After last weekend’s excitement — Navy’s near miss at No. 8 South Carolina and Army’s home upset of Northwestern — the matchups for this week are serioulsy lacking in sizzle.
But while Army’s game with Ball State (18 losses in last two seasons) isn’t sexy, it is hugely important for the Black Knights if they want to be bowl-bound again. As for Air Force, they face Tennessee State — the Falcons’ second I-AA opponent in three games — in in what looks to be a snoozer. And Navy — those lazy bums aren’t even playing Saturday! The nerve!
Next week promises to better though, as it brings us the annual Air Force-Navy game.
Army vs. Ball State
The Black Knights have been improving each week since the Week 1 disaster at Northern Illinois. Army’s win against Northwestern last week was one of the biggest for the program in the last 25 years. Coach Rich Ellerson said the victory “was as big as SMU (in the 2010 Armed Forces Bowl). That’s a big accomplishment for the program to beat a top-half team from the Big Ten.”
Army doesn’t often win bowl games, nor does it often beat Big 10 programs. The Northwestern win shows how far the Cadets have come since Rich Ellerson was hired in 2009. After more than a decade of losing, the future appears bright for West Point.
Ball State isn’t a Big 10 team, but they’re hardly an easy out for the Cadets. Army is only four-point favorites against the Cardinals, who are 2-1 this season — including a win over Big 10 doormat Indiana. This is Army’s first road game since traveling to Northern Illinois and getting clubbed in Week 1, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Cadets perform.
If Army’s option offense, led by quarterback Trent Steelman, can continue to control the ball and reduce their turnovers, it may be a long day for Ball State. West Point is second in the nation in rushing offense (362.3 ypg) but only 88th in points per game. Part of the Cadets problem scoring has been fumbles. Army has put the ball on the turf 12 times in the first three games, with six of those being turnovers.
Army’s rushing attack has flourished despite the fact they have yet to get junior fullback Jared Hassin loose. Hassin rushed for more than 1,000 yards and nine TDs last year, but only has 115 yards on 31 carries and no touchdowns so far this season. If Hassin can get more yardage up the middle, it’d open things up even more for Steelman and the backs on the edge.
Ball State doesn’t do anything particularly well (80th in total offense and 78th in points allowed). But they’re 2-1 after edging Buffalo last week. Quarterback Keith Kenning has completed an impressive 71 percent of his passes this season, and has four TDs to zero interceptions.
Fans can watch this game on ESPN3, and it will be broadcast nationally on Sirius channel 134.
Air Force vs. Tennessee State
Tennessee State has given up 93 points in its last two games — losses to fellow I-AA teams. Air Force should roll to an easy victory in this one — heck, they’re 41-point favorites according to one website.
This might be a good game for Air Force to let Tim Jefferson air the ball out a little bit. TSU allowed a whopping 630 yards passing last week to Murray State.
Expect things to get ugly for TSU in this one. Which, of course, will be a thing of beauty to Air Force fans.