The fourth game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 138, 2-1) and the Big 12 North Conference Iowa State Cyclones (Sagarin 83, 2-1). The all time series is tied 1-1. The last time they met was in 2005 in an ESPN Friday night thriller 28-21, where a facemask call stopped the Bobby Ross led cadets from pulling off an incredible victory. This is a tremendous game for both teams as a win puts each team half way to Bowl eligibility early in the season with much tougher teams coming in the second half.
The Black Knights gathered in four interceptions against the Ball State Cardinals, the last being a pick six by Donovan Travis to put Army ahead for good. The Army defense really is stellar. While the talent level is probably not any higher than it has been in the past three or four years, the double eagle flex defense allows Army to take advantage of their talents. CB Hill did not get faked by the quarterback last week and he was able to seal off his side of the field. Between grit, determination and scheme, Payam Sadat has the Cadet defense playing very well. It was interesting that the defense did give up 375 yards in total offense, but when Sadat sent five and six cadets after the quarterback it rattled the Ball State quarterbacks and forced the four interceptions. This defense will keep this Army team in most games this year.
The offense on the other hand is not effective. In fact, the defense had more receptions than the offense. Army's best possession is it's first of the game. After the defense gets a flavor for what is coming, they have been able to adjust and put 9 defenders in the box and everything completely shuts down. There was a drive in the second quarter that featured several passes culminating with Steelman hitting Ali Villanueva for a touchdown. This drive left most Army fans asking why they are not putting the ball in the air more often.
At Cal Poly, Ellerson threw the ball 30% of the time. So far, Steelman has thrown 19 passes and the offense looks very much like the Bob Sutton wishbone. It is easy to see that Steelman does not have a tight spiral and his arm is certainly less than Carson Williams'. We do not know if the injury to his ribs has anything to do with that. He has been pitching the ball behind the tailbacks and to their waists, creating a lot of fumbles. Luckily Army was able to recover 5 of 6 last week. Rich Ellerson has only pulled Steelman to allow him to gather his breath/composure and Steelman is never out of the game for more than a couple of plays. Is Steelman that much better than Chip Bowden? Ellerson must think so. If he truly is, we certainly have not seen his best game.
Iowa State beat MAC cellar dweller Kent State (1-2) 34-14. Iowa State amassed 404 yards on offense, but allowed 302 yards. The game featured 9 turnovers.
What we Learned
We learned that Army must pass the ball to be effective. Any team that will actually practice for Army will bring 9 in the box and force Army to throw. The bigger and faster teams will shut Army down. Army will probably move the ball well enough against the smaller teams to win a few more games.
We really do not know anything about Iowa State. They handily beat Division IAA North Dakota State and Kent State and were blown out against Iowa. It is very likely that Army would have performed similarly. Iowa State has a mobile and athletic quarterback, Austen Arnaud, and a good running back, Alexander Robinson. Iowa State allows an average of 141 yards rushing per game. The Cyclones have also turned the ball over 12 times so far in this young season.
Who is favored?
Iowa State is favored by 9.5 points.
What to look for?
Look for a very inspired Army Team. The Black Knights will be playing at night, on the road with a little confidence. Look for Ellerson to really open up the offense. I expect to see a lot of misdirection, more passing and a few trick plays, as a victory over a Big 12 opponent on the road would be a huge and unexpected bonus in a season that is already going better than most expected. Ellerson can be particularly bold and daring in this game because Army has nothing to lose.
I expect the Cyclones to move the ball, very much like Ball State. I think the difference will be in the turnovers. Army will need a defensive score and must not give Iowa State anything to have a chance to win. Army must improve the kickoffs; they are giving up 20 yards on each return and that will hurt if it continues in this game.
Final Score – Iowa State 28 – Army 21 (predictions this year 1-2)
Game will be televised on Knight Vision @ 6:00 PM CST.