clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Ball State Cardinals vs. Army Black Knights Football Preview

New, 1 comment

Army needs a win, Ball State needs a win.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It's that time of year again sports fans. That's right, time for your annual Ball State/Army matchup. It's tradition really. The weather changes, there's leaves and crap, and the Cardinals and Black Knights meet on the gridiron. This is the fourth consecutive year these two have met, and lately it's been a Ball State win-a-thon. The Cardinals have won three in a row, including a 40-14 pasting of the Black Knights last September. This year's matchup may be the most important in the series, as both programs are headed in the wrong direction in 2014.

First the Cardinals, who opened the year with a workmanlike 30-10 win over FCS foe Colgate. The running game dominated as wily genius head coach Pete Lembo navigated the beginning of the post Keith Wenning era. What followed was a heartbreaking loss at Iowa and a home defeat to Indiana State of the FCS. Two weeks ago Ball State came up short at Toledo in a game delayed several times by weather, 34-23. Coach Lembo, who guided the Cardinals to 6 wins in 2011, 9 wins in 2012, and 10 wins a season ago, is staring the very real possibility of 1-4 right in the face.

Not that things are going that much better in West Point. Army kicked off 2014 with 47-39 win over Buffalo in a game they led 47-17 in the fourth quarter. What followed was a 35-0 beatdown at the hands of Stanford, and a tight 24-21 loss at Wake Forest. Last week bad turned to worse, as the Black Knights fell at Yale 49-43 in overtime. This is the first year at the helm for head coach Jeff Monken. He took over for Rich Ellerson who failed to win more than three games his final three seasons. No one said this would be a bowl team. No one said losses to Ivy League schools were ok, either.

Under center for the Cardinals on Saturday will be Ozzie Mann. Taking over for a quarterback like Keith Wenning is not an easy task, and Mann has responded well. Listen, he's not winning any games for the Cardinals, but he's not losing them either. On the year he's completed just shy of 55% of his passes and thrown for 5 scores versus 1 interception. He's yet to really sling it though, his 193 passing yards per contest ranks 10th in the MAC.

Army counters with the duo of Angel Santiago and A.J. Schurr. They make Ozzie Mann look like Dan Marino. Maybe not in talent, but at least in volume. Santiago has attempted just 20 passes this season, Schurr 15. It's on the ground where these two are truly deadly though. The triple option still reigns supreme in West Point, and the Black Knights boast the 9th ranked rushing offense in the nation through four games at 316.5 per. Through the air they barely muster 90, so under center these teams look vastly different.

But Ball State can run the rock too. Enter Jahwan Edwards who will have rewritten the Ball State record books by the time the season is over. The senior is Ball State's feature back, a bruising ball carrier who averages better than 4.6 yards a rush. Joining Edwards is Horactio Banks, a lightning quick back who rushed for 134 yards in the season opening win over Colgate, yet has managed just 100 yards total in three games since.

Just when you thought the Black Knights were done running the ball, they run some more. This rushing attack is actually led by Larry Dixon. Dixon trampled Buffalo for 174 yards on 20 carries in week one, before being bottled up by that vicious Yale defense to the tune of 12 yards on 7 carries a week ago. Terry Baggett, Raymond Maples, Matt Giachinta also see significant carries.

Through the air 2014 has not started the way any Ball State fan expected. Jordan Williams opened the season as the heir apparent to the Willie Snead role in Muncie. Instead he's caught just 10 passes for 82 yards through four games. KeVonn Mabon on the other hand has become Ozzie Mann's favorite target. Mabon has caught 25 passes for 292 yards, leading the team in both categories. Chris Shillings has also seen an increased workload as Williams struggles.

It's hard to say much about a passing offense that averages 90 yards through the air. The leading receiver has tallied just 79 yards on the season. No Black Knights wideout has caught more than 5 passes this season, with Tony Giovannelli and Edgar Poe tied for the team lead.

Ball State's had a good, not good enough defense this season. The Cardinals rank 47th nationally, yielding just 22 points a game. They're second in the MAC in both scoring defense and total defense . Linebacker Ben Ingle is sixth in the MAC in total tackles. This defense will certainly be put the test on Saturday, as Army is easily the top rushing offense they will see all season.

Defense is not a strong suit for Army. I mean, the Yale Bulldogs hung 49 on them so do what you will with that information. The Black Knights give nearly 37 points per game, good for 111th in all the land. They're awful in all ways on the defensive side of the ball, though they are a little more generous through the air than on the ground. This would be a good opportunity for Ozzie Mann to experiment a little bit with the long ball.

Prediction? Won't do it. These are two teams in desperate need of a win. A poor showing from Mann and the question will at least be floated out there whether or not he was the right choice from the four man race for quarterback in spring camp. Expectations certainly weren't high for Army, but with so much returning talent, improving on three wins is reasonable. I think we'll see a lot of offense, perhaps not a lot of points. Always be ready though, because when the MAC is involved, scoreboards will break.