Army Black Knights @ Northern Illinois Huskies Football Preview
If Army head coach Rich Ellerson was eligible for an official rank in the U.S. Army, there might be enough support to make it happen. Sure, the Black Knights went only 7-6 last year, not 10-3, but this was a program that had only been .500 or better on three occasions in the past 20 (twenty!) years. Not only did Ellerson and his charges get to Army’s first bowl game in 15 years, they won the game for good measure, stunning Southern Methodist on the Ponies’ home turf in suburban Dallas in the Armed Forces Bowl.
It’s no secret the Black Knights run the ball and run it some more. Junior quarterback Trent Steelman returns as a third-year starter along with talented running back Jared Hassin in the team’s triple-option offense. Steelman and Hassin combined for 1,734 rushing yards in 2010. Despite a top-10 run game, Army still hasn’t diversified its offense by cultivating enough of a passing attack that can keep opposing teams’ secondaries honest. Last year, Army threw for a pitiful 78 yards per game, easily last in the country. Northern Illinois sported a top-30 defense last season on its way to an 11-3 record, so Army may need to find itself some diversity to get enough points on the board.
It’s a good thing Army had a top-30 defense last year as well, because the Black Knights’ opponent on opening day, the Northern Illinois Huskies, averaged 450 yards per game in 2010. While running back Chad Spann has moved on to the NFL, the Huskies do return quarterback Chandler. The dynamic playmaking whiz passed for 2,530 yards, a perfect complement to the strong run game (complemented not just by his backfield mates, but by his own impressive total of 836 rushing yards). The run game should still be in great shape for new head coach Dave Doeren, a former Wisconsin assistant who will try to make a bigger name for himself as the leader of a program in the Mid-American Conference. Northern Illinois, as the defending MAC West champion, returns a bounty of experience on the offensive line (116 returning offensive line starts, fifth-most in the country). NIU will battle Toledo for the division championship in 2011, and a win over a bowl team on Labor Day weekend will quickly build back the belief that even without former boss Jerry Kill (now the new head coach at Minnesota). NIU can maintain a high standard of performance. Army’s defense will need to make stops or it could be playing a tough game of catch-up all night. The Black Knights need to make this a low-scoring game if they want to have a good chance to win. An authoritative defensive effort could make the homestanding Huskies doubt their capabilities in a new and uncertain era under an unfamiliar coach.
By: Matt Zemek
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