The fifth game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 145, 2-3) and Southeastern conference Vanderbilt Commodores (Sagarin 83, 2-3). Vanderbilt leads the all time series 3-4. The Commodores won the last meeting in 1991, 41-10. This is a big game for both teams. Both teams desperately need this week to keep pace with bowl eligibility. The loser of this game most likely faces another losing season.
Tulane did their best to give Army their third victory, but Army simply could not accept their graciousness and lost with a final play, wide right field goal attempt, 17-16.
This contest looked like many a Bob Sutton coached Army games, where conservatism cost Army a tight one. Army led throughout the game until the final Tulane drive. Army was content to run into a stacked defensive line and punt. This put a lot of pressure on the defense and finally they tired; allowing Tulane to put points on the board. Tulane did do a tremendous job of protecting Joe Kemp, who was sacked only once. When Army needed a long drive in the fourth quarter to seal the win, they were unable to move the ball. After Tulane's, go ahead field goal, Damion Hunter returned the kick-off to the Tulane 41. Steelman passed the ball twice for a quick 14 yards and then Army settled for a 37 yard field goal. If not for horrendous and mind-boggling clock management, they could have easily run two more plays.
The Army defense was good. They gave up 292 total yards and limited Tulane to only a couple big plays. As we expected, Army contained the Tulane rushing attack and allowed only 126 yards on 20 carries.
The offense was again anemic. Steelman was able to play the entire game and did a better job running the offense. He did throw a very costly interception in the second quarter from the Tulane 10. Army ran for 196 yards, but only passed for 26. The Black Knights committed four fumbles, but recovered them all.
For the exception of the final field goal attempt and a botched punt, special teams looked much improved. The kick off coverage, punts and returns all looked much better. Alex Carlton was 3 -3 before his final attempt.
In Nashville, Vanderbilt forced 3 Mississippi turnovers, but was completely shut down offensively and lost 23-7. The Commodores gave up nearly 400 yards in total offense, but the defense did not break and kept them in a rather one sided game.
What we Learned
We learned that Army will progress as does Trent Steelman. It is unprecedented for a freshman quarterback to start the first game of the season, much less when a new offense is installed. Given that, the 19 year old has performed very well and I predict will be one of the better quarterbacks in college football in 2011 and 2012. However, there will be some growing pains.
This offense must pass the ball to get the defensive linemen and cornerbacks off of the line of scrimmage. Without the threat of a pass, Army will not be able to consistently move the ball on sustained drives.
In Nashville, we learned that this is not a special Vanderbilt team. They will win the games they are supposed to win and most likely lose the games that they are supposed to lose. Their offense is sporadic and their quarterback, Larry Smith throws a lot of short passes and completes less than half of them. Warren Norman leads their running attack, but will probably carry the ball less than 15 times a game.
Vanderbilt is a SEC team. They do not have a particularly good offense or defense, but they are bigger and faster than Army.
Who is favored?
Vanderbilt is favored by 11 points.
What to look for?
Unless Rich Ellerson decides to come out passing, look for another pathetic offensive display. Army will run into groups of Commodores and struggle to gain more than 200 yards in the game.
Look for the defense to keep Army in the game, but wear out in the second half.
I expect Vanderbilt to take very few chances. Their QB is erratic and is prone to interceptions. They will throw short passes, run the ball often and be content to play the field possession game and wear down the Cadets.
The only way Army wins this game is if they convert some turn-overs into touch downs. I can't see the offense generating more than 7 points on their own accord.
Final Score – Vanderbilt 17 - Army 7 (predictions this year 1-4)
The game will be presented on CBS College Sports Television @ 12:00 EST.