Head-to-head: Army vs. Navy

The Army Black Knights (3-8) and Navy Midshipmen (4-7) will meet in Baltimore on Saturday for the 112th time in college football's greatest rivalry game. For the first time since 2002 neither team enters the game with a winning record or opportunity to go to a bowl. This year's game can make the winning teams season a little less painful.

Both teams endured frustrating and disappointing campaigns after posting winning seasons last year. Navy has dominated the series the last decade winning a record nine consecutive games in the series and lead the all-time series 55-49-7.

Army
EDGE
AREA
Navy
EDGE
COMMENTS
Army rushing offense
vs.
Navy rushing defense
 
Army enters the Navy game leading the nation in rushing, averaging over 350 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Trent Steelman (583 yards, 4.9 avg., 11 TDS) was injured on the second play of Army's last game against Temple. Steelman had missed the three previous games with a high ankle sprain and is now recovering from a knee injury. He is practicing this week and is expected to start. Sophomore A-back Raymond Maples ran for 93 yards against Temple after missing the Rutgers game with a concussion. Maples has run for 984 yards this season and has a chance to become just the 12th runner in West Point history to run for 1,000 yards in a single season.

Freshman B-back Larry Dixon (477 yards, 6.2 avg., 5 TDs) had an impressive plebe season. Dixon ran through three tackles on a 15-yard touchdown run in his last game against Temple. Fellow B-back Jared Hassin (443 yards, 4.7 avg., 1 TD) had a costly fumble on Army's first drive last season against Navy. The Black Knights have to avoid those types of self-inflicted wounds this weekend if it hope to end the losing streak. Malcolm Brown (490 yards, 7.0 avg., 2 TDs) scored both of Army's touchdowns last season against the Mids. Army needs protect the football as fumbles that have plagued them all season long. Army is currently ranked dead last in the nation in fumbles.

Navy is ranked 80th in the country in run defense allowing over 176 rushing yards per game. That doesn't mean as much in this game. The service academy defenses usually play the opposing service academy option attacks fairly well. They understand the pitch keys and do their best to disrupt the timing of the option offense with use of the mesh charge, pinching the tackles and mixing up responsibilities of players in the count. Last year the Mids held Army to 209 rushing yards and just 3.9 yards per carry. Senior captain Jabaree Tuani (5 tackles), after struggling with a bad back and nagging injuries this year, has played his best football the past two games. That's bad news for the Black Knights. Tuani has dominated Army's offensive tackles the past two years. Navy's linebackers have often been guilty of over pursing plays and have missed far too many tackles this year. They did struggle against Air Force's option attack allowing the Falcons 223 yards on 5.4 yards a carry and four rushing touchdowns.
Army passing offense
vs.
Navy passing defense
 
Trent Steelman has completed 20 of 39 passes (51.3%) for 347 passing yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Last season Steelman threw for 128 yards and two touchdown passes against Navy. C-back Malcolm Brown (6 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD) is the most dangerous receiver on the Black Knight's squad. Brown caught two touchdown passes against the Mids including a 45-yard touchdown pass from Steelman last year. Davyd Brooks (8 rec, 137 yards, 17.1 avg., 1 TD in 2011) leads Army in receptions. Sophomore receivers Jared McFarlin (7 rec., 74 yards, 10.6 avg. 1 TD) and Anthony Stephens (2 rec., 54 yards, 1 TD) began the season as starters but lost their jobs. Both have demonstrated the ability to get open but have struggled catching the ball. Senior wide receiver Austin Barr (3 rec., 32 yards, 10.7 avg., 0 TDs), who led the Black Knights in touchdown receptions last season, has been a non-factor in the passing game this year. The Black Knights have done a solid job in pass protection this season for an option team. However, they must do a better job protecting Steelman than they did last year when they allowed Navy three sacks for a loss of 27 yards.

Navy's defense is ranked 105th in the nation in pass defense. The Mids secondary was picked apart in its last game against San Jose State. It's been a constant theme all year. Navy is starting two plebes in its secondary. This season Navy is allowing a ridiculous 74.4% of the pass completion rate. In their last game against San Jose State only defensive end Jabaree Tuani (6 tackles, 3.5 loss) played well. Tuani recorded both of Navy's sacks and forced two fumbles. Army has struggled blocking Tuani the last two years and right tackle is the Black Knights weakest position on their offensive line. Plebe Parrish Gaines (29 tackles) has struggled since being pressed into action as the starter three games ago after the Mids secondary suffered a number of injuries at cornerbacks Gaines tackling has been inconsistent and his coverage technique has been poor. Plebe free safety Chris Ferguson (41 tackles, 2 INT, 3 pass defensed) has been late at times helping the cornerbacks. Rover Kwesi Mitchell (57 tackles, 2 INT, 2 pass defensed) has missed a number of open field tackles the past month.
 
