Head-to-head: Army vs. Navy

The Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen will meet for the 111th time on Saturday in college football's greatest rivalry. For the first time since 1996 both teams face each other with winning records and both will appear in post season bowls. Navy has won a record eight consecutive games in the series. Navy leads the series, 54-49-7.

Army rushing offense
Navy rushing defense
Army ranks 10th in the nation in rushing averaging 260 yards a game. Army had its worst rushing performance of the season in its last game against Notre Dame when it gained just 135 yards. Army received good news that its two best "C" backs and outside threats, Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs, will be ready to play. Brown, who has 308 rushing yards for 3 touchdowns, has been out since being injured against Rutgers. After Cobbs, 290 yards for a 6.2 average 5 touchdowns, was knocked out of Notre Dame game the Black Knights were unable to run outside the tackles. Fullback Jared Hassin, 881 yards and 9 touchdowns, has rushed for over one hundred yards four times this season. Quarterback Trent Steelman had an uncharacteristically poor game reading the Notre Dame defense and made a number of poor pitch decisions. Normally he's very solid in distributing the ball. On the season Steelman has rushed for 620 yards and scored 11 touchdowns. Army's offensive line had a tough game against Notre Dame but have really improved this year.

Navy's 3-4 defense ranks 62nd in the nation against the run allowing over 151 yards a game. Navy best front line player is junior Jabaree Tuani. Tuani, who has 65 tackles and an impressive 18 tackles for a loss, has played well all year with both shoulders hurt and probably has benefited from the extra time off. Tuani gave Army fits last year with five tackles and one for a loss. Nose tackle Chase Burge has 37 tackles on the year. In last year's game Burge outplayed Army center Zac Peterson in what will once again be a key matchup. Navy's run defense is solid as long as a team doesn't spread them out. The Mids have limited predominantly run oriented teams Maryland (17 points), Georgia Southern (7 points), and Air Force (14 points), this season. The Achilles' heel of the Navy defense is its young linebacking corps which doesn't maintain gap discipline and often over runs plays. Senior inside linebacker Tyler Simmons has had a great season however and leads the team with 111 tackles  
Army passing offense
Navy passing defense
Trent Steelman on the season has completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 837 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Against the Fighting Irish Steelman had his worst passing game this year. He completed only 2-of-7 passes for 39 yards and threw two costly interceptions. It was a disappointing performance because it followed Steelman's was nearly perfect outing against Kent State when he completed 9-of-10 passes for a season high 149 yards. For Steelman the reality lines is in the middle. Steelman is a decent passer for an option quarterback who usually avoids costly interceptions He has an average arm for an option quarterback and isn't always accurate but can make plays in passing game. Wide receiver Austin Barr leads the team with 13 catches for 202 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow receiver Davyd Brooks has 12 catches for 189 yards and one touchdown and opened the first drive against Notre Dame with a 27-yard reception on a crossing route. Brooks is the Black Knights' best all round receiver averaging 17.2 yards per reception. George Jordan, 12 catches for 127 yards, has seen his playing time increase the last month and had a nice diving reception against Notre Dame. The Black Knights don't pass a lot but lead the nation in sack percentage and do a solid job protecting Steelman.

Navy's bend but don't break scheme has struggled the past month allowing spread passing attacks an average of 325 yards a game. Navy ranks 81st in the nation in pass defense. The Mids have allowed an abysmal 68.5 percent of opponents passes to be completed this year as their scheme has been picked apart underneath. Rover captain Wyatt Middleton has had another terrific year with 72 tackles and 4 passes defended. Navy's cornerbacks Kevin Edwards (47 tackles, 1 int.) and Kwesi Mitchell (40 tackles, 1 int.) are faster than their Army counterparts. Navy's defense is vulnerable to the pass but the question is can Army's receivers get open and can Steelman take advantage of it.  
Navy rushing offense
Army rushing defense
Navy's triple option rushing attack has been firing on all cylinders in November, averaging over 420 rushing yards a game. Navy currently is ranks third in the nation averaging over 302 yards a game. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs rushed for a season high 155 yards and scored three touchdowns in his last game. Dobbs, 806 yards and 13 touchdowns, seems to be finally over all the leg ailments that limited his performance the first half of the season. Fullback Alexander Teich has brought more explosiveness to the offense since he replaced Vince Murray and is averaging 6.2 yards a carry while rushing for 778 yards. Slotback Gee Gee Greene has rushed for 424 yards, averaging 6.8 yards a carry this year, while scoring four touchdowns. Aaron Santiago has averaged 7.7 a carry since he returned from his hamstring injury in the fifth game. Navy's has been using its depth at slotback as Bo Snelson and John Howell have seen more game action in recent games. Howell scored a touchdown against Arkansas State but ended a Mids drive with a dropped pitch that Arkansas State recovered. He didn't carry the ball after that mistake. The offensive line has played extremely well the second half of the season.

