 38-24. Army's defense has struggled against Ball State's offense high tempo attack and team speed. Ball State did lose almost all their starting offensive linemen and had to replace all of their linebackers. That should benefit Army's ability in two key areas to create pressure on defense with their flex front and run the ball on offense. Army has struggled away from home. They have lost their last thirteen games played away from Michie Stadium. I do not believe the Black Knights defense will be able to consistently slow down the Cardinals explosive offense.

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