2012 Army Preview – Running Wild
Army QB Trent Steelman
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Army Knights
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Rich Ellerson is a terrific head coach with the ingenuity and the ability to make Army a factor again. And now in his fourth year, it's time for his team to be more consistent because the results are awful if it isn't.
Head coach: Rich Ellerson
4th year: 15-22
13th year overall: 75-63
Off. 27, Def. 27, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 23
Ten Best Army Players
1. QB Trent Steelman, Sr.
2. RB Raymond Maples, Jr.
3. FB Larry Dixon, Soph.
4. RB/FB Jared Hassin, Sr.
5. RB Malcolm Brown, Sr.
6. LB Justin Trimble, Jr.
7. S Hayden Pierce, Soph.
8. OG Frank Allen, Sr.
9. LB Thomas Holloway, Sr.
10. CB Josh Jackson, Sr.
Sept. 1 OPEN DATE
Sept. 8 at San Diego State
Sept. 15 Northern Illinois
Sept. 22 at Wake Forest
Sept. 29 Stony Brook
Oct. 6 Boston College
Oct. 13 Kent State
Oct. 20 at Eastern Michigan
Oct. 27 Ball State
Nov. 3 Air Force
Nov. 10 at Rutgers
Nov. 17 Temple
Nov. 24 OPEN DATE
Dec. 1 OPEN DATE
Dec. 8 Navy (in Phil.)
Ellerson has the rushing attack working. Army led the nation with 346.5 yards per game on the ground, and as expected, the passing game was the worst in college football averaging 50.4 yards per outing. The Army offense also finished dead last two seasons ago in passing yards, but the offense was more efficient and more effective. But for all the focus and attention on the offense, the defense was able to play a little bit, too, two seasons ago.
The D wasn't bad last year, helped by the offense that manages to hang on to the ball for forever, but it wasn't quite as good. The special teams weren't anywhere near as strong, and worst of all, the turnover margin was a disaster.
Army has to win the games it's supposed to as well as pull off a slew of upsets. In the 7-6 2010 season, the Knights beat all the teams at roughly its own level. Last season, losing to Miami University was bad and getting blown out by Ball State was worse. Now, Ellerson's job is to make sure his veteran team doesn't miss the five-foot putts and to make the running game so much better – even after leading the nation – that it can win games because it's in total control.
All the top parts of the ground attack return with the top seven rushers and 11 of the top 12 returning – backup quarterback Max Jenkins is the only one missing. Quarterback Trent Steelman is trying to get healthy after being banged up a bit over the last two years, while speedster Raymond Maples and power back Jared Hassin leading the backfield. Averaging 400 yards per game on the ground isn't out of the realm of possibility.
The defense that couldn't seem to come up with the big stop at the right time gets eight starts back, but the experience doesn't make up for a glaring lack of size. Holding up against the better power running teams is going to be a problem with a line that's built like a linebacking corps. If the offense doesn't hold on to the ball to keep the D line on the bench and rested, the results aren't going to be pretty.
The schedule is tough, but it's not full of a slew of killers, and it's possible that the offense is just good enough and just precise enough to be too tough to deal with. If it isn't, Ellerson will do what he can to get creative to try to make Army a winner again.
What to watch for on offense: The health of the main runners. There are plenty of veterans and lots of good rushing options, but the O needs it stars. The team can survive if quarterback Trent Steelman goes down, but a dream of going to a bowl game again would probably be gone. He was out this offseason with a slight knee injury, and he was battered and bruised throughout last year mostly having a problem with an ankle problem. Tough running back Jared Hassin lost his effectiveness as a fullback and struggled after taking a big pounding. He'll work in a variety of ways, but if he's healthy the offense takes on another look. With a healthy Steelman and Hassin the Knights have the potential to be special.
What to watch for on defense: Does position matter? The coaching staff is getting quirky with where to put the best talents and the top options on the field, and it's going to have to get even more creative if the goal is to get everyone to hold up. This is a tine front seven – or six depending on the alignment, with no likely starter hitting 250 pounds on the scale. Feisty doesn't begin to go into what this group is, and with enough experience and a lot of quickness, the goal will be to get everyone swarming around the ball no matter where they play.
The team will be far better if … it wins the turnover margin. It's not a stretch to call this the difference between the 3-9 2011 season and going 7-6 in 2010. Last year the Knight lost 22 fumbles and threw four picks in just 97 attempts. Two years ago there were a mere 11 lost fumbles and three picks. Army finished third in the nation in turnover margin in 2010 and won a bowl game, and finished 108th last year and had a disastrous record.
The schedule: It'll be really, really difficult to get to six wins and a bowl game without enough layups to count on. It's not like there's a killer on the schedule – going to Rutgers might qualify as Army's toughest matchup – but there's a slew of games that could go either way. The Knights could certainly lose to Ball State, at Eastern Michigan, and/or to Temple, Northern Illinois, or Kent State at home. On the plus side, the team doesn't have to leave the greater New York area from November 20th until the finale against Navy in Temple, and there are only four true road games – sort of counting the date with Rutgers – to deal with. The slate gets harder over the final act, so if there's any hope of getting to six wins, almost all of them will have to come early on.
Best offensive player: Senior QB Trent Steelman. He'll never be confused for Tom Brady as a passer, but he has come a long way since coming to Army as a slight 160ish-pound quick quarterback. He has worked his way up to well over 200 pounds and has been tough as nails, but he has had to fight through a slew of injuries over the last year. He might not be a 100-yard rushing machine with just four over the last three seasons, but he has been a stronger runner and a better decision-maker. While Army might have the nation's worst passing game, Steelman is improving as a passer after throwing for 637 yards and three touchdowns in 2010.
Best defensive player: Junior LB Justin Trimble. Call this a projection considering he made just 12 tackles in limited action and isn't one of the team's eight returning defensive starters. The 5-11, 200-pound WHIP – weakside linebacker/end – is the brother of former Army receiver Jeremy Trimble, bringing the same sort of speed and quickness. He should be a tackling machine with the ability to always be around the ball and the potential to be a 100-stop playmaker.
Key player to a successful season: Junior DT Robert Kough and Sophomore DT Richard Glover. The two woefully undersized defensive tackles have to show they can hold up on the inside. The 239-pound Kough missed all of last season hurt, but he's a great athlete with the ability to work his way into the backfield. The 247-pound Glover is one of the team's biggest defenders but he hasn't seen much time yet and still needs to prove he can hold up. The run defense that allowed close to 200 yards per game needs these two to be terrific.
The season will be a success if … Army gets to the Military Bowl. That's the tie-in, and it's going to be tough to get to without a slew of upsets. There aren't any big-time BCS conference teams to deal with, but beating Kent State, Northern Illinois, Ball State and Temple aren't going to be easy. All Army has to do is finish with six wins to go to a second bowl game in three years, but there aren't any sure things other than Stony Brook.
Key game: Dec. 8 vs. Navy. It's going to be a bit of a fight to get to six wins and a bowl game, so the Knights might need to finally get by their arch-rival just to get to the Military Bowl. Army came closer last season in a 27-21 loss to the Midshipmen, but it has been ten straight losses in the rivalry with the 2011 ending a run of six losses in the final seven games. There will be several key markers during the season, but Navy will be bigger than any foe the Knights might play in a bowl.
2011 Fun Stats:
- Rushing Yards Per Game: Army 346.5 – Opponents 194.9
- Punt Return Average: Opponents 10.3 yards – Army 3.7 yards
- Time of Possession: Army 33:28 – Opponents 26:32
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