Army senior Steelman practiced Thursday at West Point and projects to start on Saturday at Michie Stadium as the Black Knights (0-3) seek their first win of the season against the Stony Brook Seawolves (3-1) from Long Island.
Steelman appeared to suffer a rib injury last Saturday at Wake Forest when he ran to convert a 2nd and 1 at midfield. The veteran option QB was hit hard in his mid-section fumbling but Army retained possession when wide out Malcolm Brown fell on the loose ball. Steelman got off one more play before collapsing to the ground in pain.
Sophomore Angel Santiago came in for three plays, but with a 4th and 1 looming at the Wake 40, Steelman came back in to run the play gaining two yards and the first down.
Army will be glad to have Steelman in as they need a win desperately to keep hope for a successful season that will land them in the Military Bowl in Washington DC.
Stony Brook is a lot better football team than VMI or Fordham—who were the Cadets most recent Football Championship Subdivision opponents. This is a team which led Syracuse 17-14 at the half two weeks ago.
The Army defense has not been stopping many drives giving up over 40 points in each of the first three points. Above all this is a game when the Army seniors Steelman, Jarrett Mackey, Frank Allen, Nate Combs, and Josh Jackson and all need to rally their teammates to find a way to win.
Stony Brook Preview:
Stony Brook is a large, increasingly prestigious, state university located on the north shore on Long Island that is elevating its sports programs.
When the school was founded in 1957 Earl "Red" Blaik had Army in the national spotlight and Pete Dawkins was a blooming back a year away from the Heisman Trophy. The Seawolves have come along way in sports with their baseball team this past spring qualifying for the College Baseball World Series in Omaha.
The football program joined Division One in 1999 and next season this football team will move up from the Big South conference to the CAA, described as the top league in the Football Championship Subdivision.
The Seawolves coached by Chuck Priore come into Michie Stadium for the first time after wins over Central Connecticut, Pace, and Cogate and the lone loss at Syracuse of the Big East.
They are ranked number 18 in the nation in both FCS polls.
Their offensive line is huge, like that of Wake Forest which wore down the Army defense last week. This group is led by Junior right tackle Michael Bamiro #69 who stands 6-8 and weighs 345 pounds with the rest of the "O" Line starters at 300 pounds with the exception of 280 pound center Mike Lisi.
Behind the big line, Stony Brook likes to run the football leaning on the best running back in their history: senior Miquel Maysonet who has gained 3,341 yards on the ground. The Seawolves are averaging 327 yards per game rushing, nearly as much as Army. The quarterback is Kyle Essington who has completed 28 of 60 attempts for 593 yards and seven touchdowns while suffering four interceptions.
On defense Stony Brook yields 296 yards per game and just under 21 points per game. On his weekly conference call Coach Priore said:
"The tradition of playing a school like Army and preparing for their offense is challenging. It certainly will be a change for our defensive unit. We're going to have a solid fan base up there. We're healthy and we expect to play a lot of players."
The Black Knights desperately need and want a win in front of the Corps of Cadets and their Michie Stadium faithful after three weeks of frustration.
On the weekly press conference Army head coach Rich Ellerson described the challenge provided by the first time visitors to Michie Stadium:
"Stony Brook is a real challenge. They're a Championship Subdivision team that's a powerhouse playoff team. They're a relatively veteran team that's played a lot of games and won a lot of games. They came within a whisker of upsetting Syracuse a couple weeks ago and are absolutely licking their chops. We are absolutely taking the underdog mentality into this."
The offense is playing on all cylinders last week gaining 506 yards with 429 yards of that on the ground.
According to Army Sports information following the morning practice, Trent Steelman is expected to start for Army which is lift for the team. Steelman scored three touchdowns last week rushing and threw for another score to half back Ray Maples who has run for over 100 yards in each of the first three games.
Injuries have again knocked sophomore center Ryan Powis from the lineup replaced by the largest player on the roster, 290 pound senior Will Wilson who started against San Diego State.
Frankly I was not not optimistic about Steelman playing this week considering the shot to the ribs he suffered last week. But Trent is the kind of player you have to lock his helmet in a trunk to keep him off the field.
