It may be tempting for Army fans to pencil this game in as a win given last year's results, but astute fans will remember that Army benefited from two touchdowns off of returns during last year's game, as well as a blocked punt and blocked field goal. In fact, the Black Knights were actually out-gained by Tulane by a margin of 152 yards! With the game still fresh in the minds of most of Tulane's players, the Cadets will have to be at their very best come Saturday, a task which they shouldn't have much problem with considering the game's homecoming circumstances. Still, football games are won and lost by the players on the field, with this game likely to be no exception. Here are three key personnel matchups that will likely decide the outcome of Saturday's action.
Mario Hill has done a terrific job in man-on-man coverage situations so far this season, leading the team in both pass breakups and passes defended. His ability to stick with receivers has been influential in allowing Payam Saadat to bring multiple zone blitzes, but this week Hill will face his greatest test yet in the 6-1, 205-lb Williams. Williams is off to one of the best starts of the season by any receiver in the entire country, and currently leads Tulane with 20 catches for 417 yards (20.9 avg) and two scores. He had an absolutely monster game last Saturday in which he caught 10 passes, and will challenge Hill with his vertical speed and precision route-running ability. Williams was well on his way towards lighting up Army's secondary last season before he was hurt against the Cadets, and should have no shortage of incentive for this game. Expect the matchup between Williams and Hill to be a physical one, but if Hill can keep Williams in front of him and limit the receiver's big-plays, Army's defense should be able to hold Tulane's offense in check.
Tulane scored only 16 points in their first two games combined this season, in large part because the defenses of Tulsa and BYU were able to contain Anderson, a 6-foot, 212-pound running back who ran for over 800 yards in 2008 despite missing five games due to injury. A preseason candidate for the Doak Walker Award (given to the nation's top running back), Anderson finally had his breakout game for the Green Wave last weekend, running the ball 28 times for 199 yards and four scores in Tulane's victory over McNeese State. Army's run defense was ranked amongst the best in the nation until last Saturday, when the Black Knights allowed Iowa State's Alexander Robinson to rush for 127 yards on just 21 carries. Tulane is similar to Iowa State in their offensive design, and will likely feature Anderson on running plays from both under center and in the shotgun. Last season Anderson had success against Army, running for over 100 yards in the losing effort. It will be essential for Army to slow him down this Saturday, a goal which will fall to middle linebacker Stephen Anderson to help accomplish. Cadet Anderson has been nothing short of brilliant through the first third of the season, but will have to stay disciplined in his gap assignments if he's to help the Cadets stifle Tulane's run offense. After Army's defensive struggled against Iowa State last week, expect Cadet Anderson to have his unit fired up and dialed in for this game.
When Rich Ellerson announced that freshmen Trent Steelman would start Army's opener against Eastern Michigan, most Army fans embraced the decision. And while Steelman would go on to lead Army to two early season wins, his play to begin the game against Iowa State last week led Rich Ellerson to replace the freshman with junior Chip Bowden in the second quarter. Tulane will likely try to duplicate Iowa State's defensive game plan from last week, working to load the box against Army and ‘pinching' off the perimeter option game – a situation which caused Steelman trouble. While that kind of a game plan will put pressure on Army's starting quarterback (whoever it may be) to run effectively between the tackles and to throw the ball over top the defense, it will also put a lot of pressure on Tulane's safeties, who must also support the run and possibly "spy" the quarterback. Wacha has been one of the best players on Tulane's defense this season, but the aggressive junior has a tendency to play over zealously in run support and was knocked out of the game against McNeese State with a head injury. He's questionable for Saturday, but if he does make the start for the Green Wave on Saturday expect him to be around the football for much of the afternoon.