HEAD TO HEAD: ARMY VS. PENN STATE

Army meets Penn State on Saturday in State College, Pa. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

Army travels to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State will carry a three-game winning streak into the game after dropping it home opener at Beaver Stadium.  Penn State beat San Diego State 37-21 last weekend. The Black Knights won their first game this season with a 58-36 victory over the Eastern Michigan Eagles last Saturday at Rynearson Stadium. Army ran for 556 yards and posted  654 yards of total offense. The Penn State Nittany Lions are rebuilding under James Franklin and dealing with the affects NCAA sanctions. Franklin did a nice job in posting a respectable 7-6 record last year in the Big 10. This is the first meeting between the two schools since 1979.

ARMY'S PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
PENN STATE'S PASS DEFENSE

EDGE:  PENN STATE

Comments: Ahmad Bradshaw left the Eastern Michigan game with an ankle injury and had a boot on it in the second half. He is listed at the top of the depth chart but has to be considered questionable for the game. He doesn't look like he will be able to play this week. It wouldn't be the first time Monken has posted player at the top of the depth chart and they didn't play like he did with Josh Jenkins in the opener. Bradshaw has completed 11-of-22 passes (50%) for 194 passing yards with three touchdowns and an interception this season. Bradshaw hit wide receiver Edgar Poe for a 10-yard touchdown against the Eagles. Poe scored touchdowns on both of his receptions this year. Poe tends to make them count. He has only 13 career receptions but has four touchdowns. If Bradshaw can't play the Black Knights will turn to senior A.J. Schurr. In 2015, Schurr has completed 5-of-12 passes (41.7%) for 150 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Schurr replaced the injured Bradshaw last week and completed 3-of-7 passes for 70 yards with an interception.  Schurr had an ugly interception against EMU and was picked off in the end zone on third and goal. A.J. initially avoided a sack then threw total duck that was intercepted. It was one of those passes we've seen over the years that Schurr throws which seem to slip out of his hand.  A.J. later hit a wide open DeAndre Bell for a 49-yard gain which set up his own touchdown run to make it 36-17. Army has already passed last years' passing touchdown totals.         

Penn State’s defense rebounded under first-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop in a big way last season. The Nittany Lions were first in the Big Ten in both scoring defense (18.6 points per game) and total defense (278.7 yards per game). They finishing the season ranked second in the nation in total defense. The strength of their defense is their two defensive tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. Zettel (19 tackles, 5 TFL, 1/2 sack) posted  eight sacks last year.  Austin Johnson (23 tackles, 6 TF, 2 1/2 sacks) is very active. Huge 6-7 defensive end Carl Nassib is a terror off the edge with seven sacks in a breakout senior season. Last game Nassib forced a fumble that Austin Johnson scooped up and ran 71 yards into end zone. The Penn States secondary returns three of its four starters that combined for 14 pass break ups in 2014. Senior strong safety Jordan Lucas (18 tackles, PD, sack) is their best player in secondary but he missed last week after hurting his shoulder the previous week against of Rutgers. The Nittany Lions finished third in the Big Ten in pass defense, allowing just 178.2 yards per game through the air last year. Penn State has recorded 18 sacks in four games this season and leads the nation.  

ARMY'S RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
PENN STATE'S  RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE:  PENN STATE

The Black Knights zoomed up to 9th in the nation in rushing after running for 556 yards and seven touchdowns against Eastern Michigan's hapless defense.  It was the third best rushing effort in school history.  Army center Matt Hugenberg was dominant as the Black Knights ran the fullback all night long. Aaron Kemper ran for career high 147 yards and a score. Kemper broke a number of tackles and made a nice hard cut on his 56-yard touchdown run. The B-backs ran for 295 yards and scored three touchdowns. The Black Knights could use a healthy quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw (341 yards, 4.9 avg., 4 TDs) running the option but its unclear how healthy he is after leaving Saturday's game with an ankle injury. If the game was held today he couldn't play.  Starting slotbacks Joe Walker (157 yards,  9.8 avg.,  TD)  opened the first Army drive against EMU with a career long 63-yard touchdown run. John Trainor (89 yards, 9.9 avg., D) showed his speed on the edge. Both slotbacks blocked effectively for each other last week. The big question is the condition of Army's offensive line. They entered last week game with three starters out and then their best lineman Justin Gilbert was hurt in the second half.      

Penn State is ranks 14th in the nation allowing only 90.5 rushing yards per game.  The Nittany Lions allowed a BIG 10 best 2.9 yards per carry on the ground in 2014. Defensive tackles Anthony Zettel  and Austin Johnson anchor the middle.  Anthony Zettel is a beast and if he stays healthy will be an NFL player next year. Mike linebacker Jason Cabinda roams free behind to post 23 tackles. Cabinda is mobile and has broken up four passes in coverage. The Nittany Lions are a very good defensive team. They were ranked third in the nation last year allowing only 100.5 rushing yards per game.

PENN STATE'S PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
ARMY'S PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE:  PENN STATE

Penn State's passing game had struggled until last week against San Diego State. They are ranked 107th in the nation averaging just 175 yards per game. San Diego State stacked defenders at the line of scrimmage daring Penn State to throw the ball. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg responded with his best game this year. He was 21 of 35 for 296 yards and connected three touchdown passes. Hackenberg has completed 56 of 106 passes for 668 yards (52.8%) with four touchdowns against two picks. Wide receiver Chris Godwin leads the Nittany Lions with 19 receptions for 283 yards and a score. The real issue the last two years has been Penn State's porous offensive line. It played much better last week but has allowed 12 sacks this season. The Nittany Lions allowed 44 sacks last season which the reason the offense struggled in 2014.

