The uniqueness and one of the most exciting aspects of college football is the fact that each contest can easily carry the title of a "must win" game ... especially in the first quarter of the season.
For the Black Knights, such a game will exist this weekend as the Army host the Aztecs of San Diego State.
The Aztecs are coming off a dominant 49-21 victory over Cal Poly and are looking to continue their flow when they travel East where they will arrive at the historic West Point campus and step into Michie Stadium.
San Diego State will have plenty of offensive weapons for Army to deal with, starting with quarterback Ryan Lindley, running back Ronald Hillman, along with a solid receiving corp.
On Army's side of the ball offensively, they have an assortment of running backs, starting with fullback Jared Hassin who finished 2010 with 1,013 yards, along with several talented slotbacks from
Raymond Maples to freshman Trenton Turrentine.
On paper, this would appear to be a possible blowout for the Aztecs, but as previously noted ... when there is a "must win" associated with a college football game, anything can unfold.
So let's read ahead to hear what analysts A.M. Allan of GoBlackKnights.com and Edward Lewis of AstecSportsReport.com have to say about Saturday's match-up.
What team has the more potent offense?
If you would have asked us this question prior to Army's offensive disappearing act during their season opener, I would have said that the San Diego and Army offenses are equal.
Like the Black Knights, SD State has longevity at quarterback, with four year starter, Ryan Lindley at the helm. They have a very productive running game and two talented tight-ends that Army will have to deal with and attempt to "slow" down. Not to mention more than adequate speed at receiver .... players who can run by you.
For the Army offensively, it is my guess that we saw the worse of Trent Steelman, as well as learning some personnel lessons from last weeks' embarrassment against NIU. As Coach Rich Ellerson stated in his Tuesday Press Conference, expect to see more of freshmen Trenton Turrentine and Larry Dixon.
The biggest challenge for the Black Knights' offense is that the "unfamiliar" element that the triple option often brings is very familiar when it comes to SD State. They have been practicing agains the option for almost nine months going back to their bowl game against Navy, last weekend's contest against Cal-Poly and now Army.
I give the edge to San Diego State
I'm not too sure how much of a contest this question is. San Diego State has at least two future NFL players on its current offense, and when all is said and done, that number could be more like four.
Senior quarterback Ryan Lindley is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and has been rated the No. 1 senior NFL QB prospect by several national media outlets. Running back Ronnie Hillman has people in Southern California comparing him to former SDSU great Marshall Faulk. And offensive guard Nik Embernate and tight end Gavin Escobar have been receiving plenty of love from NFL scouts as well.
The Aztec receiver position is far from deep, but with all the talent on the field inside the hash marks, I think SDSU definitely gets the nod on this question.
Who is the offensive x-factor and why?
It will begin and end with quarterback Trent Steelman, who may be coming off of his worse performance wearing the Black & Gold of Army. Steelman's strength is his ability to read defenses and make quick/accurate decisions. That was grossly missing on Saturday. The junior signal caller is a gamer and we anticipate that what we saw on Saturday will be left in the rearview mirror and the take charge quarterback will rebound this Saturday and be Army's "X" factor.
The x-factor has to be receiver Colin Lockett. Everyone knows Hillman can juke and jive his way for 150 yards on any defense in the country, but if Army loads up the box with eight or even nine guys, Lockett is going to have to get open on the outside.
Now Lockett, a converted defensive back, was able to do that last week against Cal Poly, breaking out for 82 yards and a touchdown, and it alleviated a lot of pressure on Hillman. But against a better secondary in Army, things might not be as easy. If he breaks loose, it's pick your poison. If he's tied up, SDSU's offense could slow down.
Which team has the better defense?
Unfortunately, this is easy. San Diego State hands down. Head Coach Rocky Long and the Aztecs would have had the advantage even minus the first game injuries that the Black Knights suffered.
However, with defensive end Jarrett Mackey lost for this game if not the entire season, Coach Rich Ellerson and staff are going to have to work diligently to make the necessary personnel changes to slow down the San Diego's offense.
