Army faces Navy on Saturday in Philadelphia. ArmySports.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. We also make a prediction on the game's final score.
The Army Black Knights (3-8) and the Navy Midshipmen (7-4) will meet in America's Game this Saturday at Lincoln Field in Philadelphia, Pa.. This is the 114th meeting in college football's greatest rivalry game. Army has endured its third straight losing campaign under Rich Ellerson. They enter the game following a 49-42 loss to previously winless Hawaii. It was the second time this season that Army lost to a previously winless team. The Black Knights have lost their last four games. Navy on the other hand enters the game playing their best football this season. The Mids have won their last three games and have averaged 47.3 points per game during that span. Navy has been the much better program the last decade. The Midshipmen have dominated the series winning a record eleven straight games. Navy leads the all-time series 57-49-7.
ARMY PASSING OFFENSE
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The issue will be which quarterback draws the starting assignment. AJ Schurr replaced Santiago at quarterback after halftime in Hawaii last game and threw the ball well. AJ completed 5-of-10 passes for a career high 122 passing yards while being sacked once. This season Schurr, in limited duty, has complete 14-of-24 passes for 196 passing yards and a touchdown. Angel Santiago has started eleven games. He has completed 49.4 percent of his passes for 542 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Santiago had a miserable night throwing the ball in his start against Hawaii and was benched at halftime. He completed just 3-of-10 passes for 16 passing yards and was sacked three times. Offensive coordinator Ian Shields has called a lot higher percentage throws the last month of the season. Plebe wide receiver Xavier Moss leads the team with 30 receptions for 413 yards, a 13.8 avg., and a touchdown. He hauled in a 48-yard reception last game against Hawaii. Chevaughn Lawrence (10 rec., 105 yards, 1 TD) had three receptions for 44 yards last year against the Mids. The Black Knights offensive line is ranked 120th in the nation in sack percentage.
Navy is 66th in pass defense. The Mids had been ranked 27th in the nation before San Jose State's talented quarterback David Fales completed 42 of 56 passes for 440 yards with five touchdowns and an interception last game. The Mids have allowed a high completion percentage (70.5%). Free safety Parrish Gaines (57 tackles, 3 INT) picked off a pass in the end zone in overtime to set up the win against San Jose State. Cornerback Kwazel Bertrand (39 tackles) returned after missing a start and replaced Myer Krah (17 tackles, 2 PD) during the game against San Jose State. Both struggled a bit against San Jose State's speed at wide receiver and Fales accuracy but will not be challenged in the same way by Army's limited passing attack. Bertrand was an unsung hero in last year game during the final drive. Army wide receiver Chevaughn Lawrence ran a hitch route and Bertrand slipped and fell down. Somehow he crawled and dove tackling Lawrence from behind saving at least 15 additional yards. When Army fumbled on the mesh later in the drive they were 14-yards away from the end zone. Betrand's tackle may have saved the game. Navy does not record many sacks, only ten this year, but has been consistently able to pressure Army the past few years the few times they attempt to throw.
ARMY RUSHING OFFENSE
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The Black Knights are leading the nation in rushing. Army is averaging over 323 rushing yards per game. Army ran for 254 yards, averaged 6.4 yards per carry and had five rushing touchdowns in their last game against Hawaii. Back up quarterback AJ Schurr came off the bench and did a nice job moving the team in the second half. Schurr scored the first four rushing touchdowns of his career. Schurr is probably more talented than starter Angel Santiago but lost the job due to his lax ball security.
Schurr committed three fumbles against Hawaii but Army recovered all of them. Army head coach Rich Ellerson hasn't named the quarterback starter yet. Angel Santiago (553 rushing yards,3.4 avg, 9 TDs) started the first eleven games this year. Santiago limits mistakes but isn't very explosive or effective as a runner. Army's running attack has missed fullback Larry Dixon (672 yards, 6.6 avg., 6 TDs) and Raymond Maples who will not play. Black Knights hoped to have Hayden Tippett back in the lineup at B-back on Saturday. Sophomore Matt Giachinta (112 yards, 4.1 avg., 2 TDs) hasn't been as effective since he has been forced into the lineup. Running back Terry Baggett (1,072 yards, 8.2 avg., 8 TDs) is the 18th Black Knight to run for over 1,000 yards in a single season.
