2011 Army Preview
Army QB Trent Steelman
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Army Black Knights
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- Army vs. Navy Lookahead
Rich Ellerson is proving to be one of the most creative and inventive head coaches in college football, no matter what the level, but to get Army where everyone wants it to be, he and the staff have started out by being a copycat.
Head coach: Rich Ellerson
3rd year: 12-13
12th year overall: 72-54
Off. 18, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 25
Ten Best Army Players
1. FB Jared Hassin, Jr.
2. QB Trent Steelman, Jr.
3. LB Steven Erzinger, Sr.
4. DE Jarett Mackey, Jr.
5. CB Josh Jackson, Jr.
6. CB Richard King, Sr.
7. PK Alex Carlton, Sr.
8. RB/KR Malcolm Brown, Jr.
9. OG Frank Allen, Jr.
10. C Will Wilson, Jr.
Sep. 3 at Northern Illinois
Sep. 10 San Diego State
Sep. 17 Northwestern
Sep. 24 at Ball State
Oct. 1 Tulane
Oct. 8 at Miami Univ.
Oct. 15 OPEN DATE
Oct. 22 at Vanderbilt
Oct. 29 Fordham
Nov. 5 at Air Force
Nov. 12 Rutgers (in NYC)
Nov. 19 at Temple
Nov. 26 OPEN DATE
Dec. 3 OPEN DATE
Dec. 10 Navy (in Landover)
No, Army isn't Navy, but after the success the Midshipmen have had with its option running attack, Ellerson has gotten the right pieces in place to run the triple option offense in sort of the same way. But it takes a little while to work at premium efficiency, and this might be the season when it all comes together and the program takes things to a whole other level. After last season, that next level is beating Army.
Army hadn't had a winning season since 1996 with the program going through a mish-mash of styles to try to find something that works. 1997 to 2008 brought just 30 total wins with no season with more than four victories. In stepped Ellerson in 2009 and the results followed with 12 wins in two years and the program's first bowl victory – at 16-14 win over SMU in last season's Armed Forces Bowl – since the 1985 31-29 win over Illinois in the Peach Bowl.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Navy 31, Army 17.
Army and Navy don't have a conference title to fight for like Air Force does. Seasons are defined by doing more than winning rivalry games at Alabama, Auburn, Michigan and Ohio State. Ellerson might have made Army relevant again by partially taking the Navy blueprint, mixed with his own style, and running with it, but Navy is still showing who's boss.
The last Army win over Navy was in 2001, and all the losses in the nine game streak have been by double digits. While last year's game was more of a battle, it was still a 14-point defeat.
So to have success at Army, Ellerson has to complete the trifecta with 1) another winning campaign, 2) another bowl, and 3) a win over Navy, and this team might have the right makeup to do all three.
Quarterback Trent Steelman has been around long enough to know what he's doing, and he has the talent around him to make the nation's eighth-best rushing attack – Navy finished sixth – even stronger. The line needs to rally with several key starters gone, but the ground game should still work with fullback Jared Hassin for the inside and speed at the Slotback positions for the outside. The passing game might be along for the ride, but the running game will be more than good enough to carry the team.
The defense was quietly fantastic, especially against the pass, and now the Double-Eagle Flex should work fine if the quick athleticism can make up for the lack of raw bulk. The secondary that did just enough to get the job done should be a strength with Josh Jackson and Richard King back at corner, while Steven Erzinger should be one of the best and the most productive linebacker you've never heard of.
Can it all translate into a win over Navy? Finally? Going to a bowl game and coming up with back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1989-1990 would make the season a success, too, but this season could be all about what happens on December 10th in Washington, D.C.
What to watch for on offense: The emergence of the offensive line. Guard Frank Allen is the only returning starter, and while losing four key blockers would be a major problem at most places, Army, like most service academies, have understudies waiting in the wings to keep the same production rolling. Junior Will Wilson looks like a find at center, and at 6-2 and 284 pounds, he's one of the team's biggest blockers. Joe Bailey and Matt Villanti will combine at right guard, and Derek Bisgard and Brad Kelly are 250ish-pound blockers on the outside. All five projected starters are upperclassmen, and they have to play like veterans right away.
