2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 3 - Northwestern at Army
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Sept. 17 at Army 21 … Northwestern 14
CFN Analysis: COMING
(AP) WEST POINT, N.Y. -- After running rampant for three straight weeks, the Army triple option finally has that elusive first victory.
Trent Steelman scored three touchdowns for the second straight week, including the game-winner on a 1-yard plunge with 2:49 remaining, and the Black Knights (1-2) didn't self-destruct for a change, beating Northwestern 21-14 on Saturday.
"They played on the edge," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "We have a chance now. We needed one of these three. We've grown each week, they've been able to stay together and make some mistakes. We got our nose bloodied a couple of times, and we struggled doing some things, but we stayed together and we believed in ourselves."
While losing its first two games to Northern Illinois and San Diego State, Army rushed for over 700 yards but turned the ball over three times in each and was a minus-2 per game in turnover margin.
Steelman, who lost two of three fumbles in a 23-20 loss to the Aztecs a week ago, had two more against the Wildcats, losing one. But neither cost the Black Knights this time, thanks to a defense that held Northwestern to 10 yards offensively in the third quarter and 117 in the second half -- and 62 came on the play that tied the game.
Army held the ball for just over 40 minutes and finished with 381 yards rushing on 75 carries to Northwestern's 115 yards on 27 tries. The teams entered the game ranked 1-2 nationally in total number of rushes. The Wildcats also converted 3 of 12 third downs after averaging 50 percent the first two games.
"Our main goal was to come out strong and make a statement. That's what we did," said Steelman, who also scored on runs of 1 and 17 yards. "That's what we did. The offensive line blocked until they couldn't block anymore. I was almost in tears after that last touchdown."
Steelman finished with a game-high 108 yards rushing on 28 carries.
Malcolm Brown had a 23-yard gain on a pitch right to jump-start the decisive drive for Army. Raymond Maples added a 17-yard run off a great fake by Steelman in the middle of the line, and Scott Williams had a 17-yard run around the left side to key the surge.
Steelman converted a third-and-6 play from the 9 and scored two plays later.
"The difference in the game was Trent Steelman," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
The Wildcats had one last chance to tie, and third-string quarterback Trevor Siemian hit wideout Jeremy Ebert for 18 yards into Army territory. But the Army defense forced an incompletion on fourth down with 66 seconds left.
"As a defensive player, that's what you want," Army linebacker Nate Combs said. "You want the weight on your shoulders after the offense punches it in. We knew it was our time to shine. I think we proved ourselves and found our identity."
Colter was 12 of 23 passing for 89 yards and gained 57 yards rushing on 10 carries after guiding the Wildcats to victory in the first two games of the season.
"I just had a terrible game and let my team down," Colter said. "I'm going to come back and work hard and try to fix all of that."
Ebert also had a 14-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter from Colter, who started his third straight game in place of injured Dan Persa, and a 62-yarder from Siemian in the fourth quarter.
Persa, recovering from a torn right Achilles tendon suffered last November, warmed up before the game and had a headset on during the action. He's expected to return Oct. 1 when Northwestern (2-1) opens Big Ten action against Illinois.
Siemian, a redshirt freshman, replaced Colter after Army's Alex Carlton missed a 26-yard field goal just past the midway point of the fourth quarter, and the Wildcats scored in just three plays. The third was a short dump to Ebert, and he outran the only defender that had a chance to knot the score at 14 with 6:03 left.
Steelman lost the handle after a snap early in the second quarter and quickly pounced on it, but he wasn't so lucky midway through the third. He again mishandled a handoff, and linebacker Ben Johnson recovered for Northwestern at the Army 30.
The Army defense forced two incompletions, and a sack by Army linebacker Steven Erzinger allowed the Black Knights to escape.
Army's triple option thrives on ball control -- the Black Knights entered the game ranked second nationally in rushing, averaging 353 yards, and second in possession time, averaging 37 minutes, 35 seconds -- and it couldn't have operated much better than on Army's first possession of the game.
After forcing the Wildcats to punt, Army marched 81 yards on 18 plays on a drive that lasted nearly 9 minutes. Steelman had seven carries for 49 yards, including a 6-yard run left on a fourth-and-5 play from the Northwestern 38-yard line and scored on a pretty 17-yard scamper around the left side with 3:39 left in the opening quarter.
