In his Monday news conference, Pat Fitzgerald said it better than I ever could.
"I can't come in here next Monday and say Army had the ball for over 35 minutes and expect us to be successful," Fitzgerald said. "That just can't happen. If they're over 40 minutes, we've got an opportunity for a recipe for disaster."
In 2010, Army controlled the time of possession in 10 of their 13 games. With a run-heavy offense, the Black Knights look to drain the life of the opposing defense with long, sustained drives. The Wildcats defense will have a great challenge. They will need to get off the field as quickly as possible.
You can't forget about the offense. Their job is to stay on the field—especially if Army is wearing out the Northwestern defense. The Black Knights always bring the potential for an upset by forcing their opponent to play their own game. The Wildcats need to control the football.
2. Match Army's discipline
When facing any opponent, having team discipline is a key. When facing a service academy, discipline becomes more important than ever. The Army football team epitomizes what team discipline is all about. When a football coach preaches ‘execution', they are thinking of what a team like Army does.
The Wildcats have a very tough challenge. They need to avoid penalties and mental mistakes, all while executing on each play. This also means NU has to prevent the big play while on defense (see below for more details).
In summary, Northwestern needs to play a mistake-free game. That's tough to ask for in the third game of the season. Army will give the Wildcats a challenge, both physically and mentally. NU needs to match them.
3. Out-size Army
The Wildcats' biggest advantage—no pun intended—in Saturday's game is in size. Northwestern has to take advantage of their size differential on the offensive and defensive line.
Northwestern's offensive line weighs an average of 301 pounds, compared to Army's defensive line which averages out at 224 pounds. When Army has the ball, NU's defensive line will have a size advantage, out-weighing them by 10 pounds.
In the game, this translates to the Wildcats getting a better push at the line on both sides of the football. They need to take advantage of this.
4. Don't allow the big play
On the first play from scrimmage in Northwestern's season, they allowed Boston College running back Andre Williams to rumble 69 yards down the sidelines. When NU appeared to be in control against Eastern Illinois, Jimmy Garoppolo connected for a 72-yard touchdown pass.
Catching the trend?
When facing a team like Army, preventing the big play is CRITICAL. The Black Knights average just 5.2 yards per play. NU has to keep this offense contained. If Army is going for big plays, then the Wildcats are in trouble.
5. Don't get lost in distractions
This is one that Pat Fitzgerald brought up in his weekly press conference. There are plenty of distractions at Army. Here's how he put it:
"We've got to avoid the distractions, I'm sure there's going to be great pageantry before the game, with their pregame ceremonies and things they do. I know when we played at Air Force and that bomber came over, it shook me to the core a little bit. We'll try to build in some distractions to practice. They do a nice job of having the visiting team be a little bit distracted."
This is another great challenge on this veteran football team. They are at Michie Stadium to win a football game. As Fitzgerald pointed out, there will be plenty of distractions. The Wildcats need to tune out the side show and focus on football. Army will be ready to play. Northwestern needs to be alert and ready for a tough game.