Army is the most one-dimensional offensive team in college football, ranking no. 118 in passing yards and no. 2 in rushing.
Despite shutting down one of the ACC's best rush offenses in Boston College and handling Eastern Illinois, there are still skeptics that the NU run defense can be Big Ten Championship quality. This will be yet another chance to prove the doubters wrong.
Northwestern's secondary should easily handle the abysmal Army passing game, so essentially, the Wildcats' defense will hinge on its ability to stop the run.
This could go either way, but I bought into the run defense after the Boston College game and I'm still buying in two weeks later.
When Northwestern has the ball:
The Northwestern offense is one of the best in the Big Ten—even without Dan Persa—and the Army scoring defense ranks no. 103 nationally.
This is a clear advantage for Northwestern, regardless of who is playing quarterback.
Kain Colter has steadily improved his command of the Wildcats' offense, especially on the run. He still needs to improve his passing game, and this should give him a good opportunity to test his improvement.
Expect NU to roll on offense against a relatively weak Army defense.
Northwestern's special teams have been fairly inconsistent in this short season, but that is to be expected from such a young unit.
Venric Mark has been solid as a return man and has the ability to make a big play every time he touches the ball.
Sophomore kicker Jeff Budzien put together an impressive game against Boston College, hitting a 43-yard field goal in his first ever attempt for NU. However, he failed to hit his lone try against Eastern Illinois.
For Northwestern to consistently compete in the Big Ten, the kicking game will need to improve and step up in big games, but that will come in time.
Army's special teams, however, have been even worse. Kicker Alex Carlton has yet to attempt a field goal this season and is only two-for-four on PATs.
For that reason alone NU will have the edge, but there is definitely a need for improvement.
Army coach Rich Ellerson is quickly rising in the college coaching ranks and was rumored to be a candidate in a number of jobs last season.
However, he's still at Army and is slowly building the program back up from years of anonymity.
Similarly, Pat Fitzgerald has been building a solid program in Evanston and is slowly turning Northwestern into a program to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.
Both coaches get the most out of the talent they have to work with and both should end up with high-profile job offers at some point in their careers.
This matchup is pretty even—both are great motivators as well—but Fitzgerald's record gives him a slight edge.
Army announced earlier this week that Michie Stadium is nearly sold out, but that likely won't give the Black Knights a huge home-field advantage.
Similar to the Boston College game, expect many east coast NU alumni will make the trek to West Point, making for a large "purple" contingent inside the stadium.
However, all the history and tradition of Michie Stadium—along with the fact that this is the United States Military Academy—could potentially throw Colter and company off.
Don't expect the atmosphere to do much with Northwestern's psyche—the Wildcats are riding a two-game winning streak while the Black Knights are 0-2—but NU won't have much of an intangible edge, either.
A week after thoroughly demolishing Eastern Illinois, Northwestern will face a tougher test in Army.
The Wildcats tend to struggle against teams they should beat handily in non-conference season, but they've done a good job of keeping their composure in the first two weeks of 2011.
Expect the Northwestern offense to roll against a fairly weak Army defense. Kain Colter should be able to grow more as a passer, but will still make things happen in the running game.
Don't be surprised if Army comes out of the gate hot as well, but once Northwestern's defensive front seven gets settled in, it should be able to handle the Black Knights' very one-dimensional offense.
Prediction: Northwestern 31, Army 20