Here are three key position battles to keep an eye on during Saturday's game:
Andy Schmitt may be yet to lead the Eagles to a winning season in his three injury-plagued years in Ypsilanti, but the senior signal caller is healthy coming into 2009 and remains one of the MAC's best overall athletes. At 6-foot-4, 238-pounds, Schmitt has ideal NFL size, but he's far from a statuesque pocket passer. Schmitt is a seasoned veteran in running the zone read, and has surprising speed to compliment his power and will. He's also an accomplished passer who hit over 62% of his passes a season ago. While all the members of Army's defense will have to play a role in stopping Schmitt and the EMU offense, Army middle linebacker Stephen Anderson will be called upon to lead the charge for the Black Knights. Anderson – while undersized at only 5-foot-10 - has the speed and intelligence to keep track of Schmitt, and the toughness and form to take the senior quarterback down in the open field. If Anderson and the rest of Army's defense can make Schmitt's running ability a non-factor, expect the Black Knight defense to control the direction of the game.
Army WR Ali Villanueva vs. EMU cornerback Arrington Hicks
It's been a long time coming, but this Saturday Army fans will finally get a chance to see if Rich Ellerson's great position change experiment will actually work – or at the very least not fail. Ali has missed some time in practice over the last few weeks due to injury, but he should be fully recovered for the game. While some have questioned whether or not the former offensive lineman will be able to effectively operate as a wide receiver in Army's offense, his size alone (6-foot-10) gives him a natural advantage over any of Eastern Michigan's defensive cornerbacks,. The Eagles have only minimal experience at the cornerback position, with Arrington Hicks and Derrick Hunter likely to get the start during week one. Hicks is a 5-foot-10 junior who started two games a season ago, while Hunter isn't much bigger – standing only 5-foot-11. Hunter is the more experienced of the two -- having started ten games in 2007 – but did not play all of last season and could be rusty. Whichever cornerback the EMU staff decides to line up on Villanueva, expect the Black Knight offense to try to use his height as a factor when they get into scoring position.
While the quarterback in any triple option scheme is often called upon to make multiple reads, his first read is almost always of the playside defensive end. This is the read to either give the ball to the fullback on the ‘dive' (which happens if the end does not crash hard inside) or to pull the ball out and proceed down the line running the option (which occurs if the end crashes hard for the fullback.) Chip Bowden struggled making these reads at times last season, a possible reason that the Black Knights will go with freshman Trent Steelman at quarterback on Saturday. Steelman will be the first plebe quarterback to start an Army season opener in the modern era, but brings a high option football IQ to the game and unique athleticism to the field for Army. Eastern Michigan is led by defensive end Brad Ohrman, who had ten tackles against Army last season, including two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. At 6-foot-4, 244-pounds, he's athletic and quick enough to confuse even a well schooled option quarterback like Steelman, but his aggressive nature also makes him susceptible to over-committing. The battle between the freshmen Steelman and Ohrman will decide how effective Army's offense is in moving the ball against Ron English's defense.