Despite their start, the Cardinals remain a talented opponent, and will be no "gimme" win for the Cadets, who struggled with turnovers against Duke. Here are three key position battles to keep your eye on for Saturday.
The rover position is essentially a run-supporting defensive back in coach Ellerson's scheme. In week one, Army sophomore Steve Erzinger made his first career start against Eastern Michigan and looked impressive in the new defense, finishing the game with five tackles, including a tackle for a loss. With Ball State freshmen quarterback Kelly Page still struggling to find his way after the first two games of the season, the Cardinal offense is likely to rely heavily on senior running back Miquale Lewis. Lewis, who stands only 5-foot-6, is a quick and shifty back who does an excellent job at allowing his offensive linemen to set up their blocks. He's just the kind of runner who can take advantage of an aggressive defensive front, as his size gives him the ability to duck between Army's aggressive linemen. That means that the job of stopping Lewis falls to Erzinger, who will also have to be cognizant of the play action pass against Ball State. New Hampshire was able to bottle-up Lewis last Saturday, and if Army can do the same it will likely put more pressure on the rookie quarterback Page than he can bear. If Erzinger can fill the gaps and disrupt Lewis' ability to get to the second level, expect the Ball State offense to come to a halt.
Army WR Ali Villanueva vs. Ball State CB Koreen Burch
After hardly seeing action in week one and for most of the game on Saturday, the Black Knights finally took to throwing the ball to the massive 6-foot-10 former offensive tackle in the waning moments of the Duke game. Villanueva caught four balls for 68 yards and a score, including a fantastic eight-yard touchdown reception in which he out-jumped the defender in the final moments of the game. While Villanueva looked impressive in "garbage time" against Duke, one has to wonder why he wasn't utilized earlier in the game, especially in a 3rd-and-4 situation from the Duke eight near the end of the first half. This week, Villanueva will likely be going up against a 5-foot-9 cornerback in Koreen Burch, who should struggle against the massive target in red zone situations. With the offense still lacking a battering ram at fullback, expect Army to try to utilize Villanueva in red-zone situations this weekend.
Baker is one of the best safeties in the MAC conference, having earned MAC Freshman of the Year honors last year while finishing with 94 total tackles. He's fourth on the team with 12 tackles so far this year, and has the aggressiveness and form to be a factor in run support on both the perimeter and in-between the tackles. The Black Knights have shown ability to run the ball on the perimeter this season, with Mealy contributing a team high 208 yards on just 15 carries (13.9 ypc). Mealy could see time at fullback this week though, as the Black Knights are short on fullbacks with CeDarius Williams doubtful for the game after suffering an ankle injury against Duke. While Kingsley Ehie is listed as the starter for the Cadets, Army's depth at the position is a major question mark. Whether he plays slotback or fullback, Mealy will need the ball in his hands this Saturday if the Black Knights are to roll on offense.