Army's passing defense is ranked 96th in the country so far this season. The Black Knights struggled in pass coverage last week. Quarterback Brogan Roback completed 27-of-39 passes for 280 yards and two scores. Free safety Xavier Moss (24 tackles, Int. PD) intercepted his first career pass in the third quarter. Moss is a good athlete with speed but he has struggled with his positioning and has blown assignments. On EMU's first touchdown pass to Kris Strange for 23 yards he broke very late and failed to cover him. Moss was embarrassingly run over by Eagles running back Darious Jackson on one of his touchdown runs. Safety Rhyan England (29 tackles, 3 TFL, PD, FR) is the polar opposite of Moss at strong safety as a player.  England is a very smart and heady player but he isn't a great athlete and misses too many tackles.  Army will look to use Mike linebacker Andrew King (30 tackles, 8 TF, 3 sacks) on blitzes to create pressure.

 

PENN STATE'S RUSHING OFFENSE

VS.
ARMY'S RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: PENN STATE

Much of Penn State’s offensive woes the last two years centered around the offensive line. They are currently ranked 71st in the nation as they average 171 yards per game. Running back Akeel Lynch is their starter.  Lynch has run for 262 yards, a 5.3 average and two scores.  His freshman back up Saquon Barkley leads the Nittany Lions with 373 rushing yards, 8.9 rushing average and three scores. Barkley looks like he can develop into a feature running back for Penn State. Both Lynch and Barkley were hurt last week and are questionable. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a pocket passer and not very mobile.

The Black Knights run defense allowed 193 yards, 7.7 average yards per carry and three touchdowns against Eastern Michigan. The Black Knights are ranked 61st in the nation allowing over 156 yards per game. Jeremy Timpf (31 tackles, 1/2 sack, INT, FR) led the Black Knights with eight tackles last week. He had a key forced fumble at the goal line, after a Scott Washle hit, to save a touchdown. Nose guard T.J. Altimalala has been active and playing the best football of his career. TJ has 17 tackles and 5 1/2 tackles for a loss this year.

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE:  PENN STATE

Penn State's place kicker Joey Julius is 6-for-7 in field goal attempts this season and has hit all his extra points. He has a strong leg with 13 touch-backs on 22 kickoffs. The Nittany Lions Chris Gulla is the new punter and averaging 41.6 per punt with six placed inside the 20-yard line. Nick Scott and Koa Farmer are dangerous kick returners. DeAndre Thompkins is averaging 9.8 yards per punt return. Penn State has been average on their coverage units. They allowed a kick return for a touchdown last week against San Diego State.

Senior Daniel Grochowski has hit 1-of-2 field goal attempts his year. He has booted the ball well this year on kickoffs.  Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 42.0 per punt. Army's offense was so efficient against EMU that Tardieu took the day off. Marcus Hyatt is averaging 17.5 per kickoff return but it looks like the staff may be trying to give fellow plebe Nicholas Black a chance for the job.  Edgar Poe has a 1.3 punt return average on six returns. Army kick and punt coverage team have been good. 

COACHING

EDGE:  PENN STATE

James Franklin has a solid first season as Penn State head coach as the once marquee program recovers from the scandals and ensuing sanctions. On the FBS level Franklin made his mark initially as a recruiter at Maryland and then Kansas State. He did a brilliant job at Vanderbilt as he led them to a bowl game all three of his seasons as head coach.  In his second season the Commodores finished 9–4 and ranked in both the Associated Press and USA Today end-of-season coaches' top 25 for the first time since 1948.  Franklin finished his Vanderbilt career with a record of 24–15. 

Jeff Monken and his staff were able to get the running game on track last week. Army ran for 556 yards and posted 654 yards of total offense against EMU. The Black Knights improved from 46th in the nation to 9th in the nation in rushing. Offensive coordinator Brent Davis has been struggling to put a healthy offensive line on the field. He is missing three starters up front and Justin Gilbert is doubtful this weekend. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman defense was well prepared at the start of the EMU game. Army limited Eastern Michigan to one first down, one passing yard and 16 rushing yards in the first quarter but struggled most of the rest of the way.  He lacks the athletes he needs at certain positions.  

INTANGIBLES

EDGE:  PENN STATE

Penn State is entering the game nicked up at both running back and safety. The Nittany Lions have won their last three home games. These teams haven't played since 1979 but the Nittany Lions have won the last nine games in the series. Penn State outscored Army 321-74 in those nine games. Army is feeling good entering the game off their first victory. They will be excited playing a marquee program on national TV.  Army historically struggles on the road. Last week’s victory was an outlier victory and their first at an opponent’s home field since 2010. 

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PREDICTION: Penn State 41-7. I wish Army's offensive line and quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw were healthy for this game but they are not. Penn State is hurting a bit and it would have been a good time to catch them and compete for at least a half.  However, Penn State's back-ups are a lot better than Army's. Army looks like they are over-matched in this one. Penn State will likely roll at home.  

 

 

 

 


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