True, the Mean Green enter Saturday's contest a paltry 2-8, but then again Army struggled with a two-win VMI team last weekend, with both of VMI's wins coming against fellow FCS teams. Still struggling with turnovers, special teams play, and penalties, Army must find a way to put together a perfect game in all three aspects against North Texas, whose players could be playing for the job of their head coach, Todd Dodge, whose job is considered in jeopardy. Which Army team will show up on Saturday, and how will the Black Knights match up against North Texas' explosive spread offense? Here are three personnel matchups to watch that will go a long way to determining the game's outcome.
When Riley Dodge decided to turn down a scholarship offer from Mack Brown and the Texas Longhorns two years ago in favor of joining his father in Denton, many thought it was only a matter of time until North Texas became competitive again. A redshirt season and ten games later, those fans are still waiting. It's not that the 6-foot Southlake Carroll prospect hasn't shown flashes – because he has – but it's rather that he's been woefully inconsistent at times and made far too many mistakes for his team to stay in ball games. Case in point, Dodge has hit just under 75% of his passes for a 5-1 TD-INT ratio in the team's two wins, but has thrown just three touchdowns to 10 picks in the team's eight losses. Dodge's slow maturation comes at a great time for Army's defense, which thrives on creating turnovers caused by pressure and confusing zone looks. Donovan Travis has been a master at getting himself into position to make plays on the ball, and currently leads Army with four interceptions breaking up two passes and recording six passes defended. Travis will need to show more than just the ability to read Dodge's eyes on Saturday, however, and will need to be able to bring down the shifty Dodge in the open field. A dual-threat quarterback who can run the zone-read option, Dodge's ability to make plays with his legs could end up being a defining factor in this game.
With MLB Stephan Anderson lost for the season due to an ACL injury suffered against Air Force, Army needed WHIP linebacker Andrew Rodriguez to step up in a big way against VMI last weekend, and boy did he ever. Not that the rangy Rodriguez hasn't been consistent all year for Army, contributing 63 total tackles to go along with two fumble recoveries and four passes defended. The Black Knights will need Rodriguez to be at the top of his game again this Saturday, as the Mean Green come into the game with one of the Sun Belt's best running attacks. While known for his four and five wide receiver sets, Todd Dodge's offense has since evolved into a more balanced zone-read approach, with running back Lance Dunbar getting the bulk of the carries. Dunbar, while only 5-foot-9, is a shifty but powerful back who has rushed for a Sun Belt best 1120 yards and 15 scores this season, doing the bulk of his damage in a 227 yard outing against Western Kentucky. With MLB Anderson out for Army and North Texas quarterback Riley Dodge still nursing a lingering ankle injury, expect the Mean Green to make a commitment to Dunbar early in the game. If Rodriguez and the Army defense can stifle the compact runner, however, it could spell trouble for an otherwise turnover plagued North Texas team.
The last time North Texas faced off against a service academy team running the triple option, the Mean Green defense put up a performance of historical merit. Unfortunately for the fans in Denton, however, that day was historic for all the wrong reasons, as Navy rolled up 74 points and a school record 572 rushing yards on North Texas' defense. In that game, Navy took advantage of North Texas' base 4-3 defense to exploit the Mean Green on the edge, running wild against the overmatched and youthful Mean Green defenders. While North Texas has since changed defensive coordinators and its players have matured, the team's run defense continues to struggle, currently ranking 102nd in the country in rushing yards allowed. That's good news for Army, which finally broke its touchdown drought last weekend after running back Patrick Mealy galloped for 136 yards and a score. Mealy may not be the game breaker that Reggie Campbell was for Navy against North Texas, but he's the closest thing the Black Knights have to an impact player coming off the edge, and figures to be a factor against North Texas' banged-up linebackers. With Mean Green starter Tobe Nwigwe now lost for the season, North Texas' defense will have to rely even more heavily on the 6-fot-1 Robertson, who was simply lost against Navy while playing as a redshirt freshman two years ago. Now the team's leading tackler and one of the better defenders in the Sun Belt, Robertson will have to show that he's more than just a compiler when matching up against Army this weekend, or it could be deja-vu all over again for Dodge's team against the option.