Navy rushing offense
vs.
Army rushing defense
Navy's spread option rushing attack enters the finale ranked fourth in the nation averaging 313 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Kriss Proctor (817 yards, 4.6 avg., 12 TDS in 2011) ran for 82 yards and scored two touchdowns against San Jose State. Proctor entered this season with the reputation as an experienced option quarterback who was very capable at reading the defense. Proctor hasn't lived up to that reputation and has made a number of poor decisions handling and pitching the ball. As a runner Proctor is very fast and dangerous in the open field. Speedy senior slotback Aaron Santiago (285 combined yards, 3 TDs) is a dual running and receiving threat for Navy. His value to the Mids is obvious. When he plays the Mids are 4-1. When Santiago was out with a broken arm they lost all six games. B-back Alexander Teich (790 yards, 4.7 avg., 3 TDs) had a workman like second half of the season grinding it out inside. Teich broke a number of long runs last year but the last two months his longest run has been a rather pedestrian 17 yards. Slotback Gee Gee Greene (455 yards, 8.0 avg., 3 TDs) had a number of nice runs making people miss against San Jose State. Green made a tremendous block springing Aaron Santiago's for a career long 35-yard touchdown run against the Spartans. Navy's offensive line with enjoy a rare size mismatch in their favor against the Army undersized front four. Navy's front line averages 276 pounds while Army's defensive line averages just 227 pounds

Army's run defense was obliterated last game against Temple's mammoth offensive line. It was simply a mismatch as Temple ran for 335 yards, averaged 8 yards a carry and scored five rushing touchdowns. The Black Knight's defense did play well against fellow service academy rival Air Force. Army held Air Force's rushing attack to 179 rushing yards which was well below its season average of 326 rushing yards per game coming into that game. Rich Ellerson and his staff have done a solid job limiting Navy's rushing attack the last two years. Army held the Mids well below their season rushing average in both games.

Rover and team captain Steve Erzinger leads the team with 92 tackles. He has posted 7.5 tackles for loss and leads the team with three sacks. Erzinger intercepted a Ricky Dobbs pass in 2009 setting up an Army field goal that gave the Black Knights a halftime lead. Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon made 10 tackles but was guilty of a number of missed arm tackles against Temple. Bacon's (54 tackles, 1 int., 1 forced fumble) speed and range has improved the defense. Defensive tackles A.J. Mackey (34 tackles, 6.5 for loss, a quarterback hurry) was over matched against Temple's huge guards but had played well the previous three games including against Air Force.
 
Navy passing offense
vs.
Army passing defense
The last few years Army has dared Navy to beat them deep. Former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs was able to hit a number of big pass plays throwing over the top. In 2009 Dobbs threw one touchdown pass but had two long pass plays called back by penalties. Last year Dobbs threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns in defeating the Black Knights. In Navy's last game the San Jose State defense stacked the box, like Army has done, to limit the Navy rushing attack. Navy tried to counter with play action passes but Kriss Proctor struggled throwing the ball. Proctor hit 9 of 20 passes for 90 yards with no touchdowns and was sacked three times. There were at least five instances where Proctor overthrew wide open receivers. He should have thrown at least three touchdowns against the Spartans. After often throwing the ball better than expected early in the season, Proctor has struggling with his passing accuracy completing forty percent of his passes the last two games. It doesn't help that he's playing with a dislocated passing elbow. This season Proctor has completed 51 of his 100 pass attempts (51.0%) for 774 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. Brandon Turner (14 rec., 300 yards, 21.4 avg., 3 TDS) is the Mids most dangerous receiver. He is the type of big, physical and fast receiver that has historically given the Black Knights headaches. Turner caught a 32-yard touchdown pass against Army last year.. Matt Aiken (13 rec., 201 yards, 15.5 avg., 2 TDs) has been a reliable target in his first year as a starter. Proctor missed a wide open Gee Gee Greene running deep last game. This year Greene has ten catches for 152 yards and four scores. Slotback John Howell (4 rec., 96 yards) had the longest touchdown reception, 77 yards, in the history of the Army-Navy game last year.

