The Ball State Cardinals defeated the Army Black Knights 40-14 at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana on Saturday afternoon. Army fullback Larry Dixon ripped off a 71-yard touchdown run on the game's third play to give the Black Knights an early 7-0 lead. Ball State (2-0) responded with 37 unanswered points as they dominated the rest of the game. The Black Knights (1-1) were plagued by an inconsistent offense, an inability to finish drives, a defense that couldn't cope with the Ball State's passing attack and special team's meltdowns.
PASSING OFFENSE: D
So much for Army new and improved passing attack. The Black Knight quarterbacks completed just 7-of-20 passes for 76 yards with an interception. Starting quarterback Angel Santiago completed just 3 of his 11 pass attempts. Xavier Moss (2 rec. for 10 yards) dropped two passes. Moss had a key drop on second-and-13 which ended Army's third drive when the Black Knights needed to answer the Cardinals. Ball State's Brian Jones made an excellent play to break up a pass attempt up the seam to Raymond Maples. Santiago's only passing success came in the two minute drill before the end of the first half and that ended with a mental mistake. Chevaughn Lawrence caught an 18-yard pass that could have been a big play but he lacks speed and was run down from behind by Avery Bailey. Angel hit Raymond Maples over the middle with a short pass and Maples burst up the field for a 27-yard gain that put Army in field goal range. After Santiago spiked the ball with 13 seconds left, he did the one thing he couldn't do as he took a sack that cost Army a field goal try. On Santiago's first pass attempt of the second half he fumbled the snap and had to throw the ball away on third down. Santiago's last pass was intercepted as he threw into coverage when he had Raymond Maples wide open underneath. A.J. Schurr completed 4-of-8 passes for 27 passing yards late in the fourth quarter in garbage time. Army's offensive line had pass protection breakdowns and allowed two sacks.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D
The Black Knights rushed for 363 yards, averaged 5.7 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. Those numbers, for the second year in a row against Ball State, aren't bad in the abstract but Army failed to maintain drives and finish. When the Black Knights had a chance to answer in the first half the offense produced just 78 total yards on four drives. They punted three times and Angel Santiago fumbled and lost a mesh handoff.
Angel Santiago (15 att., 37 yards) struggled running the option outside the tackles. He missed a few pitch keys and at times pitched too early. Ball State used a three man front defense with two outside linebackers on the outside of the tackles to limit the pitch. Raymond Maples (12 attempts for 84 yards) ran hard and was productive when called on. Terry Baggett (5 att., 32 yards) showed his speed on two long runs but had one nullified by a Justin Gilbert illegal block penalty.
Larry Dixon showed his improved speed on his 71-yard touchdown run. His stats look better than they were as he scored both of Army's touchdowns (13 att., 113 yards) but the Black Knights interior offensive line struggled against Ball State's nose tackles Nathan Ollie (8 tackles) and Joel Cox (5 tackles) in establishing the fullback and the mid-line option. Back up B-back Hayden Tippett ran six times for 27 yards. Trenton Turrentine (6att., 26 yards) had a nice kick out block when he was able to chip the Ball State defender in space on Maples 22 yard run. A.J. Schurr (5 atts, 41 yards) showed some quickness on a 31-yard run after he relieved Santiago. It's hard to give a team that rushed for 363 yards a "D" grade but the offense wasn't able to string together many drives or take much pressure of its beleaguered defense when the game was in question.
PASSING DEFENSE: F
Ball State's has a very prolific passing offense. Army was unable to match up with Ball State's speed and looked un-athletic upfront as they failed to generate any pressure without blitzing early in the game. Keith Wenning played pitch and catch with his receivers as he completed 23-of-32 for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Cornerback Josh Jenkins (5 tackles, 2 pass defensed) was the only defensive back to make any plays on the ball. He too had his struggles. He was beat on a 34-yard completion to KeVonn Mahon on a fade route after initially biting on play action and failed to make a few initial tackles. Chris Carnegie (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) played with a big cushion and was thrown in front of all day. SAM safety Shaquille Tolbert (7 tackles) had a brutal game in coverage. With Ball State's spread passing formation he was often matched up with speedy Jamill Smith and he couldn't run with him. Smith beat him for a touchdown and had a 39-yard reception, which would have been a touchdown if it wasn't under thrown that set up another score. Tolbert was late twice covering tight end Zane Fakes on drag routes near the end zone. The first time Fakes dropped the ball. On the second he caught an 11-yard touchdown. Tolbert also was beat badly deep by Smith another time but Wenning overthrew him. Hayden Pierce (4 tackles) was overmatched when forced to match up against Ball State's Willie Snead early in the game. Free safety Geoffrey Bacon had a quiet game (4 tackles) as Ball State focused on quick patterns in front of the cornerbacks. Army brought some pressure in the second quarter to upset Wenning's rhythm for a few series but in the two minute drill he marched them right down the field for a back breaking touchdown before the end of the first half. Quick end Dalton Mendenhall is not generating any pass rush pressure.
