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Know an ’11 Opponent: Army

In an effort to educate, inform, preview and most importantly, poke fun of those who dare add the Ball State Cardinals to their football schedule, OTP is proud to present the Know an ’11 Opponent series. Some things to note… this isn’t heavy lifting here with broken down statistics, game film replays, or random things like that. It’s still preseason after all, and that kind of analysis and evaluation is best saved for game week. So buckle up kiddies… time to Know an ’11 Opponent!

Army Black Knights

For the BSU Cardinals, playing a service academy is certainly nothing new since I’ve been a BSU fan. The Navy Midshipmen have battled the Cards three times (1991, 2007, 2008) and this year’s opponent, the Army Black Knights, have dotted the schedule twice before (1999, 2009). Playing the service academies in and of itself is pretty respectable in my opinion since these are the future defenders of the freedom that allows me to sit on my lazy ass on Saturday and drink copious amounts of alcohol while screaming at a bevy of 18-22 year olds as if my impassioned pleas can be heard through my television screen, up through the satellite, and somehow into their helmets. To be fair, it’s a pretty big ass television, so if there was ever a way, I feel like this would be the most plausible way for that to happen. Aside from just scheduling them and allowing them the honor of checking out the great metropolis of Muncie in the event the game is at home for the Cardinals, it’s actually been a successful endeavor on the field for the Cards as well. 3-2 against the service academies and undefeated against the Mids at 3-0. For you non-math folks out there, that means we’re 0-2 against the Black Knights, but much like a heater at the craps table, streaks are made to be broken.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?
The short answer is not much. The Black Knights were indeed a bowl team last season but that had more to do with a vast quantity of bowls and a schedule that was far from loaded with juggernauts. They did play three MAC teams (EMU, Temple, and Kent) beating two, so I guess I can’t say too much when looking back at how BSU fared in the MAC. Their seven wins last season and their winning record was the first in a while, as they had gone 30-108 since 1997 and the Black Knights haven’t beaten a top 20 team since 1972. Recent fans or younger ones won’t remember the Army football of decades ago, but there was a time when they were THE team. Three straight national titles from 1944-1946 and 14 Top 25 finishes in their history means they were damn good at one point, it’s just that “one point” wasn’t any time recently.

The Man Who Wears the Headset
Rich Ellerson is the football General for the Black Knights, and if his triple option looks familiar, it should. His offensive teeth were cut under Paul Johnson at Hawaii. Johnson’s triple option has run roughshod over the ACC at Georgia Tech for the last three years, and at Navy before that and Ellerson has brought the same sort of attack to West Point. Ellerson’s tactics and strategery have clearly been a welcome change of pace, as Army posted their best record since 97 and their first bowl berth since 96 in just Ellerson’s second year at the helm. At Army, he’s rang up a 12-13 record which is actually quite impressive when you look at the years of futility before he got there. Before that, he was at Cal Poly, where he won three Great West Conference titles in eight seasons. So winning is certainly in his background and experience. Whether or not that sort of success can sustain at Army is a tough challenge, though, but he’s on the right track.

Players and Stats of Note
Let’s focus on the defense first. If for no other reason than I like to be positive. The Black Knights return only five starters on that side of the ball, and have lost plenty from their 2010 edition. Gone are last season’s sack leader, tackles leader, tackles for loss leader, interceptions leader, and QB hurries leader. That’s good. Statistically, the defensive players returning of note are junior DE Jarrett Mackey (47tkls, 4 sacks) and senior CB Richard King (4 INTs). Offensively it is a bit of a different story. They return six starters and almost everyone who accumulated any sort of yardage passing, rushing, or receiving. Eight of their top ten rushers are back, led by junior Jared Hassain who went for 1013 yards and 9TDs. More irksome is junior QB Trent Steelman who while passing for a shade under 1000 yards and 7 TDs ran for 841 yards and 11 TDs. It’s not like BSU has had any trouble with mobile quarterbacks recently. Wait a minute…

Army’s success in the triple option is impressive to say the least and usually the more years an offense like the triple option is in place for the skill players the more effective it becomes. That’s the bad news. The good news on the offense is the offensive line is made up of four new starters. All have game experience, just not the starting experience like those who graduated, and the triple option and its success is almost entirely contingent on the ability of the offensive line to function within it.

If Army Football was a Musician
So Army was great decades ago, pretty not so great now, but because of their service academy classification, Army gets our respect no matter their recent lack of success on the field. Good a while ago and deserving respect? Army… you’re Meatloaf

How Worried Are We?
A nice calm cooling Code Yellow for the Black Knights. Some are pointing to this game as a challenge, and while it may be, I still have to believe this will be the most winnable nonconference game for the Cardinals. It’s at home and after several tune ups, so while far from a certain win, it’s a definite lean toward the victory side of the fence. For some of the Army roster, they’ll only look at the lack of success the last couple of seasons for the Cards and add in the fact that some players on the Army roster were around for the 24-17 Army win against the Cards in 09 and an incorrect aura of confidence may creep into West Point. For Ball State to have a season considered successful, this is one of the games that needs to definitely be chalked up in the W category.

Enemy Recon
Surprisingly enough, despite our internet sleuthing skills, we couldn’t find an Army fan blog. If anyone knows of one, drop us a comment or a line and let us know. Their official site is here.

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