Last year when Angel Santiago was in he showed speed in running the ball himself, but had moments of indecision and lack of technique with his pitch-outs. I asked the coach about the development of Santiago in his sophomore year:
"We've seen him the most in the practice environment. We'll find out when he has to go out there and play a significant number or reps on Saturday afternoon. You can see that he has the foot speed and athleticism to do some things. He's going to run the offense a little bit differently and has a little different strong suit than Trent (Steelman). That will take some time to evolve."
Another Black Knight running back to keep an eye on is sophomore Trenton Turrentine, who returned to the lineup from injuries last week, commented the coach:
"He's a guy who we really liked coming out of last year. He got hurt last year and didn't have much of a spring. He was starting to have a great training camp and then broke his thumb during our first padded practice. He's battled back out there and is as physical a slot as we've ever had."
The defense is another story giving up an average of 44 points and 444 yards per game. The Black Knights are young upfront and still not very big putting extra strain on the linebackers. The Stony Brook offense will see in the films how the big Wake line broke big holes last week and will try to do the same.
On the press call, I asked Coach Ellerson about playing another team with a big offensive line:
"They are big, strong guys who know what they're doing. Our challenge is not so much what they do; it's more getting all of our guys on the same page and doing the same thing. We don't have the weapons in the defense that allow us to lineup in a single front or a single coverage. We're going to have to be able to do multiple things on defense and be able to execute them together. We have to take advantage of our quickness."
Army needs to find a way to help out the two sophomore tackles Robert Kough and Mike Ugenyi. The rush lineman Jarrett Mackey is still working his way into game shape after returning last week from a full years recover from an injury sustained in the 2011 opening game.
About the return of Jarrett Mackey to playing shape, the coach said:
"He's part of that starting rotation, but the challenge is I'm not sure what percentage he's operating at. That was his first football in over a year. He has shown that he's a better football player than he was last Saturday. He just has to have some confidence in that leg and continue to get used to playing college football again."
Defensive End Holt Zalneraitis is not expected to play due to a hip injury so we will have to see how junior Kyle Maxwell #83 or sophomore Derek Sanchez #94 can do. The anchors to the defense are the inside linebackers senior Nate Combs and sophomore Geoffrey Bacon. Combs likes to dive into holes while Bacon needs to find ways to evade blockers, like the ones Wake through at him last week.
On the conference call, I asked the coach about the importance of Combs and Bacon anchoring the defense together,
"Nate is exactly that. He manages our defensive front with a lot of young guys around him. He's taken on an awful lot on his shoulders. Geoff has to be more consistent there. He has all of the ability in the world in terms of running and tackling. He's one of those guys who we give a lot of latitude to, so he has to be able to get his eyes on the quarterback and/or the running back and find his way to the football. There's some real opportunities in front of him because of his athleticism."
In the defensive back field, highly experience senior Josh Jackson is expected to return after missing last week with an injury. Two freshman Brandon Fusilier-Jeffries and Chris Carnegie are projected to start as co-coordinators Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland search for a combination that can stop the big plays down field.
Finding a pass rush would help, but the only pressure tends to be from Nate Combs diving into holes and making early stops on runners or the quarterback.
Summary: This is a gut check week for Army, they have to win in order to have a successful season. This the week the senior leadership on the team needs to step forward and keep the team together, keep the offense controlling the ball as much as possible and to find ways for the defense to make more stops.
The key on defense is to handle the huge offensive line of Stony Brook and find a way to put pressure on their quarterback. The key Black Knight is Nate Combs who is inheriting the role in the middle of the defense so well performed in recent years by Steve Ersinger and Steve Anderson.
Prediction, Army finds a way to win 38-24.
Army may have another strong candidate for the William V. Campbell Trophy won last years by West Point's Andrew Rodriquez in senior defensive end Zach Watts. The senior from Pittsburgh, PA is one of the 147 candidates for the award presented to the nation's top football scholar-athlete. The Engineering Management Major has a 3.46 grade point average.
Ken Kraetzer covers Army football for WVOX 1460 AM based in New Rochelle, NY and Sons of the American legion Radio. Listen to his high school/college reports on WVOX.com every Monday and Friday morning at 6:35 AM.