Seeking consistency, Army meets Eastern Michigan
Army coach Rich Ellerson is still searching for answers for his struggling team, and finding them on the road won't be so easy with some key players ailing.
Army (1-5) travels to meet Mid-American Conference foe Eastern Michigan (0-6) on Saturday, and senior linebacker and captain Nate Combs won't play. Combs, who leads Army in sacks and forced fumbles, suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of a 31-17 loss to Kent State last Saturday at Michie Stadium and bruising fullback Larry Dixon has a sore hamstring.
''They're looking at that tape (against Kent State) and thinking they have a great chance this week,'' Ellerson said. ''I would think they are looking at our defense and what we've been doing and are licking their chops a little bit. We've won the last couple of times we've been out there, but they've been hard-fought games that have come down to the final possession.''
Although the Eagles are winless, they have to be encouraged after last week's performance in a 52-47 setback to Toledo. Their 624 yards of total offense was the most in four seasons under coach Ron English.
The Black Knights have been victimized by some big runs this season - Boston College's Andre Williams ripped off a 99-yard scoring run in a 34-31 loss to Army at Michie Stadium two weeks ago - and the Eagles have a sophomore tailback who repeatedly shocked Toledo.
In his first career start, Bronson Hill rushed for 283 yards on 28 carries and matched the school record with four touchdown runs. That's the best single-game rushing performance in the Football Bowl Subdivision this year and was just 8 yards off Larry Radcliff's school record, set in 1971 against Eastern Kentucky.
What's even more eye-opening is that three of Hill's touchdowns came during a chaotic third quarter as he busted runs of 47 yards, 58 yards, and 70 yards in a 3-minute span.
That's reminiscent of what Kent State's Dri Archer did to Army last week. Archer rushed for 222 yards, including an explosive 87-yard run late, and also threw a touchdown pass.
''Son of a gun, he's another guy like we saw last week who can finish a run,'' Ellerson said of Hill. ''Unlike last week, he's 210 pounds and not a little guy. If he hits a crease and gets downhill, you're going to pay heck getting him on the ground.''
A week after a comeback victory over Boston College achieved in the final minute of play, the Black Knights failed to carry any momentum into the game against Kent State. Tailback Raymond Maples was held to a season-low 80 yards and Army's triple option was held to more than 70 yards below its season average.
Still, Maples ranks 10th in the nation with 125 rushing yards per game and the Black Knights still are the top running team at 385 yards per game. That's more than enough to worry the Eagles.
''Defensively, we've struggled with consistency,'' English said. ''We'll play a lot of good snaps in a game, then play some bad snaps. The issue now is that playing this Army team, there are going to be some one-on-ones where guys have to make one-on-one tackles.''
Army's defense is allowing nearly 450 yards of total offense and more than 36 points per game. Eastern Michigan is averaging just over 20 points and less than 325 yards of total offense per contest.
Senior tight end Garrett Hoskins, who caught seven passes for 103 yards against Toledo, paces the EMU receiving corps with 23 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
Reverting to the form that beat BC is what the Black Knights are striving for.
''What's driving us all crazy here is not the track part of it, or the physical maturity, it's those things that should be fundamental to our style of play that aren't being executed routinely in a competitive environment,'' Ellerson said. ''Yeah, we're young, but I'm sick of saying that.
''We have to get better and get better now.''