So I started off with some questions to Sal Interdonato over at Army Football Insider, to get some initial insight into those Knights of Black at West Point.
1) Army has never been an elite football program (partly because...well, it's Army, not Alabama, their recruiting pitch is a tad different), but this is their worst start since 2008 - when, incidentally, they started 0-4 (including a loss to a MAC team) and won their 6th game (over a MAC team) to improve to 2-4. My point is, what's tripping this team up?
Players say they were caught up in expectations at the beginning of the season. Army returns all of its top rushers from a team which led the nation in rushing last season; senior quarterback Trent Steelman was entering his fourth year as a starter. The defense has taken some time to develop - Army has started four freshmen this season, and the Black Knights started just three seniors on defense last week against Boston College.
2) Are these big gaping problems or small fixable ones? I can't imagine the team played the same level of ball in the ugly loss to Stony Brook as they did in their two close games (NIU and BC), so what was different?
Army played with more emotion in all three phases of the game against Boston College. That was lacking against Stony Brook, which controlled the ball for 38 minutes against Army.
3) On paper this is clearly a ground and pound matchup: Kent doesn't defend the pass well, but Army doesn't pass the ball at all, really. However, Army doesn't defend the run well and, while the Flashes aren't at the Knights level with rush offense, they are 30th nationally. Does that present a big problem for the Knights, or just a known area to focus on?
Army’s defense has had some trouble slowing down power running games this season. The Black Knights switched up their front last week, moving Bobby Kough from defensive tackle to defensive end, playing Mike Ugenyi or Richard Glover on the nose and starting freshman T.J. Atimalala at defensive end. Trayion Durham is the biggest back Army has seen this season, so it will be interesting how Army’s newer front holds up.
4) Simply put, do you think Army has a legitimate shot at winning this game?
Army is riding an emotional high after Boston College, and their rushing attack is hard to slow down - the Black Knights rushed for 516 yards, 323 in the second half last week. If Kent State’s defense can’t get off the field, it could be a long day for the Golden Flashes.
I decided that this was nice, but I wanted more - since both Army bloggers I contacted got back to me and responded to my questions, I had a convenient opportunity to get another perspective on this. Chris for The Unbalanced Line made me answer some questions for him first, and then tackled what I gave him.
1) Has Army really been *thisclose* in their games this season, or have the final lines been deceptive?
First off, thanks for the forum. I don't think Army's final scores have been very deceptive. In the first couple games of the season, Army's defense could be characterized as just plain bad - they managed a few stops against Boston College, but that "just plain bad" defense has been hit by a number of injuries. By the end of the last game Army was down three safeties, a corner and a defensive end.
2) Speaking of final lines, what happened against Stony Brook?
Simply put, Army came out flat. Stony Brook moved the chains and did what Army likes to do to teams -they possessed the ball for 38 minutes, capitalized on turnovers and out-hustled Army on the road. I take very little consolation in saying it but it's worth mentioning - I have no doubts that Stony Brook will end the regular season 10-1 and in the FCS playoffs.
3) For that matter, what went wrong in the loss to Stony Brook that they were able to correct in time to take down Boston College?
Army lost four fumbles inside Stony Brook's 35 - two of those fumbles were inside the 10 yard line. Army was also stopped on downs twice inside the Stony Brook 10. Against Boston College, Army's defense was able to get off the field in key spots - most notably holding BC to a three-and-out on the Eagles' goal line with two minutes to play. With Army's defense shorthanded like it's been, sometimes it seems like Army requires having that second chance.
4) Is the pass game an afterthought because of the design of the offense, the success of the run game or both?
I guess it's a little bit of both. Army's 'hurry up and wait' T-formation offense can just lull opponents to sleep. Besides chewing up clock, Army's offense is good at exploiting a defense's tendencies. If you give Army the pass they will take a shot. You take away the fullback and QB Trent Steelman can find four yards around the end. You cheat safeties up and army will identify one-on-one coverage and throw down field. Try to take the inside and there is always the pitch past the edge.
As for a prediction, I think Army can be competitive if those things happen. I think the betting line is about right with Kent -1.5. If I had to guess I would say something like Kent 45 Army 35.