Ball State Cardinals at Army Black Knights: A Way Too Early Non-Conference Preview

Hunter Martin

Ball State closes out 2014 non-conference play with a trip to West Point for a matchup with the Army Black Knights.

On October 4th, Ball State and Army will meet on the gridiron for the fourth consecutive year and the fifth time in six seasons.  The Cardinals have won the last three against the Black Knights, following a 40-14 victory last season in Muncie.  There will be plenty of change this time around.  Ball State enters the matchup sans Keith Wenning, while Army has a new head coach for the first time in six seasons.  It's the Cardinals, it's the Black Knights, and it's almost becoming a rivalry.

Army Black Knights 2013 Rewind:

The 2013 campaign wasn't a pleasant one for the Black Knights.  Army struggled to a 3-9 record on the season.  Those three wins came against Morgan State, Louisiana Tech, and the MAC's very own Eastern Michigan.  The Black Knights did put forth a spirited effort at home against Stanford, then ranked fourth in the country, before falling 34-20.  In the only game that matters Navy easily handled Army, 34-7 in front of 65,000 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Mascot:

A common misconception is that the Army Mule, because it is kept at the United States Military Academy at West Point, is mascot for West Point.  In fact the mule is the mascot for the entire United States Army, originally adopted in 1899 to counter the Navy goat.  For many years the Army teams were nicknamed the "Cadets," while the football team was informally referred to as "The Black Knights of the Hudson" due to the color of their uniforms.  In 1999 the nickname "Black Knights" was adopted for all sports.

Conference/Division:

Army is one of six teams that were without a conference for the 2013 season.  Notre Dame, Navy, BYU, New Mexico State, and Idaho joined the Black Knights as independents.

Last Bowl Appearance:

Army's last bowl appearance was following the 2010 season.  With a 6-6 record, the Black Knights received an invitation to play against the Southern Methodist University Mustangs in the Armed Forces Bowl.  Army secured a 16-14 win against the SMU, despite being outgained in total yardage, 413-229.  The win marked the first bowl victory for the Black Knights since a 31-29 defeat of Illinois in the 1985 Peach Bowl.

Head Coach:

It's a new era in Army football.  Gone is Rich Ellerson, fired following last season's loss to Navy.  Ellerson led the Black Knights for six seasons, finishing above .500 just once.  Enter Jeff Monken.  Army is the second head coaching stop for Monken, who left Georgia Southern after four seasons at the helm.  In Monken's final game as head coach of the Eagles, he led Georgia Southern to a 26-20 victory over the Florida Gators, the first time Florida has lost to an FCS opponent.

Five Key Players:

Offense:

All college football fans will be familiar with Army's triple option offense.  Last year the Black Knights certainly did spread the ball around, even if it didn't translate into wins.  Remarkably enough, quarterback Angel Santiago threw for 592 yards while rushing for 593.  This translated to 10 touchdowns on the ground, 2 through the air, and 2 interceptions.

Truly anchoring the ground game though, was returning running back Terry Baggett.  Baggett rushed for 1113 in total, and a staggering 7.9 yards per carry.  His eight touchdowns were second on the team behind Santiago.  Baggett will have help from fullback Larry Dixon.  Dixon carried the ball 705 times last year, averaging 6.4 yards per rush, and six touchdowns.  The impact of both backs will be dependent upon the role Raymond Maples plays in 2014.  Maples ranks sixth all time on Army's rushing list and returns to the Blacks Knights following a season ending groin injury in the third game last year.  Army's rushing attack ranked third in all of the FBS last season, behind only Auburn and Navy.

Army also returns last year's leading receiver Xavier Moss.  Last season as a freshman, Moss caught 35 balls for 463 yards and a touchdown.  That was one of just four passing touchdowns the Black Knights had on the season, and no other Army receiver logged more than ten receptions.

Defense:

Defense was not a strong suit for the Black Knights in 2013.  Army yielded an average of 31.6 points per contest, ranking 91st of 123 teams on the FBS level.  Helping to right the defensive ship in 2014 will be senior defensive lineman Robert Kough.  At 6-foot-3 259 pounds, Kough tallied 8 tackles for a loss and 3 sacks a season ago.

In the secondary the Black Knights will look to senior strong safety Geoffery Bacon.  The 6-foot 205 pound strong safety finished second on the team last year with 63 tackles, despite starting just eight games and missing four due to injury.  Bacon played linebacker for the Black Knights in previous years, before moving to safety for the first time last season.

Special Teams:

Kicking duties will be retained by junior Daniel Grochowski.  Last season Grochowski converted all 36 of his extra point attempts.  He connected on 8 of 11 field goal attempts, kicking a long of 48.

Punting responsibilities will go to junior Alex Tardieu.  Tardieu logged 51 punts last year, amassing a total of 1,901 yards, good for a 37.3 average.  He booted the longest kick of his career, a 55 yarder, at Air Force.

There wasn't much explosiveness on the Army kick return units last season.  Graduated is leading kick returner Julian Crockett.  Expect Larry Dixon to get plenty of opportunities returning kicks for the Black Knights.

Early Prediction:

We'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Ball State by the time this game comes around.  The Cardinals will actually have started MAC play with a game against Toledo a week before.  Army and Ball State are both navigating changes within their programs.  Army has a new head coach for the first time in six seasons, while Ball State remains in the completely capable hands of coach Lembo.  The Cardinals enter into the Mann/Milas era, while Army has stability under center with the return of Angel Santiago.  A loss from the Cardinals here won't crush me, I know that there are going to be growing pains when you lose players like Wenning and Willie Snead.  That said, I expect this to be a very competitive game, and believe the Cardinals have the tools to come out on top.  Key to a Ball State victory will be exploiting a below average Army defense and limiting the damage the Black Knights do on the ground.

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