HEAD TO HEAD: ARMY VS. FORDHAM

Army West Point meets Fordham on Friday at Michie Stadium. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

The Army Black Knights kickoff their season against the defending FCS Patriot League champion Fordham Rams at Michie Stadium. The FCS Rams have seen a football revival the last two years. Fordham has gone 23-5 and won an FCS playoff game in each of the last two years. The Black Knights have played 66 games against FCS schools and have posted a 53-12-1 record. However they have dropped two of the last four games against FCS teams

ARMY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
FORDHAM PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: ARMY
REMARKS: Sophomore quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (5-11", 196) won the starting job this summer over the chronically injured senior A.J. Schurr. Bradshaw has good arm strength for an option quarterback and can throw the ball on the move. Ahmad needs to improve his consistency throwing the deep ball. He is a natural leader and a confident player. He passed for over 6,500 yards and 84 touchdowns during his high school career operating out of a spread shotgun offense. Junior Edgar Poe returns at wide receiver. Poe led the team with ten receptions for 199 yards, a 19.9 yard average and a touchdown. New starting slotback John Trainor is a converted wide receiver who has good speed and great hands.

The Fordham defense lost all four starters from 2014 as they were wiped out by graduation. The Rams return a number of players who saw playing time in the secondary last year. The best of that group is probably senior JQ Bowers. Bowers appeared in all 14 games in 2014, starting four, where he made 43 tackles and had five pass breakups. Junior Jihaad Pretlow, a transfer from Temple, gives the Rams experience in the defensive backfield, He appeared in eleven games for the Owls in 2014, starting nine, at strong safety, and finished the year with 32 total tackles. Pressure up front will likely come from Marlon Crook, a preseason All-Patriot League selection, who had 7.5 sacks last year.

ARMY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
FORDHAM RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: ARMY
REMARKS: The Black Knights are replacing all of last year’s backfield starters and the familiar names of Larry Dixon, Raymond Maples and Terry Baggett that defined some of the most productive rushing offenses the Black Knights have ever fielded. At fullback junior Aaron Kemper and senior captain Matt Giachinta won't make anyone forget Larry Dixon but Kemper ran well this summer. At slotback only junior starter Joe Walker was in the rotation last year. I liked that the staff moved John Trainor from wide receiver to slotback. Trainor is fast and was a playmaker at the prep school. John isn't very big and was hurt last year, was knocked out of the Black-Gold game and nicked up during summer camp. Direct admit plebes Jordan Ashberry, Tyler Campbell and Nick Black in from USMAPS played well this summer and add some speed. The positive up front on the offensive line is the return of senior Justin Gilbert who was moved inside to guard. The return of offensive line coach Todd Spender will help.

The Fordham defense allowed over 176 rushing yards per game. Last year they allowed the Black Knights 382 rushing yards, 6.0 yards per carry and five rushing touchdowns. Fordham’s defense was gutted by graduation as linebacker George Dawson (68 TT, 5.5 TFL) is the only returning starter. They get a big boost from linebacker Stephen Hodge who missed last year. Hodge was the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He had a total of 124 tackles and 16 tackles for loss two years ago. Defensive linemen Marlin Crook and Justin Vaughn were recognized on the Preseason All-Patriot League Team.

FORDHAM PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Fordham's spread offense averaged 40.6 points per game and 326 passing yards per game last fall but have to replace almost everyone. The Rams lost FCS All-American quarterback Mike Nebrich and all their top five pass catchers from 2014. Kevin Anderson is a transfer from Marshall and will start at quarterback. Anderson has never thrown a pass in a college game. The receiving unit will be led by seniors Robbie Cantelli, Tony Patrignelli and Ben Johnson while at tight end is huge 6-8" Phazahn Odom. Cantelli and Patrignelli each caught a touchdown pass last fall. Odom made five receptions for 56 yards. Ben Johnson saw action in eight games and made one catch.