Navy's rushing defense has played the run well the last two games. Navy is ranked 87th against the run. The strength of the Mids run defense is their two active interior senior linebackers Cody Peterson and DJ Sargenti. Co-Captain Peterson (124 tackles, 4.5 TFL and a sack) has been a tackling machine all season averaging over 11 tackles per game. Nose guard Travis Bridges (21 tackles, FF) had moved into the starting lineup with the injury to Bernie Sarra. The 303 pound Sarra (15 tackles, FF) is expected to be ready to play for the first time since being injured against Notre Dame. The last few years Army has been able to run the ball successfully against the Mids. In 2012 they ran for 370 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Navy was able to hold them to just one rushing touchdown.
NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
ARMY PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of the last six games. On the season Reynolds has completed 63 of 115 passes (55.3%) for 1028 passing yards for eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide receiver Casey Bolena leads Navy with a team high 13 catches for 164 yards. Slotback DeBrandon Sanders has 11 receptions for 211 receiving yards and a touchdown. Co-captain Matt Aiken (8 rec., 150 yards, 18.8 YPC, 2 TD) suffered a knee injury against the Spartans and will miss the game. After last year's game Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper vowed he wouldn't let Army line up like they did last year and attack the Mids running game. In spring practice he implemented the pistol and shot gun looks. The Midshipmen moved away from those passing formations as their offensive line had to be retooled due to injuries. They have struggled to protect Reynolds. The Mids allowed 18 sacks and are ranked 123rd in the nation in pass protection.
The Black Knights pass defense is ranked 34th in the nation. That statistic is a lot more impressive on paper that it is on the field. Army's defense allows over 5.2 yards per carry so their opponents run the ball over 61 percent of the time. While Army's defense allows only 214 passing yards a game they have been burned by 19 touchdown passes. Overall the secondary's play has improved since last year. Plebe Josh Jenkins s (31 tackles, 2 INT, 8 PD) has played well and is athletic enough to make plays on the ball. Chris Carnegie (48 tackles) recorded his first career interception against Hawaii. Carnegie was beat deep by Brandon Turner for 49-yards to set up the game winning touchdown last year against Navy. Free safety Geoffrey Bacon has 55 tackles and is playing with a cast. He had a huge game against Navy with 14 tackles and Army's only sack last year playing Mike linebacker. Bacon is a good athlete but his run support instincts make him susceptible to play action passes. SAM safety Shaquille Tolbert (51 tackles, INT, 3 PD) is a willing hitter but could be exploited in pass coverage by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds over the top.
NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
ARMY RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: Navy's rushing offense moved up to third in the nation after rushing for 432 yards against San Jose State. The Mids are averaging over 320 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds leads Navy with 250 rushing attempts for 1,124 yards and 26 touchdowns. Last game Reynolds set a new career-high by running for 240 yards. He established an NCAA record with seven rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. He was brilliant both in carrying the ball and running the offense. Keenan scored on runs of 12, 3, 38, 20, 25, 7 and 25 yards. Navy's B-back position has been beset by injuries. With the extended time off all the fullbacks, Chris Swain (377 yards, 4 TDs), Noah Copeland (231 yards, TD) and Quinton Singleton (273, 2 TDs) are now healthy and available. Senior Darius Staten has played the best football of his career over the last month. He leads all Navy slotbacks with 364 rushing yards, an 11.4 average and has three rushing touchdowns. The new starting right tackle is Joey Gaston. Center Tanner Fleming is probable for Saturday after missing the last game.
