Rating the Defense
Once again, the Black Knights relied on their defense to either keep them in the game and/or lock down a victory, as Army moved to 2-1 on the season with their 24-17 win over Ball State.
Identical to the like the script from the Duke game, on the first series of the game, Ball State's was forced to punt and the Army marched down the field 80 yards for the first score of the game.
Once again, the defense was playing with a 7-0 cushion and early momentum on their side.
GoBlackKnights.com looks at the performances on the defensive side of the ball and unveils our 3rd report card rating of the season.
DEFENSIVE LINE (C+)
This was probably the weakest performance overall by the defensive line thus far in this young season. Pressuring or sacking the quarterback had become their calling card, but that was pretty much non-existent throughout the contest, which allowed Ball State quarterbacks, Kelly Page and Tanner Justice plenty of time to seek out their receivers. If not for quality secondary coverage, it could have been a long day for the Army defense.
However, it is often said that timing is everything and in the second half, players like Victor Ugenyi, Mike Gann, Brad Marren and Josh McNary were becoming a little more active, especially against the rush.
With the scored knotted at 17-17, 1st & 20 from the Army 34 yard line, McNary registered Army's only sack of the game, but it was about timing. It forced the Cardinals into a 3rd & 30, which was followed by a Black Knights' interception.
On Ball State's next series (6:49), on their own 8 yard line and the score still tied, for the second series in a row the guys up front responded. This time it was up and coming freshman defensive end Jarrett Mackey who was seeing crunch-time reps.
Mackey applied pressure on Page who was forced out of the pocket, as he was searching for a receiver, but found free safety Donovan Travis[/db], who made the interception and pranced in for the game winning touchdown.
Both Steve Erzinger) and Andrew Rodriguez) were somewhat quiet positions, all three backers were solid from the majority of the game and made critical plays when the defense needed a stop. Mike (Stephen Anderson)
But it was Anderson's day and with the exception of a 15 yard face mask penalty in closing minutes of the 2nd quarter, his play was almost flawless. He now appears more comfortable in his new position and role, whereby he appears to understand the schemes much better and playing naturally. The junior linebacker sat the tone early, when in the middle of the 1st quarter he put a vicious hit on wide receiver Seth White, which caused sounds of "oooohs" and "ahhhhhs" throughout the stadium and a broken collarbone for the Ball State receiver.
On the day, he finished with a career high 15 total tackles
11 of which were solo stops, along with ½ sack for a four yard lost.
Although Rodriguez finished with only 2 tackles, he was able to register a timely interception on the final play of the 1st quarter at the Ball State 35 yard line and lead to an Alex Carlton 45 yard field goal.
Fellow sophomore, Erzinger added 4 tackles to his game day resume.
In addition to the trio, senior Chad Thayer saw some action and assisted on timely sack in the 4th quarter.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (A)
As a unit, this was by far their best game of the season. What was more impressive with their pass coverage, not to mention their solid run support was that throughout the day, they were able to hold down the Cardinal receivers minus a quality pass rush.
Corners Mario Hill and Antuan Aaron were superb in their most man coverage. The senior Hill picked up his first career interception, and although he was once again called on questionable pass interference, you could see that his aggressive style was not hindered.
Aaron was equally as impressive, finishing the day with five tackles, which was second only to Anderson's fifteen.
However, the man of the day in the secondary was free safety Donovan Travis, who made two timely interceptions in the contest. On 3rd & 30 in the 3rd quarter Travis extended his body to make his first pick.
However, the play of day came with the Cardinals having possession on their own 7 yard line, 17-17 tie score and 6:46 remaining in the contest.
On 1st down, Page was pressured by Jarrett Mackey, and as he released his pass, Travis steps right in front of the intended receiver, made his third interception of the season and prances in from 18 yards out, which gave the Black Knights a 7 point lead.
Big time play in a crunch time moment.
This staff had a game plan and stuck with it. Throughout the majority of the contest, the defense answered the call and as has been the nature of this unit, it was "Swarm Storm" by committee. The staff has always stated that they want to get the best athletes on the field, who will allow them to win games. Hence, they are not afraid in crunch time to take a freshman like Mackey or cornerback Josh Jackson and get them out on the field. This will only add to the depth and talent that is put on the field each game.
As a unit, the defense continues to mature and should only get better. Against the Cardinals, they were very physical and seem more relaxed in their defensive schemes. They will face a big test this weekend as they travel to Iowa State, but best on their performance against Ball State, they should be up to the task.
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