Northern Illinois (1-1) at Army (0-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 15, 12:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Michie Stadium (38,000) -- West Point, New York. Television: CBS Sports Network. Home Record: NIU 1-0, Army 0-0. Away Record: NIU 0-0, Army 0-1. Neutral Record: NIU 0-1, Army 0-0. Conference Record: NIU 0-0, Army 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
GAME NOTES: The Army Black Knights try to end their four-game losing streak in home openers on Saturday when they square off with the Northern Illinois Huskies at Michie Stadium.
NIU is coming off a dominant display in which it used a balanced attack to defeat UT Martin, 35-7, to improve its record to 1-1. The Huskies' loss came against Iowa in their season opener at Soldier Field. The Hawkeyes needed a late score to pull out an 18-17 victory over the reining MAC Champions. Head coach Dave Doeren is in his second season as NIU's coach after leading the program to 11 wins and a GoDaddy.com Bowl victory in his inaugural season.
The Black Knights are 0-1 after being handled, 42-7, by the San Diego State Aztecs on the road in their season opener. Army showed that it will once again primarily rely on the run as it amassed 282 yards on the ground in its opener, but three turnovers set the team back and gave the Aztecs room to run away with it. Head coach Rich Ellerson has yet to win a home opener in his three previous seasons as Army's head coach. The Black Knights have lost their last four home openers and their last five games overall dating back to last season. Despite the overall losing slide, Army has won its last four games at Michie Stadium.
This will be the third overall meeting between these programs. Army earned a 21-14 victory in 1992 in the first-ever matchup, but NIU managed to even the series by topping the Black Knights, 49-26, in last season's season opener in DeKalb. Army went 0-4 against MAC opponents last season.
The Huskies are averaging 26.0 points and 314.0 yards of total offense per contest through two games. NIU had an explosive offensive last season and there were questions on how much would be lost without Chandler Harnish under center. However, Jordan Lynch has shown he has what it takes to lead NIU back to the conference championship in his first two starts.
Lynch's athleticism has helped him to team leading totals in passing (134.0 yards per game) and rushing (89.5 yards per game). While his elusiveness and speed are huge assets, the dual-threat quarterback needs to prove he can rely on his passing abilities to discourage opponents from stacking the line.
Martel Moore is the team's top receiver with 95 yards and a touchdown on eight catches. Moore had a breakout performance in 2011's bowl game with 224 yards and a touchdown on eight grabs. Perez Ashford has been quiet so far this season with just two catches, but he is capable of punishing defenses that sleep on him.
Defensively, NIU is limiting opponents to 307.0 yards and 12.5 points per game. Jimmy Ward is off to a hot start with a team-best 22 stops, one interception, and four broken up passes.
Joe Windsor and Alan Baxter are complementing each other nicely on the Huskies' defensive line. Both players have recorded two sacks already. NIU has recorded 15 total tackles for loss as a team, which is the second most in its conference through two games.
Army's offensive line is unlikely to give up too many sacks due to the team's consistently rush-based gameplan. Senior QB Trent Steelman is the Black Knights' starter for the fourth season in a row. He came into 2012 needing six wins to become the all-time winningest quarterback in school history. Steelman was ineffective versus San Diego State, rushing for only three yards on nine attempts, while completing 3-of-8 passes for 50 yards with two interceptions.
Although Steelman was unable to get anything going in the opener, Raymond Maples and Terry Baggett each produced 100 yards in the loss. Maples led the team with 107 yards on 19 carries, while Baggett finished with 100 and a touchdown on only 13 rushes.
Larry Dixon, Jared Hassin, and backup quarterback Angel Santiago are additional players featured in Army's wishbone offense.
Army's defense was unable to force a turnover as it gave up 443 yards and 42 points to San Diego State in its opener. The Black Knights allowed 5.4 yards per carry and dropped to 2-13 in their last 15 games without forcing a turnover. Their last win without forcing a turnover came last season against Northwestern (21-14), whose quarterback, Kain Colter, has a very similar playing style to NIU's Lynch.
The Black Knights will need one of their defenders to step up to replace the leadership that was lost when star linebacker Steve Erzinger graduated. Senior Nate Combs has been hinting he may be the best candidate to do so, with four sacks in his last two games.
NIU appears to be solid defensively against the run as it is allowing just 2.5 yards per carry through its first two games. Iowa rushed the ball 49 times against the Huskies but managed just 139 yards. Army's detailed rushing attack is going to be tougher to stop, which could put pressure on NIU's inexperienced offense. Lynch may not yet be quite as elite as his predecessor, but he has shown the ability to make plays, which will be the difference in this one.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Northern Illinois 24, Army 17
09/12 10:53:15 ET