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Countdown to Army

Photo credit: Kurt Hostetler, The Star Press

Keith Wenning's stat line Saturday will tell you everything you need to know about BSU-Army

On Saturday, Ball State will compete in its third non-conference game of the season with the opportunity for their 2nd nonconference win. It will be tough sledding to be sure as Army’s option attack often times befuddles, confuses, and otherwise wears out opposing defenses. On offense, the Cardinals will face a defensive scheme that they haven’t faced yet, but the upperclassmen on both sides of the ball were present for the Army victory in West Point over the Cardinals two years ago, hopefully providing a burning desire for retribution. With a victory, the Cards notch their third win of the season and are assured of at least a .500 record in their nonconference games, a feat that many thought difficult to achieve when the schedule was finalized for the 2011 season. In my mind, this game is the jump ball of the season. A win and the Cardinals may very well be in a great position to go bowling at the close of the season. Kickoff is at 2pm at Scheumann Stadium and we count you down to kickoff…

5 Things You Should Know

  1. Army beat itself the first two games
    It’s easy to look at the schedule for Army and feel confident considering they’re 1-2, with their two losses coming at the hands of Northern Illinois and San Diego State. Of course, you’d be forced to overlook the fact that they also defeated Northwestern. Statistically, the Black Knights dominated the offensive attack against SDSU and NIU, racking up 700 yards of rushing, but negating that advantage was three turnovers in each game. Turnovers kill any offense, but it’s especially disruptive when you run the triple option. Aside from just moving the ball, the option attack and the blocking schemes with it simply wear out a defense. Turnovers mean they’re off the field and the defense gets a breather. Those games end up with fewer turnovers and it’s highly likely the Black Knights are 2-1 at worst, with a good chance at 3-0.
  2. QB Trent Steelman is an experienced talented leader
    Remember the advantage the Cardinals had with one Nate Davis under center? Experienced leadership manning the reigns of your offense is a benefit that is almost immeasurable. Steelman comes into Saturday’s contest with 28 starts under his belt and the person responsible for scoring Army’s last six touchdowns. As he’s shown this season, though, ball security and hanging on to the football can be an issue. However, when he’s on, he’s solid and Army is a considerable threat. See: Northwestern.
  3. Army dominates the ground and the time of possession
    As mentioned above, Army isn’t a flashy team or someone who will catch anyone by surprise. Their trickeration is really what side is the option going to go to. Army is second in the nation in rushing yards, at a smidge over 360 per game, and they lead the country in time of possession even with their six turnovers through their two opening games. When they do pass (averaging around 10 attempts per game) it’s usually lethal as we saw two years ago. Because of the commitment to the run often receivers are played soft and the help isn’t as quick as it usually is. Complicating the passing game is the mobility of Steelman, who is entirely comfortable tucking and running if there isn’t a wide open receiver downfield.
  4. Keith Wenning has the chance of a lifetime to strike the Army defense, if the offensive line holds
    Army’s defensive strategy isn’t some sort of blanket coverage that is difficult to find the open man. Often times, there is single coverage on the outside and a single safety playing high. Seems simple, right? Hardly. They rely on pressure and various pushes up front to create not only a mismatch for the offense attempting to run, but disruption for the QB attempting to throw. If Wenning has the time in the pocket to let the play develop and exploit the single coverage opportunities, it could very well be his best passing day as a Cardinal.
  5. Beware of Malcolm Brown
    Trent Steelman gets the publicity in the Army attack, as most QBs who run the option do, but running back Malcolm Brown is impressive in his own right. The junior averages 82 yards per game and a staggering 9+ yards per carry. Of course, it stands to reason that he only gets the pitch when the defense has committed to Steelman, that’s still impressive. Suffice to say the Cardinal defense may have played more high-powered offenses this season (South Florida) but I would say this Army attack will certainly be the most difficult one to contain.

4 Players You Should Know

  1. Trent Steelman, QB: Multi-dimensional and experienced and the one with the responsibility of ensuring the option works.
  2. Malcolm Brown, RB: Playing the option requires assignment football, and whoever is assigned to Brown has their work cut out for them.
  3. Steven Erzinger, LB: Army’s team leader in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. Containing him when the Cards have the ball is critical.
  4. Jared McFarlin, WR: While the Black Knights may not pass much, McFarlin is a 6’5″ target for Steelman when they do and the team’s leading receiver.

3 Ways We Win

  1. Bend but don’t break against the option
    As we saw in the Hoke years when Navy was a frequent opponent, stopping the option outright is almost impossible to do. What isn’t impossible is stopping it in critical situations to create favorable down and distance opportunities for the Cardinal defense. Army averages just under 6 yards per carry and it’s safe to say that number will need to be lower on Saturday. Perhaps most importantly, when Army doesn’t run the option the defense can’t be beat for a big play. That was the downfall in 2009 and simply cannot happen again.
  2. Take advantage of the chances that we have
    When a possession heavy team that has the ball for so much of the game, it is absolutely imperative to take advantage of whatever opportunities the offense gets, however infrequent they may be. BSU has shown extreme spurtability this season, as well as dry spells of ineffectiveness. On Saturday the Cardinal offense has to maximize their possessions and make each drive effective, efficient, and time for the defense to catch their breath. A multitude of three-and-outs, turnovers, or possessions that don’t come away with any points plays right into Army’s hands and would make a victory difficult.
  3. Force the Black Knights to cough up the football
    The best way to keep the defense fresh as well as give the offense short fields to work with would be to force Army into similar kinds of mistakes that they made in their first two losses this season. If BSU can hold onto the football as well as force some takeaways, then it could be a very enjoyable night in Muncie.

2 Cardinal Questions

  1. Can Keith Wenning exploit the opportunities afforded to him by the Army defense?
    For the most part this season, Keith Wenning has simply taken what the defense has given him and played mistake free football. This Saturday may afford him the opportunity to take chances downfield and stretch the defense, opening up the possibilities for the Cardinal rushing attack. If the play by play reads like a passing clinic, it’s a good day for the Cardinals and a great day for Wenning.
  2. Will the fans actually show up to Scheumann Stadium on Saturday?
    The home opener only generated a crowd of slightly under 9,000 to the Scheu. Will this week be any different? This team and this program has done yeoman’s work in the offseason and preseason to generate interest in this program and this team. If the local area won’t support them now, then I will begin to wonder if they ever will. Here’s to hoping that a large student contingent is generated by an exciting outcome last week.

1 Bold Prediction
For the Lembo-led Cardinals, this season has been a case study in how to win ball games. The Indiana game was a domination at the line of scrimmage in a contest that wasn’t as close as the seven-point margin would indicate. Against Buffalo last weekend, the Cardinals had a gritty come from behind win that showed exactly what kind of strides have been made in the mental toughness and resiliency of this team. On Saturday, I look for a much better crowd to energize the Cards, the defense to adequately contain the option attack, and capitalize on Army mistakes. I expect a quick start from the Cardinals and a 31-21 Ball State victory.

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