Army hasn't been able to pressure Navy quarterbacks consistently the last two games by exposing their safeties. Plebe strong safety Hayden Pierce (32 tackles) is expected to return after being out since being injured against Air Force. Free safety Thomas Holloway (72 tackles, 1 interception, 3 passes defensed) has played very well and has lifted his game over the last month. Junior Josh Jackson cornerback has posted 38 tackles, five passes defensed and an interception. Freshman cornerback Lamar Johnson-Harris (20 tackles, 1 interception, 2 pass defensed) has struggled at times but hasn't allowed a touchdown pass to be completed against him since the Miami (Ohio) game six games ago.. Navy has the speed in Turner, Green and Howell to get open deep. The question is if Proctor can get the ball to them.
EVEN
Special Teams
EVEN
Navy has lost possibly four games this season because of special team's mistakes. Kicker Jon Teague has struggled all year hitting just 8 of 13 attempts while missing four extra points. In the last game Teague wasn't able to get off a field goal attempt to tie the score after holder Pablo Beltran mishandled the snap. Navy has missed a field goal attempt or botched the snap on at least one kick in eight of its 11 games. The Mids have had a field goal attempt blocked in four games. Punter Pablo Beltran has struggled down the stretch. This year he has averaged 37.7 yards per punt but hasn't hit the ball well the last few games. Kick returner Marcus Thomas (21.6 avg., 1 TD) has done a good job since he regained his job returning kickoffs. Punt returner Matt Aiken (5.2 avg.) has had a rough last two games fumbling a punt against SMU and making a poor decision to call for a fair catch inside the 10-yard line against San Jose State. The Mids special teams have been mediocre in covering kicks as well. The Mids coverage teams are ranked 70th in punt return coverage (7.8 per ret.) and 116th in kickoff return coverage (25.4 per ret.).

Army punter Chis Boldt (40.6 per punt) had the worst game of his career against Temple averaging just 30.2 yards on his five punts. Boldt nailed a 49-yard punt on his first effort but problems started when Rich Ellerson had Boldt attempt to directional punt away from Temple's dangerous punt returner Matt Brown. Boldt proceeded to shank punts of 26, 13 and 27 yards respectively off the side of his foot. The Black Knights would have been better off just punting straight away. Boldt had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown the previous game against Rutgers. Senior kicker Alex Carlton has had a miserable senior season hitting just three of six field goal attempts and missing five extra points. Eric Osteen continues to hit the ball well on his kickoffs .Josh Jackson (3.7 avg.) has seen limited room on punt returns the last month. Reliable if unspectacular kick returner Scott Williams (21.4 yard avg. KOR) hurt his back and missed the Temple game. Speedy plebe Marcus Jackson (2 KOR, 36 yards) replaced Williams and dropped the ball on two kickoff returns. Jackson catches the ball with his body rather than his hands and the ball bounce off his pads against Temple like he did against Vanderbilt. Army has done an excellent job covering punts and kickoffs all year.
 
Coaching
This has been a very frustrating season for Ken Niumatalolo's team this year against a tough schedule. Navy has lost five games this year by a total of 11 points. The mistakes, missed plays and special teams blunders are not representative of teams he coached in the past. Despite his team's struggles this year, his 31 wins are the most wins by a Navy coach the first-four years of a career. Niumatalolo is just the sixth coach in school history to win his first three games against Army.

The criticism after the San Jose game toward offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper for calling for too many passing plays was misguided in my opinion. San Jose State was daring Navy to throw the ball with 9 in the box and firing their corners at times. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green unit has struggled all year. At least this week they won't have to deal with a dangerous passing attack.

This is probably the most important game in Rich Ellerson's career. For all the obvious improvements in the program the Black Knights, under Ellerson, are 0-5 against his fellow service academies. While it's a rebuilding year for Army this isn't the usual eight plus win Navy team that Army has faced the last decade. Army's defense did an excellent job against Air Force's rushing attack. The Temple game aside, they've done a solid job against the run the past month of the season after being run over most of the year.  
EVEN
Intangibles
EVEN
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 won on the road this year. Army receives a huge confidence boost with the return of team leader Trent Steelman at quarterback.

PREDICTION: Navy, 24-21. Army should run the ball against Navy better than they have the two previous seasons. Navy will also move the ball but Ellerson's defense will force Proctor to make a few plays in the passing game. Dobbs passing was a major difference in this game the past two years. Army however lacks the size in the middle of the defense like they did when Mike Gann played nose tackle. Both teams have mediocre kicking games but Navy turns over the ball a lot less. Unlike pass years, Army matches up rather well against Navy and can win this game. Navy is still bigger and faster overall but the Black Knights have upgraded their athleticism since Ellerson became head coach. This year Navy hasn't been able to get breaks late in the game to win like during past seasons. However, the ball seems to always bounce the Mids way against Army.

See what Army fans are saying about this upcoming game in the ArmySports.com Black Knight's Alley FORUM.

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