Through four games, Army has not trailed an opponent at any point this year. In fact, the Army defense has given up a whopping 0 combined points in the first quarter this year. This is exactly what we want to see. Because when the Black Knights get a lead, they are very good at running out the clock. Teams average just 3.5 drives against Army in the second half. That will win a lot of games.
ESPN has another statistic called “average in-game win probability.” It measures, “the chance that an average FBS team would control games from start to end the way this team did, given the schedule.” Army comes in at #2 in the nation behind only Ole Miss. This statistic is adjusted for strength of schedule.
Not too shabby.
Army Black Knights
We have a lot to break down on offense this week. For starters, Army put up 384 yards on the ground at an average of 6.1 yards/carry. We should note, however, that 189 of those yards came on just three plays by QB Christian Anderson. Take away those explosive plays, and how many yards per carry do the Black Knights have?
Just 3.25. This leaves very little room for error.
Army faced 1st-and-10 twenty-one times during this game. They converted 16 of those (76%), by far their lowest of the season. The offense got behind schedule quite a bit in this game, often off of busted passes or other “fancy” plays, and either wound up punting or got lucky when Anderson broke a tackle in the backfield for a long run. When Army pounded the midline and established the perimeter, though, the offense looked really good.
However, Christian Anderson’s injuries are becoming a concern. He’d injured both his ankles coming into this game, and he hurt his shoulder late. Expect QB Tyhier Tyler to get the nod in Muncie.
Army’s defense looked really good. They gave up just 232 total yards, 80 of which came on a single play, and they allowed just 10 points. CB Cameron Jones had an interception, and the defense rang up 2 sacks plus a bunch of tackles for loss. They held the RedHawks to a combined 12/27 passing. With that, they forced a run-first team to abandon the run completely. Miami never even got close to getting into a rhythm on offense.
The Black Knight defense ranks 15th nationally and 4th against the run. Save one play, they put together a phenomenal performance this past week.
Coach Sean Saturnio’s squad was equally as impressive. Two blocked kicks — one clean, one tipped — highlighted an outstanding performance. But P Zach Harding made arguably the most impact. He booted the ball 5 times, averaging 50 yards/kick. That included a 63-yarder which ran out of bounds at the Miami 3 yard line.
Doesn’t get much better than that. Expect to see his name more surrounding the Ray Guy Award.
It's that time again 🙌— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 27, 2021
RT if your team is still undefeated this season 💯🔥 pic.twitter.com/uGmwz4Tn7Y
Ball State Cardinals
The Ball State has a better passing attack than the one we just saw. Starting QB Drew Plitt and backup John Paddock have combined to complete about 63% of their attempts. In fact, the Cardinals will be the most balanced team Army has faced this season. They average almost exactly 36 passing and 36 rushing plays/game.
Alas, this formula hasn’t resulted in a lot of points. Ball state has scored 12, 12, and 13 points points, respectively, against FBS opponents this year. Their fatal flaw appears to be 3rd down conversions. The Cardinals have converted less than 39% on the year. This Army defense ought to be able to make that work.
Players to watch include leading receiver Justin Hall, who also has 101 yards rushing. Carson Steele leads the Cardinal’s ground attack with 183 yards rushing.
The Ball State defense allows 5.3 yards/carry, good for 107th nationally against the run. Army’s offense should be able to run right through that. LB Jaylin Thomas leads Ball State in tackles with 30. He also has an interception. But that interception is one of just 2 turnovers the Cardinals have generated this season.
The Cardinals have a player, Brett Anderson II, who can play at both safety and linebacker. Kind of like the NY Giants’ old “Big Nickel” concept. If Ball State adopts a similar defensive scheme to the one Miami used, expect to see Anderson line up as a single high safety maybe 10 yards off the line of scrimmage.
Cardinals K Jake Chanove is perfect on points-after and has missed just 1 field goal — from beyond 40 yards. P Nathan Snyder averages 42 yards/punt. It’s worth noting, too, that Ball State has been perfect this year at preventing blocked kicks. We’ll see if Army can put a dint in their record.
THIS TEAM! pic.twitter.com/9pK6YCjQQA— Ball State Football (@BallStateFB) December 19, 2020
The Black Knight offense has to get back to basics this week. If Ball State gives up five yards a carry, why throw? Let’s do what we do well before we get all fancy and stuff. On defense, Army needs to capitalize on third downs.
On the flip-side, Ball State makes this game competitive by solving their third down problems. To date, no team has been particularly good at sustaining offense against the Black Knights, but that is exactly what the Cardinals will have to do if they hope to win this game.
The current line has Army favored by 7.5. The Over/Under sits at 47. Based solely on seasonal statistics, Army ought to cover that spread easily. But a longer view tells us that Ball State is a good team that hasn’t quite played up to its potential. This will likely be a tough test on the road.
Game kicks at 5:00 PM Eastern. Coverage is on ESPN+.
Go Army! Beat Ball State!!!
*Cover image via USMA Flickr.