While the Black Knights could be well on their way to achieving bowl eligibility for the first time since 1996, the second half of the year presents several challenging matchups which will test both Rich Ellerson and his players. Not only do the Cadets have to play Air Force, Navy, and Rutgers during the second the next two months, but they'll begin their drive to finish out the season against a Temple team which looks poised to contend for a MAC crown after starting 3-0 in conference. The Black Knights were embarrassed at home 35-7 by Temple last season – undoubtedly a major factor in Army coming into this year's game as a ten point underdog. Here are my top three personnel matchups to watch which will likely decide the outcome of the game.
Temple RB Bernard Pierce vs. Army MLB Stephan Anderson
Lost amidst Army's 35-7 loss at the hands of the Owls last season was the play of Army's rush defense, which held Temple's potent offense to just 2.8 yards rushing. Temple never did fully get on pace with their rushing game last year, but this year they've found their solution in freshmen sensation Bernard Pierce, who comes into this Saturday's game having rushed for over 100 yards in each of the past three games. He currently leads Temple with 489 yards and five scores on the ground, boasting an impressive 5.8 average. Pierce hits the hole with great acceleration and has a tremendous feel for the game despite being just a freshman, so it will be important for Army linebacker Stephan Anderson to stay disciplined and not get caught out of his gap. Likewise, if Pierce shows too much hesitation in the backfield it could end up being too late for both him and the Temple running game, as Army's swarming defense will look to put the plug on Temple's running offense before it can get going.
One of the most athletically gifted linebackers to ever pass through Temple, the junior Kamara has been well schooled in defending option football teams after having played a combined four games against Navy and Army over the past two seasons. Typically, Al Golden will use a base 4-3 defensive look and employ what we call a "cross change" when playing the option. This means that on option plays, the playside defensive end will cheat like he's playing the fullback, but will instead turn his shoulders and play the quarterback, while the outside linebacker will fire in to take the fullback. Reading this kind of look is not difficult – if the quarterback can recognize it and has experience against it. As we've seen with Trent Steelman this year, reading defenses can sometimes be a big if. The good news for Army fans is that it looks like OC Ian Shields is finally getting comfortable in calling more option plays with Steelman, but with Kamara likely to play out of a three-point stance at defensive end against Army, making the necessary reads won't be a walk in the park for Army's freshman signal caller. The battle of wits between Steelman and Kamara should be fascinating to watch come Saturday, and will go a long way to determining how effective Army is able to be on offense.
Army DE Josh McNary vs. Temple LT Devin Tyler
Temple has been outstanding this season on the offensive line, with the plays of Left Tackle Devin Tyler being particularly important in the continued development of Vaughn Charlton at the quarterback position. The Owls have allowed only six sacks all year, with four of those coming to Penn State. Tyler is massive at 6-foo-7, 305-pounds, and is exceptional in using his hands as a pass blocker. Considering his size, he also has tremendous backpedal quickness and is able to play with good leverage, two attributes he will need to take full advantage of this week when going up against speedy Army defensive end Josh McNary. McNary has already notched up 5.5 sacks on the season, and once more has thrived in getting pressure on quarterbacks and forcing them into bad decisions. In the first game of the season, Villanova was able to get pressure on Charlton, resulting in three interceptions for the Wildcats. If McNary and the rest of Army's defensive line can rattle the Temple quarterback enough on Saturday, expect Army's linebackers and defensive backs to put themselves in position to take advantage of any Carlton mistakes.