The third game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 137, 1-1) and the Mid-American West Conference Ball State Cardinals (Sagarin 161, 0-2). This is the second time that these teams have met. Army won the last meeting in 1999, 41-21. This is a very interesting game as Army tries to regain some confidence after a tough loss to Duke. Ball State on the other hand is reeling with four consecutive losses and probably feels that Army is just what the doctor ordered.
Army lost to Duke 35-19. Army came out strong and scored on their first possession and led 10-7 at the half. However, the rest of the game looked very familiar. Duke put 9 defenders on the line and Army was 3 and out in 5 possessions. It looked as though Trent Steelman had a tough time pitching and throwing with cracked ribs and he was not particularly effective. The tailbacks were slow on the pitches and the offense just suffered. There was some misdirection, which provided some great holes until Duke realized that a linebacker at the line of scrimmage would shut that down. Army had two fumbles and two late Carson Williams pick-six interceptions, for a total of four turnovers.
The defense was stellar. They completely rattled the Duke starting quarterback, Thaddeus Lewis with stunts and blitzes. However, back-up quarterback Sean Renfree set the prescription on how to beat the double flex eagle defense with two step drop short passes. Overall, the Cadets outgained Duke 385-236 yards and held onto the ball for 36 minutes. With a couple of plays here or there, they probably could have won the game.
Army kickers are really lacking. The kick-offs rarely take the return men behind the 10-yard line and unless the return team commits a holding penalty, the drives begin beyond the 35-yard line.
In Muncie, IN, Ball State was limited to 127 total yards and committed 3 turnovers in a tough loss to a tough FCS (D-IAA) New Hampshire.
What we Learned
We learned that the Army team still has a ways to go if they want to compete with BCS conference schools. Duke was big, fast and disciplined and was able to shut down the Army offense. Army must throw the ball to keep the linebackers out of the backfield. We also learned that 250lb offensive tackles may not get it done against such opponents.
We learned that the Black Knight defense is awesome and if we can get CB Hill to not bite so aggressively on play action passes, we may shut down a lot of teams.
We learned that Ball State is really struggling. This is a team that was 12-0 last year going into the MAC championship. There was BCS talk surrounding the program. They lost that game to Buffalo and then a bowl game to Tulsa. They graduated most of their players and their coach left. This is a team that is rebuilding. They have Auburn and Toledo coming after Army and if they do not want to start the year 0-5, they must win this game. They have had a tough time generating any offense and they will use two quarterbacks Tanner Justice and Kelly Page, to try and change things up.
Who is favored?
Army is favored by 7.5 points.
What to look for?
Look for the Double Eagle Flex Defense to thoroughly confuse a new offensive line and a couple of young quarterbacks. Look for a few turnovers and several 3 and out series from Ball State. I do not expect Ball State to generate 200 yards in offense.
Look for the Army team to come out passing and gain some confidence against defense that is softer than Duke and Eastern Michigan.
If Army does not commit turnovers or give up big plays on special teams, they should win handily. This will be a close game if Army fails to execute in any facet of the game.
Final Score – Army 21 – Ball State 7 (predictions this year 1-1)
Game will be televised on CBS College Sports Television @ 12:00 PM EST.