Army aims to end losing streak to Navy

There could have been an interesting twist to this year's annual Army-Navy game, one that would have had Army with the chance to keep Navy from a bowl game with an upset win.

That twist was part of the game two years ago, when Army, in search of a sixth win and a bowl bid, led Navy 3-0 at halftime, but then lost to finish 5-7. Last year, both teams went to bowls, so the extra drama, which really isn't needed anyway, wasn't there.
It won't be there this Saturday, either. San Jose State took care of that by eliminating Navy and handing the Midshipmen their 11th loss Nov. 19. Army had already fallen by the bowl wayside.

So, the rivals come into this week's game with a combined seven wins, and with only themselves remaining on their respective schedules. As usual, that's enough.

Especially when one, Army, has lost nine games in a row to the other, Navy.
"Nine games? You're kidding me! I hadn't heard that," a kidding Army coach Rich Ellerson said during the media event for the game.
Ellerson has been on the losing end of only two of those nine losses.

"I've only been here for three of those losses. It was a blowout my freshman year, but the last two games have been pretty close," said rover Steve Erzinger. "You have to tip your hat to Navy. They've managed to make the crucial plays that have determined the outcome."

That's just it: there haven't been all that many crucial plays. The closest game in the nine-game run was a 26-14 Navy win in 2006.

The Mids have outscored the Black Knights, 322-91, during the streak. For Army (3-8), this game is a chance to salvage something of the season. The extra time between games allowed for continued growth of the young roster. For the seniors, the game is the final step of a college career that is followed by real life, VERY real life.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Army finished the actual "road" portion of its schedule with a 42-14 loss at Temple Nov. 19. The Black Knights ended 0-6 on the road and 0-7 in games played away from West Point (that counts a home game at Yankee Stadium).
--The Black Knights were outscored 242-108 in the six actual road games, yielding 35 points or more in five of the six.
--Four of the losses came to MAC teams, Army yielding 174 points in this four games.
--Army has lost nine in a row to Navy, by a combined score of 322-91. The closest game in the stretch was in 2006, with Navy winning 26-14.
--Army is 8-80 since the start of the 1996 season when scoring less than 20 points in a game.
--Eight of Army's 11 opponents were bowl-eligible, with only Northern Illinois (MAC) playing in a conference title game. The cumulative record of Army opponents was 64-56 after Northern Illinois won the MAC.
--Army scored at least 21 points in each of the first eight games of the season but has totaled 40 in the last three games.
--The Black Knights have lost 15 games in a row to Navy and Air Force and is 2-21 against the other academies since 2000.
--If this game comes down to turnovers, Army could be in trouble. The Knights are a minus-.73 in turnover margin this season, while Navy is a plus-.73.
SERIES HISTORY: Navy leads Army, 49-55-7 (last meeting, 2011, 31-17, Navy)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: As has been the case too often down the stretch of the season, the health of quarterback Trent Steelman could have a lot to do with what happens in this game. Steelman made it back for two plays against Temple and was gone with a leg injury. Word was the hope was he will play in this game. If he's in there, it changes everything for an offense that struggles without him.

"I expect to be out there next Saturday," Steelman told the Middletown Times Herald-Record Dec. 2. "I still have a week. There's a lot of improvements to be made and a lot of strides to be made health-wise. I have some time."

The Black Knights have run for more yardage than any team in the country, but much it has been piled up with Army trailing and even trailing badly. The Knights now face a Navy defense that is just 81st in the country against the run. However, the Mids know what's coming, the triple option both teams will run in this game.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Army was strong against the pass this season but that should be a factor in this finale, unless Kriss Proctor puts the ball up. No, this game will come down to which team limits the other's ground game, and Army comes in 92nd in the country against the run so you have to wonder if Navy will be able to run at will.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Yes, it has been a long time since we beat Navy. If anything, that just makes it even more of a priority. We are very motivated to put an end to that streak so we don't have to hear about it anymore. But we can't worry about the past. This team we have this year has never played Navy. We have to focus on this one game." -- LB Andrew Rodriguez on the coming game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Army vs. Navy, Landover, Md., Dec. 10 -- It seems like forever since these teams last played a football game, but the powers that be want this special game to stand alone, so it takes place after all other non-bowl games are finished. Army has lost nine in a row to Navy and hasn't won a game away from Michie Stadium all season. It's tough to imagine this being win No. 1.

KEYS TO THE GAME: It's triple option against triple option, so it's fairly obvious what will decide the game. However, Navy is a lot better at not coughing up the football than Army, so a key for the Black Knights has to be holding onto the football.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

The Army QB -- Trent Steelman? Max Jenkins? Angel Santiago? All of the above? We won't know until the days leading up to the game, but it's clear the Black Knights are a better team with Steelman on the field. They were hopeful he would play and he looked like he will be out there.

SB Raymond Maples -- He returned to the Army lineup after missing a game with a head injury and ran for 93 yards on 12 carries in the game against Temple Nov. 19. He needs 16 yards against Navy to become the 15th 1,000-yard rusher in the history of the program.

FS Thomas Holloway -- Against Temple, he had his second straight double-digit tackling game, his third of the year, with 11 stops in the loss.

LB Geoffrey Bacon -- He finished with a flurry, recording 10 tackles against Temple for the second double-digit tackling game of his career.

ROSTER REPORT

--QB Trent Steelman was hoping to make his second comeback in as many games. He returned against Temple but lasted only two plays and was gone with a leg injury. He was improving, practicing and hoping to play against Navy.

--Coach Rich Ellerson blamed himself for not giving freshman QB Angel Santiago more work in practice leading up to the Temple game, leading to senior Max Jenkins being more effective in the game. One or both could see action against Navy, depending on Steelman's health.
--DB Hayden Pierce, who started the first nine games of the season, missed his second straight with a knee injury. But he was practicing with an eye toward playing. --DE Zach Watts, injured early in the Temple game, was back at practice.
--LB Justin Trimble players were back practicing on a limited basis.

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