Rutgers may be 4-2, but this year's Scarlet Knight team has been far from their usual Big East crown challenging selves. For instance, while Rutgers did win four straight games prior to last week's 24-17 loss to Pittsburgh, all four of those wins came to teams with records of 2-4 or worse – including two wins against bad FCS clubs in Texas Southern and Howard. The Scarlet Knight defense has been solid and will present a challenge for Army quarterback Trent Steelman and the Cadet's option attack, yet Rutgers' own offense has been far from efficient. In what should be a defensive grudge match, Army will look to avenge last year's 30-3 loss in Piscataway. Which personnel matchups will help decide this week's game? Here are my three key position battles to watch.
Army DE Josh McNary vs. Rutgers LT Anthony Davis
Every once and a while, there is a player who makes good on his unbelievable potential due to the good fortune of coming under the guidance of the right scheme or right coach. To say that Josh McNary has benefited from the tutelage of Payam Saadat and Rich Ellerson may be one of the great understatements this year. In last week's briefing room, we told you to watch out for the matchup between McNary and Temple Tackle Devin Tyler. McNary far exceeded even the highest expectations against the Owls, recording a school record four sacks. The four sacks pushed his career total to 15, while giving him 9.5 sacks for the year (both USMA records.) Explosive and relentless in Army's Double Eagle scheme, McNary has a chance to solidify his status as one of the best pass rushers in ALL of college football this week, as he'll take on Rutgers tackle Anthony Davis – considered by many to be a first day draft prospect. Davis has ideal size at 6-foot-6, 325-pounds, and plays with outstanding backpedal quickness and leverage. Last week he was able to handle former All-Big East defensive end Greg Romeus in check, but will have to go up against a quicker player in McNary this week. Not only will McNary have a chance to make waves as a legitimate pro prospect if he has a good game against Davis in this game, but he'll likely be able to rattle Rutgers freshman QB Tom Savage, who has struggled this season while under pressure.
The situation has been getting increasingly desperate for the Scarlet Knight offense, which ranks second to last in the Big East and 80th in the nation in total production despite having played two FCS teams (Howard and Southern Texas.) In an effort to try to boost his offense's confidence last week, Greg Schiano turned to the increasingly popular "Wildcat" formation now employed by many teams throughout the country. The Scarlet Knights turned to freshman wideout Mohamed Sanu five times last Friday night to run the package, with the lanky but speedy receiver picking up 29 yards on the ground against the stringent Pitt defense. More than just a runner, Sanu also attempted a pass on Friday night, and could be used to catch Army's defense off guard this week. Army DB Donovan Travis has picked off four passes this season and has shown himself to be more than the proverbial "right time, right place" player, but he'll have to be on his heels this Friday night and not get too overzealous in run support.
The massive Army wide receiver continues to be an essential element for Army's offense in the red zone, and proved it again last weekend when he hauled in a four yard touchdown reception in the third quarter to even up the game at 13-13. The former offensive lineman currently leads the Cadets with 253 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns, and once more has been quarterback Trent Steelman's best friend in critical red zone situations. His ability to beat smaller cornerbacks has proved invaluable, and he has another physical advantage this week when he figures to go up against Rutgers corner Devin McCourty. McCourty is a seasoned veteran however, and showed that he can handle tall receivers when he held one of the Big East's best in Jonathan Baldwin (6-foot-5, 225-lbs) to only one catch last Friday night. If McCourty can hold Villanueva in check, especially in the redzone, it could be a long evening for the Army offense.