It has been an interesting season for the Army football program. With six wins, the Black Knights are in a bowl game for the first time since 1996. There have been big wins, missed opportunities, and a few bad defeats, but the program is clearly moving forward. The tilt with SMU presents a chance to get a bowl victory, which would be a nice feather in Rich Ellerson’s cap.
When and Where: Thursday, December 30 in Dallas, Texas. Kickoff is set for 12:05 p.m. ET.
Series History: 2-0 in favor of Army. The first meeting was in 1928, the last in 1967.
Matchup: This matchup is interesting because each team will be facing different versions of offenses they faced earlier this season.
The Mustangs faced Navy earlier this season, giving up 253 yards rushing on 4.6 yards per carry in a 28-21 loss. The Navy option is run with a more off-tackle read than the Army attack, but the Mustangs issues with over-pursuit and poor angles does not bode well for them. You can be sure the coaching staff has attempted to clean that up in preparation for Army’s offense.
Army faced Hawaii earlier this season, the previous stop for June Jones. The difference is that Hawaii always uses its rushing attack as an accessory – something to keep defenses honest. SMU has used the run effectively this season, with running back Zach Line piling up 1,391 yards on the ground. Even quarterback Kyle Padron has rushed for 254 yards in addition to his 3,526 yards passing. Army was able to adjust to Hawaii’s attack after being overwhelmed early, and the coaching staff has surely taken into account the adjustments made in that game while preparing for this matchup.
Coaching Connection: Ellerson and Junes have an interesting connection – Ellerson and Jones were teammates at Hawaii in 1974. They even served together on the Hawaii coaching staff in 1983. The two are now in the business of resurrecting programs – SMU was 1-11 the season prior to Jones arriving on campus, Army was 3-9 the season before Ellerson took over. Now the two square off in a bowl game, something neither program considered a possibility a few seasons ago.
Players to Watch: FB Jared Hassin: SMU gave up 95 yards and two touchdowns to Navy fullback Alex Teich earlier this year, and expect Army to ride Hassin. They will want to control the game and keep Kyle Padron and the SMU offense on the sideline, so look for them to depend on Hassin for consistent yardage. Hassin currently sits 69 yards short of 1,000 for the season.
QB Kyle Padron: SMU has a potent passing attack, and Padron orchestrates it efficiently. He has passed for 3,526 yards and 29 touchdowns so far this season. The Army secondary has been susceptible to big plays all season (see: Air Force, Notre Dame, Navy). The secondary will need to play its best game of the year and get some help if they hope to keep the SMU offense under 30 points.
Potential X-Factor: DE Josh McNary: The best pass rusher on the Army team, the secondary needs his help to contain the SMU passing attack. If he can at least pressure Padron and possibly throw in a few sacks, it could make a huge difference for Army’s defense.
Prediction: I think this is a tough matchup for Army. Playing what amounts to a road game in SMU’s stadium, against a potent passing attack. The Black Knights have been stung by the big play all season, and SMU can create them. Army will need to pressure Padron and ride Jared Hassin if they want to pull this one out.
There are some milestones on the line for Army, in addition to Hassin approaching 1,000 yards rushing. If the team can gain 175 yards on the ground, well under their season average of 256 yards per game, the 2010 team will move into the top 10 rushing offenses in Army history. A win would also give Army its first winning season since the 1996 team.
In the end, I think the Black Knights play well but come up a bit short.
SMU 35, Army 28
About the Author
Written by Donald Lappe
Senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Double Major in Media & Society and United States History. Also writing for TapouT Magazine and MMA Worldwide Magazine.