What to watch for on defense: More aggressiveness into the backfield. The Army defensive front has to rely on speed and quickness to make up for a galling lack of size. The front four is anchored by 266-pound A.J. Mackey on the nose, but his backup, Parker Whitten, is a mere 235 pounds. The rest of the line checks in at around 220 pounds or under, except for Jarrett Mackey on the outside, who's only 230 pounds. This is an active and aggressive group that has to do far more after coming up with 25 sacks and 65 tackles for loss.
The team will be far better if … the passing game starts to work. Ellerson's Cal Poly offense was second in the FCS in 2008 in passing efficiency. The Black Knights were dead-last in the nation in passing offense in 2009, and it wasn't even close with just 861 yards on the season with the No. 119 team, Navy, coming up with 1,058 yards. Army's air show started to work better last year with 1,015 yards on the season, and the team still finished last in America in passing. All that matters in the Army attack is for the passing game to be efficient, and it wasn't with the Knights completing 52% of their passes with just seven touchdown throws, three interceptions, and averaging 7.4 yards per throw to end up 71st in the nation in passing efficiency. Navy finished ninth.
The schedule: The Knights start out in a battle of running attacks. Army finished eighth in the nation last season on the ground, while Northern Illinois finished seventh. While home games against San Diego State and Northwestern are winnable, they're going to be battles. The production has to start to come at Ball State in late September, and a home win over Tulane is a must before going on the road to face Miami University and Vanderbilt. In the first seven games, Army faces five teams with new head coaches. Only one game is at West Point in the final seven games, and there are only four total games at Michie with the Rutgers game at Yankee Stadium and the Navy showdown in FedEx Field in Washington.
Best offensive player: Senior FB Jared Hassin. The 6-3, 235-pound thumper was the tone-setter for the Army attack after transferring over from Air Force. He was a factor right away with three touchdown runs against Eastern Michigan, and while is workload was limited early on, everything kicked in midway through the season with 144 yards and two scores against Tulane. With four 100-yard games in a row, and after closing out with 1,013 yards and nine scores, he became the back to work the entire offense around.
Best defensive player: Senior LB Steven Erzinger. Stephen Anderson was the star of the defense last year and turned out to be the tone-setter for the front seven with 108 tackles. Now it'll be up to Erzinger to take over in the middle, and he should be able to handle the workload after making 76 stops. While he's not all that big at 6-1 and 222 pounds, he's tough, has tremendous speed, and has the guided-missile hitting ability to crank out well over 100 tackles.
Key player to a successful season: Junior NT A.J. Mackey. There's no size whatsoever on the Army defensive front. There are teams that are light up front, but the Knights have safety-sized players in key spots in the front four. Mackey is the only plugger with any semblance of bulk, but he was banged up this off-season and he has to prove he can hold up for a full season. If he's out for any length of time, or if he's ineffective in the middle, most teams should be able to run at will.
The season will be a success if … Army wins eight games with one of them being against Navy. It would be a tremendous year if Army came up with the exact same result it did in 2010, but with the one difference being a win over the Midshipmen. Winning at home early on is a must with only one true home date after the October 1st game against Tulane. Anything less than a winning season and a bowl game will be a step back, and anything less than a win over Navy will mean a tenth straight offseason of being on the wrong side of the rivalry.
Key game: Besides Navy, September 10th against San Diego State. It would be nice to win the season-opener at Northern Illinois, but the Huskies are better than Army. San Diego State might be better, too, but it's the home opener and the offense has to start working in midseason form or, with Northwestern up next, risk possibly starting out 0-3 before going to Ball State. The high-octane Aztecs will bring the offense, and Army will have to prove it can keep up.
2010 Fun Stats:
- 4th Quarter Scoring: Opponents 110 – Army 60
- Penalties: Opponents 73 for 563 yards – Army 55 for 532 yards
- Turnovers: Opponents 30 (16 fumbles, 14 interceptions) – Army 14 (11 fumbles, 3 interceptions)
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