RUSHING DEFENSE: C-
The Black Knights allowed 115 rushing yards, 3.4 yards per carry and two touchdowns on the ground. Army had some trouble with Ball State's zone option running attack but they actually made a few stands. When Ball State tried to establish the run in the second quarter they had two consecutive three and out series. Ball State's longest run was just 18 yards. If you look at the series after Angel Santiago's fumble the defense held them to a field goal because they tried to run the ball exclusively. Thomas Holloway led the Black Knights with 11 tackles. Alex Meier (7 tackles), Julian Holloway (3 tackles) and Marcus Polling (2 tackles) all saw time at Mike linebacker. Polling had a nice series when he showed good speed making two consecutive tackles on a rare three and out series. Holloway forced an incompletion and was credited with a quarterback hurry on a blitz. Jarrett Mackey (7 tackles) started at Whip linebacker and forced a fumble. Defensive tackle Joe Drummond (4 tackles) did a solid job against the run. The play of the nose tackles was better against the run than it was in the opener. Defensive end Malcolm Hudson (3 tackles) is making a lot more plays on fewer snaps than starter Dalton Mendenhall (1 tackle) who has been slow getting off blocks despite having good speed. I wouldn't be surprised to see Hudson start to get more reps.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F
Simply a disaster. Kicker Dan Grochowski pushed his only attempt wide right on a 33-yard field goal try. The try didn't have much of a chance after the snap was low. Holder A.J. Schurr did a nice job getting the ball down but the timing was off. Grochowski had a touchback in three kickoffs. The opening "pooch" kickoff just gave Ball State a short field 60 yard field to drive for their first touchdown. Punter Alex Tardieu averaged 35.6 yards on five punts. He shanked a directional punt off the side of his foot that traveled just 13 yards which killed his average. On the other four he punted pretty well as dangerous Jamill Smith returned just one punt three yards. Julian Holloway made a nice tackle on Smith. Kickoff returns were a disaster. Stephen Fraser (2 for 30 yards) fumbled a second half return after being nailed which led to an easy Ball State touchdown. Larry Dixon (4 for 71) dropped one kick off.
Stephen Riccardi (1 tackle) made a dumb late hit on Jamill Smith out of bounds and the penalty which helped set up a Ball State field goal. Tony Giovanelli and Matt Gianchinta both were flagged for penalties blocking on kick returns.
Rich Ellerson continues to field a team that is not competitive away from Michie Stadium. I tend to be one who holds players more accountable than their coaches on certain mistakes. The numerous breakdowns, poor fundamentals and eight penalties showed a team that was not ready for the challenge it faced on Saturday. I was disappointed defensive coordinators Chris Smeland and Payam Sadaat didn't look to put more pressure on Keith Wenning right out of the box. They had some limited success with it in the second quarter. Ball State just picked the secondary apart early in the game. For the second year in a row I think they made some mistakes in doling out playing time to certain players.
On offense Ian Shields has to work with getting Santiago more fluid in his pitch decisions. I'm not sure if that light will ever come on for the junior quarterback. The pooch kickoff and directional punting probably cost Army more field position than if they just kicked the ball and covered.
OVERALL GRADE: D
I predicted a Ball State win. I was just surprised that the Black Knights made so many mistakes and that they were so uncompetitive. I thought the defensive line played better against the run than they did in the opener but every other area had issues. For the second year in a row I was disappointed in the offense's performance against Ball State.
Army Report Card: Ball State
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