That being said and even with the advantage going to the Aztecs, look for the first game chitters to be gone with the Black Knights' young defense and the aggressive-swarm style to return on Saturday.
SDSU has faced the triple-option offense three times in its last nine games and has won all three games by a combined score of 111 to 60. For some reason, triple option teams just can't figure out Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense. It stymied Air Force and Navy last season, and did it once more against Cal Poly last weekend.
Army's triple option is a little different than those three, but going with the Aztecs' recent history against option offenses, it's hard not to give SDSU the check in this question.
Who is the defensive x-factor and why?
For Army, it can and will not be one individual that will be the X-factor. Every player on defense must play within themselves, but it is apparent that in order for Army to have any success in slowing down or stopping the Aztecs' offense, there must be 3-4 players around the ball and on the tackle, every play.
But if we had to point to one player, it would be having a presence in the middle and up front, which points to the other ≤b≥Mackey, A.J.≤/b≥ at defensive tackle. The Black Knights must have both a sustained pass rush up the gut and run presence in the middle to be effective.
It has to be defensive tackle Jerome Long. There are better players than him on this defense in Miles Burris and Leon McFadden, but the difference between Jerome and his backup Dontrell Onuoha last week was astounding. When Jerome was in, Cal Poly's running game didn't have a chance because he stood up the center and the guard right at the line of scrimmage. When Onuoha was in, he got blown back and Cal Poly found some room.
Rocky has moved Onuoha to defensive end and has brought Sam Meredith to nose tackle this week behind Jerome because of that game, but still. Jerome is a space eater and a run stopper, and if he's not on his game, SDSU might have some trouble stopping the run.
Who has the edge on special teams?
During the NIU game, special teams probably looked below average across the board. The reliable Alex Carlton missed an extra point, punter Kolin Walk had his first punt of the day blocked and returned for a touchdown and kicker returner Raymond Maples didn't show any signs of breakaway qualities that you hope to see from your return man.
Conversely, the Aztecs have a true kickoff return threat in Colin Lockett, who can make things happen and do so instantly. Last week against Cal Poly, he returned 4 kickoffs, where he averaged 35.8 per return and had a long of 94 yards for a touchdown.
However, after saying all that, Carlton is a stud of kicker and if this a tight game, could be the X-factor.
I call this one even..
This one is tough to say, because SDSU scored a kick return touchdown last week, but it also looked pretty bad covering kickoffs and punts. Its kicker, Abel Perez has a cannon for a foot, but it shoots more like a shotgun than a sniper rifle, so some days he's on and some days he's off.
With all that said, I think I'd give the nod to Army on this one.
Which team drives the length of the field?
If the Black Knights stay true to their identity, we anticipate that the Army fans will not only see lengthy drives, but also the team's offense being the Black Knights' best defense.
Army is capable of bringing in fresh legs at each of the three running back positions, with slotbacks, Malcolm Brown and Trenton Turrentine, who both had solid games against NIU. Along starting slotback Raymond Maples fullbacks Jared Hassin and freshman fullback Larry Dixon. This talent and depth will put constant pressure on the Aztecs' defense, especially as the game heads into its latter stages.
I give the edge to Army
SDSU isn't going to go on many 10-play, 80-yard, eight-minute drives this season. And I'm pretty sure Army is going to do that quite a bit.
The Aztecs are an explosive offense, and if they don't get the monster play, drives don't come as easily to them. As for Army, well, it's built to run for four yards and a cloud of dust over and over and over again. So I'll give Army the edge on this question.
Which team will win and predict the score?
This is a game that will surprise most analyst. The easy pick is San Diego State, because all signs point to that fact. However, Army's game against NIU was a wake up call for not only the players, but the coaching staff as well. For the Black Knights, they will be playing at a placed called West Point, in an arena called Michie Stadium, with the support of a group of folks called "The Corp of Cadets". The chitters are gone and the fear of making mistakes is a lesson learned.
San Diego State 28
I think the Aztecs have just way too much talent to let Army beat them this year. This SDSU squad is poised to have the best team ever assembled in school history, and with its recent success against triple-option teams, I'm taking SDSU to win this one 34-17.
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