It was the first time Army had led this season.
After driving the Wildcats deep into Army territory, Colter never flinched on his first career touchdown pass after a holding call against Northwestern on a first-and-goal from the Army 9. On the next play from the 14, he hit Ebert over the middle as Ebert made a pretty leaping catch at the back of the end zone behind the Army defenders with 5:23 left in the half.
Northwestern (2-0) at Army (0-2) Sept. 17, 3:30, CBS
Here's The Deal … This hasn't been the way the season was supposed to start out for Army. After losing to Northern Illinois and San Diego State, now things get tougher facing a Northwestern team that's overcome the absence of star quarterback Dan Persa to start out 2-0.
The Wildcat rushing game has been strong with a win over Boston College followed up by a light scrimmage against Eastern Illinois, and now it's tune-up time with at trip to Illinois in two weeks to kick off the Big Ten season. Persa is getting close to ready, but with each passing week he's getting healthier and healthier, meaning he's iffy at best to go this week, even though he says he can play.
But Persa isn't the only star quarterback with question marks.
Army's Trent Steelman, the conductor of the great option attack, suffered a pectoral injury late against San Diego State. He's expected to return, and he needs to be great to try to turn around a quickly dying season. Things ease up a bit with Ball State and Tulane up next, but this is a veteran team that's supposed to be coming up with a strong season under head coach Rich Ellerson. The ground game is great and the defense is solid, but it's going to take a special effort to beat the disciplined Wildcats.
Why Northwestern Might Win: Army has as very, very bad habit of getting down early. For a team that relies on running the ball, that's a problem.
Northern Illinois got up 49-6 before Army put 20 garbage time points on the board, and San Diego State was up 14-0 in the first quarter before the Knights fought back. The Wildcats didn't start fast against BC, but they came up with 28 first half points against Eastern Illinois to put the game away. NU's defense is better than NIU's and SDSU's, and if the offense can get up early, Army isn't going to have as much luck coming back.
Army might be able to run the ball, but Northwestern can, too, tearing off 320 yards and five scores against EIU and 227 yards and three touchdowns against Boston College. Controlling the ball and the game for long stretches, holding on for over 36 minutes last week, NU could beat Army at its own game. The Knights can't win without dominating the time of possession.
Why Army Might Win: The running attack is working exactly like it's supposed to. The defense has been a problem, and the O had to try to play catch up against Northern Illinois, but Steelman has done wonders for a precise and synchronized offense that's averaging 353 yards per outing.
It's not just Steelman. Ten different players run the ball against San Diego State, and keeping everyone fresh won't be a problem even if Steelman isn't 100%. Army doesn't like to throw the ball unless is has to, but it might not have a choice against a Wildcat secondary that's been picked clean. Boston College, who doesn't have much of an air show, was able to roll at will even though star running back Montel Harris wasn't around to balance things out, and Eastern Illinois came up with an efficient and effective 209 yards and a score.
What To Watch Out For: How is Northwestern doing it? Persa has been out, and Mike Trumpy, who ran for 85 yards against Boston College, suffered a concussion. Also hurting is Adonis Smith, a promising runner who produced when he got his chance before suffering a leg injury. Sophomore Kain Colter has been brilliant, running for 109 yards and three scores against EIU while completing an efficient and effective 27-of-37 passes for 301 yards over the first two games. He's the total offense right now, and everything will flow through him more than ever. The Cats don't have any other viable rushing options.
With Steelman hurting, Army needs even more production out of junior running back Malcolm Brown, who started out the year with 92 yards and score on just ten carries and followed it up with 77 yards against San Diego State. A home run hitter who missed most of last year with a banged up shoulder, he has the hands of a receiver and the straight-line speed to take the pitch on the outside and crank out yards in chunks.
What Will Happen: Colter will dominate once again, but it'll be the Wildcat defense that wins the game. The linebackers aren't going to make too many mistakes, and the secondary will be disciplined enough to stay at home when needed to keep the big plays to a minimum. The Wildcats don't have much in the way of offensive pop with the passing game, but they'll be a bit more balanced than usual, while at the same time controlling the clock and keeping the Knights off the field.
CFN Prediction: Northwestern 34 … Army 20
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