Army defense against the run has dropped to 99th in the country after the Hawaii game. They are allowing over 201 rushing yards per game. The Black Knights rush defense was bulldozed by Hawaii's power running tandem of Joey Iosefa (154 yards, TD) and Steve Lakalaka (105 yards, TD) during their last game. The Rainbow Warriors ran for 285 yards, 5.5 yards per carry and three touchdowns. Rover Thomas Holloway is expected to return to the lineup after missing the Hawaii game with an infection in his elbow. Holloway, a team captain, leads the Army defense with 59 tackles. Senior mike linebacker Colby Miller has made 52 tackles despite starting only four games. The former JV captain is the consummate over achiever. Miller is small and slow but he has good instincts and has made eight or more tackles in three of his four starts. Right end Mike Ugenyi (36 tackles) has forced a team high three fumbles. Last year Army's defense did an excellent job against Navy's running game. The Black Knights allowed the Mids just 167 rushing yards and only one rushing touchdown. Navy's longest run was fullback Noah Copeland's 12- yard touchdown run.
REMARKS: Navy kicker Nick Sloan has hit 8-of-11 field goals this season. Sloan has missed three extra points. Punter Pablo Beltran is a weapon averaging 42.2 yards per punt on his 32 punts with 11 placed inside the twenty yard line. Marcus Thomas is averaging 22.2 yards per kickoff return. Punt returner Shawn Lynch is producing 7.7 yards per punt return. Navy's coverage teams have been outstanding all year.
Army kicker Dan Grochowski has hit 8-of-11 field goal attempts this season with a long of 48 yards. Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 37.4 yards on 40 punts. Army ranks dead last in the FCS in kick returns averaging just 15.0 yards per kickoff return. The punt return game is worse. Scott Williams is averaging just a 3.3 per punt return. Williams was helped off the field against Hawaii but should be able to play. Army's kick and punt coverage have been average.
REMARKS: Navy knows they are better than Army and plays like it. The Mids have dominated Army the past decade winning a series record eleven in a row. The Mids are confident that they can handle Army and expect success which is a huge advantage before the ball is even kicked off. Navy has been the dominant Service Academy over the past decade, posting a 20-2 record against Army and Air Force.
A victory by Navy would give the Mids the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the second consecutive year and for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons.
Rich Ellerson closed practice this week as the staff has to be feeling the heat. A victory here will give them a chance to return next year. A loss will likely result in the new Superintendent Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen, Jr. and AD Boo Corrigan who didn't hire Ellerson pulling the plug. The Black Knights are desperate for a win against Navy.
REMARKS: Ken Niumatalolo runs the model service academy football program. Navy will appear in a bowl game for the 10th time in eleven years when it plays Middle Tennessee State in the Bell Helicopter Armed
Forces Bowl on December 30 in Ft. Worth, Texas. This season Niumatalolo passed his mentor Paul Johnson and moved into third place on the Navy football coaching all time wins list with 47 victories. Ken is trying to match Johnson's school record by beginning his coaching career at Navy with a 6-0 record against Army. Johnson won six consecutive games against West Point from 2002-07.
Rich Ellerson is probably coaching for his job against Navy. Army has won just eight of their last 35 games under Ellerson. He has just a 1-8 record against his fellow service academies. Army has lost its last four games including two to previously winless teams. Army was beat by three teams during that stretch that have a composite 5-31 record. Ellerson showed promise in 2010, his second season at West Point, when he led Army to their first winning season in fourteen years. Army has gone backwards since that year. The Black Knights defense has been usually able to hold Navy to less than their season rushing average in all four games under Ellerson. Army's game plan on defense has been well designed against Navy despite losing all four games.
PREDICTION: Navy, 28-17. Navy is the bigger, faster and the better team. Army had their chance to beat Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds as a plebe. Reynolds has taken his game to another level the last month of the season. Army couldn't stop Air Force and Navy is a superior option team. Army has done a much better job of protecting the ball this year but lacks playmakers with Maples and Dixon out with injuries. Army will probably hang tough for a half but Navy is simply a more explosive and talented team.