The Black Knights secondary played their bend but don't break defense well against the Rams in the first half last year. In the second half they were burned by long touchdown passes after defensive breakdowns in the second half. The Army defense allowed 28-of-39 passes for 381 yards and four scores with an interception. The cornerbacks and front seven did a good job limiting the yards after the catch on the bubble screens that the Rams like to run. The safeties were beat for two long touchdown passes. Army's best player, cornerback Josh Jenkins, was injured in a fight with former teammate Seth Combs. Jenkins has done only conditioning work this summer but is listed on the top of the depth chart this week. Having Josh in the lineup would be a huge boost. Jenkins earned First Team FBS All-Independent team, First team All-East and Phil Steele All-Independent team first team defense honors in 2014. This is a tough call but with Jenkins returning from an injury and the Rams successful passing scheme doing though a transition in personnel I'll call this even.

FORDHAM RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: ARMY
REMARKS: Fordham runs a spread one running back attack. As a freshman Chase Edmonds ran for 1,838 yards and 23 touchdowns and had a Patriot League single-season record 2,473 all-purpose yards last season. He was an FCS All American. He won the Jerry Rice Award as the top NCAA FCS freshman. Kendall Pearcey (592 yards, 6.8 avg. 6 TDs) is a quality backup. The offensive line is led by 319-pound left guard Garrick Mayweather who won first-team All-League honors

Army limited the Rams running game to just 90 rushing yards last year. The inside linebackers are a strength with First Team FBS All-Independent team Jeremy Timpf and sack leader Andrew King returning as starters. John Voit impressed as a plebe and should be the best down lineman. Nose tackle T.J. Atimalala was hurt in summer camp but should be ready to go on Friday night.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: ARMY
REMARKS: Junior Makay Redd replaces the Rams standout kicker as Michael Marando graduated as the Patriot League’s all-time leader in points at the position. Joe Pavlik (38.8) is back after an All-League season at punter. Fordham plan on using two freshmen in Corey Caddle on punt returns and James Biggs-Frazier on kick returns.

Army's Daniel Grochowski made just 7-of-13 field goal attempts last fall. He opened the season missing his first three attempts then settled down the rest of the way making 7-of-10 including a clutch career long 52-yard field goal against Navy. Grochowski made 35-of-37 extra point attempts. Punter Alex Tardieu had a great year as he averaged 39.3 yards on 44 punts with 21 of his punts being fair caught, eight being placed inside the twenty yard line and six traveling over fifty yards. Tardieu was one of Army's best players and only five of his punts were returned all year. Edgar Poe took over the punt return duties late last year and will also be used on kickoff returns this season. John Trainor, who did an excellent job returning kicks at USMAPS two years ago, is the other new kick returner. Josh Jenkins blocked two punts, including one against Fordham, during the 2014 season that were recovered for touchdowns.

COACHING
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Joe Moorhead has done an amazing coaching job at his alma mater. He took over a 1-11 team and went 6-5 in his first year in 2012. Moorhead has led the Rams to a 23-5 record over the past two years with back-to-back NCAA FCS Championship appearances. Fordham also became the first team in NCAA history to have a 4,000 yard passer, three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher. Moorhead has 14 years of collegiate coaching experience most recently as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the University of Connecticut. He'll be an FBS head coach one day.

Jeff Monken enters his second season with a 42-24 (63.6%) career record. Monken and his staff are laying the ground work for turning the program around. The improved strength and conditioning program saw a bigger stronger Army team last year and this spring. Recruiting is vastly improved with Army adding more highly ranked recruits, better speed and having a lot more success in the South, North East and Texas than Ellerson's staff ever did. There will be well over twenty freshman on the varsity travel squad. There lies the bad news. Army will field an extremely young and inexperienced squad. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman had a sound game plan on defense last year against the Rams.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: ARMY
REMARKS: The Rams are a talented FCS team looking forward to a nationally televised opener. The Black Knights will be focused on starting the season on the right foot. Army has beaten Fordham in all four matchups in the series.

PREDICTION: ARMY 38, FORDHAM 24. Both of these teams are transitioning away from senior dominated lineups. The Rams came in at No. 20 in the STATS Preseason Top 25 on Monday after earning the No. 21 spot in the FCS Coaches Poll. I think Joe Moorhead is a terrific coach with a great scheme but he is replacing so many key starters. I believe they may be a bit overrated and Army beat them when they were a much better team last season. While Army skill position starters are inexperienced I don't see the Rams being able to handle the Black Knights running attack that ran over them last year.

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