Army ranked 51st in the country in rush defense allowing 141 yards a game. Army isn't fast on defense but they are defensively sound. Army, despite being over matched up front and spending an inordinate amount of time on the field, battled all game against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish ran for 155 yards and averaged 4.1 yards a carry. Mike linebacker Stephen Anderson leads the Black Knights with 82 tackles. Bill Prosko replaced Chad Littlejohn at whip linebacker after the first drive against the Irish and had the best performance of his career as he posted eight tackles. Nose tackle Mike Gann (25 tackles) needed the time off to regain his health.  
Navy passing offense
Army passing defense
Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs has thrown a touchdown pass in six consecutive starts. He's thrown the ball very well the second half of the season. Dobbs has a chance to surpass Alton Grizzard for Navy's all time single season passing touchdown record. On the season Dobbs has passed for 1,194 yards with ten touchdowns and four interceptions. Greg Jones has been Dobbs favorite receiver with 28 receptions for 554 yards and four touchdowns. Jones' 85-yard touchdown catch of a Ricky Dobbs bomb against Arkansas State was one of the prettiest passing plays in the Mids triple option era. Aaron Santiago has made plays in the passing game since he returned to the lineup. Santiago has caught 10 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns this year. Navy has done a lot better job in pass protection this season.

Army ranks 24th in the nation in pass defense. Most of the Black Knights success against the pass evolves from the double eagle flex front giving a quarterback different looks and using stunts and twists to create pressure. Army has given up a number of big plays recently mostly because their starting quick end star pass rusher Josh McNary has been playing with an strained hamstring which has limited his effectiveness. McNary hasn't been the same since he pulled his hamstring in practice after the Rutgers game. He hasn't had a sack since and in first quarter against the Irish quarterback Tommy Rees just ran away from him when McNary had him in his sights. Senior Donovan Travis who has 47 tackles and five interceptions this year, has had a very good season after battling injuries early in the year. Rover Steve Erzinger's interception of Dobbs last year set up the Black Knights only points.  
Special Teams
Navy punter Kyle Delahooke has been inconsistent this year and averages 38.6 yards per punt. His performance against Arkansas State was an example of Delahooke's up and down season as he hit a 27-yard punt off the side of his foot on his first punt to give the Red Wolves a short field that led to a field goal. He later nailed a 48-yard punt. Kicker Joe Buckley, since he returned from an injury, has spent most of his time on the field kicking extra points as the Mids have lit up scoreboards this past month. Buckley has hit 6-of-9 field goal attempts this season. Freshman Marcus Thomas has shown excellent speed on kickoff returns but doesn't seem to get a lot of blocking up front. Punt returner Gary Myers hasn't offered much in the return game averaging only 5.4 yards a return this year.

Alex Carlton hit his ninth consecutive field goal of the season against Notre Dame after struggling earlier in year. Jonathan Bulls has averaged 39.2 yards per punt placing 17 punts inside the 20. Bulls has done an exceptional job limiting punt returns. Except for one 36-yard punt return, the longest punt return the Black Knights have allowed is just 6 yards. Josh Jackson has averaged 7.3 yards on punt returns. Against Notre Dame Jackson returned five kickoffs 86 yards including a 31-yard run up the sideline that he nearly broke.  
Ken Niumatalolo's team has defeated Army by a combined score of 51-3 in his two meetings with the Black Knights as head coach. He always seems to have his team prepared to play their best in the biggest games. Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was rumored to be a head coaching candidate but right now, fortunately, for Navy they are just rumors. Rich Ellerson had his team prepared and his defense played well last year but couldn't overcome their anemic offense. Ian Shields' offense struggled against Notre Dame but he has done a a nice job in changing the offense this season as Army has averaged 28 points per game, nearly doubling their 2009 average. Payam Saadat and Chris Smeland's game plan limited Navy to 247 total yards last year and shut out the Mids in the first half.  
Navy has dominated Army the past decade. They're confident that they can handle Army and expect success which is a huge advantage before the ball is even kicked off. The Black Knights haven't played well in their two marquee games this year against Air Force and Notre Dame.  

PREDICTION: Navy, 24-13. Navy is the faster, more talented team. Army last year under Rich Ellerson showed that they will no longer be out coached and unprepared. Army isn't fast on defense but they are defensively sound. They will be prepared for what the Mids will run. Army greatly benefits from having Malcolm Brown and Brian Cobbs back in action to run their fly sweep. Army's offense is much improved and should end the touchdown less streak this year. Navy's defense has been very good against option teams and have dominated battles in the trenches against the Black Knights over the last decade. In 2009 Navy Nose tackle Chase Burge outplayed Army center Zac Peterson and Jarbaree Tuani was his usual wrecking ball self. Again Army is improved on the offensive line but I don't see them winning these battles. I'm not saying Army can't win. The Black Knights are a much better team and Navy's young linebackers tend to over pursue and not cover their gap responsibilities. Navy is vulnerable in pass defense but I doubt Army can consistently take on Navy's weakness in pass coverage since Navy's defensive backs are faster than Army's receivers. Navy's offense enters this game playing their best football of the season averaging 43 points per game over their last five games. Quarterback Ricky Dobbs is healthy and is running and throwing the ball extremely well. Dobbs will probably make a few big plays in that passing game that aren't called back like they were last year when two long passes were nullified. I see this as a close game with Navy pulling away with a late touchdown to win.

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