Key Matchups: Army versus Navy

The 12th game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 154, 4-7) and the arch-rival Navy Midshipmen (Sagarin 72, 6-5.) One of the greatest rivalries in college sports has not been much of a game the past two decades as Navy has beaten Army 12 years in a row and 15 of the past 17.

Background

The 12th game of the year matches the Army Black Knights (Sagarin 154, 4-7) and the arch-rival Navy Midshipmen (Sagarin 72, 6-5.) One of the greatest rivalries in college sports has not been much of a game the past two decades as Navy has beaten Army 12 years in a row and 15 of the past 17. Navy looks to continue the winning streak and carry the momentum to the Poinsettia Bowl, where they will face San Diego State.

This is always an interesting game because of the great tradition and the emotions carried into the game. But this game is far more important to the future of Army football than the casual observer may see. If the rivalry had not been so lopsided for the past 17 years, Army would have never made the changes to the program that we have seen this year. It is possible that the team could have moved to the FCS division and be playing mediocre football in the Patriot League. The Army Nation may dislike this foe, but they can thank Navy for the existence of the Army FBS program.

Last Game

Three weeks ago at West Point, NY, Army played their best game of the year. Senior running back Larry Dixon rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries and broke 3,000 yards for his career in his last game at Michie as the Black Knights downed the Rams 42-31.

Things looked bleak for the Cadets in the first half as they gave up a crazy fake punt touchdown pass early in the second quarter to trail Forham 10-0. Junior quarterback A.J. Schurr entered the game in the second quarter and in three plays, he moved the team 54 yards setting up Army’s first touchdown run by senior running back Terry Baggett. Schurr went down on the third play of the drive, but from that point forward the Army team scored on five of the following six drives. In the closing seconds of the first half, sophomore Josh Jenkins blocked a Fordham punt and senior Lamar Johnson-Harris recovered it in the end zone to take the lead into the half. The Cadets did not trail for the rest of the game.

On the day, Army gained 430 total yards. Ten different Cadets rushed for a total of 382 yards. Senior QB Angel Santiago was 2 of 4 for 48 yards.

The Army defense gave up 471 yards. Sr. Quarterback Mike Nebrich was 27/38 for 38 yards and three touchdowns and an interception. The Ram offense scored on five of eight drives.

Sophomore linebacker Jeremy Timpf had nine tackles and Jr. Defensive Back Chris Carnegie had his best day of the year with six tackles and a pass defensed. Freshman defensive back Rhyan England had five tackles.

The team played much better than we had anticipated. The team looks much sharper and better practiced when they play teams their own size. There is no way that a respectable FBS team that held the ball for 35 minutes should give up 471 yards in a game. This will get better over the next couple of years as their defensive personnel improves.

Two weeks ago in Mobile, Ala., the South Alabama Jaguars scored on their last three drives of the fourth quarter and nearly came back to beat the Midshipmen. But Navy recovered the onside kick to win their Poinsettia Bowl qualifying game, 42-40.

On the day, the Midshipmen gained 430 total yards; 388 rushing and 42 passing. Junior Quarterback Keenan rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns. He was only 1 of 4 passing, but it was for 42 yards. Eleven players carried the ball for Navy, senior fullback Noah Copeland had 112 yards on 17 carries. The team averaged 7.2 yards per rush, but they fumbled three times.

The Navy defense gave up 415 total yards, but they were able to intercept senior quarterback Brandon Bridge twice. The Jaguars ran for 238 yards and just over five yards per carry. The Jaguars will next play Bowling Green in the Raycom Media Camelia Bowl on December 20th.

What to look for?

In the past 17 years, we have seen Army lose this game in every conceivable way. There have been a lot of blowouts, but there have also been games lost on fumbles, fourth down gambles that failed, and other assorted crippling mistakes at absolutely the worst time. Last year Navy completely blew out Army 34-7 as the Cadets gained 207 yards and turned the ball over three times.

The Ken Niumatalolo strategy for the Army-Navy game is to play conservatively and wait for Army to make mistakes. It has worked for him each of the seven years that he has coached. However, Army under Coach Monken has only turned the ball over twelve times this season. For the first time in years, Army has more take-aways (14) than turn-overs (12). Navy has 17 turnovers versus 14 take-aways.

Army averages 370 total yards and 26.3 points per game, Navy averages 446 total yards and 34.5 points. The Army Defense allows 444 yards per game and 34.4 points, while Navy allows 426 yards and 30 points.

Both teams lost to Western Kentucky and to Air Force, although Navy was highly competitive in those games, whereas Army was soundly beaten by both teams.

Army has improved in 2014, but they lacked the talent to win consistently against a very easy schedule. Navy beat the teams that they were supposed to, but did not pull off any upsets.

These teams run the same offense and the same defense as both coaches are decedents of former Navy Coach Paul Johnson. There is nothing that either side will do surprise the other aside from the fullback option pass. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green will follow what most of the winning opponents of Army have done this year – they will stack the box and take away Dixon. They will most likely use their safeties on the perimeter and take away the pitch man. Angel Santiago will have a good day, but he will be bottled up more often than not. With Dixon and the pitchmen taken away, the Army offense will be highly predictable. They are highly unlikely to beat Navy solely on the ground – the Black Knights will need offensive balance and creativity, something they have sorely lacked all season, to keep Navy’s D off-balance. Being dedicated Army fans, we know that Army will not throw after the first drive and they won’t throw it effectively. For Army to win this game, they would need to throw and throw often, and they absolutely would have to win the turnover battle. Hoping to win the turnover battle is not much of a strategy, but it is all we have.

Our prediction is that Army will stay in this game for a half and then get worn down by the bigger, faster, better Midshipmen. But we will still be rooting for our Black Knights. Who knows? After 13 years of bad luck, blowouts, incompetent coaching, inferior talent, inept execution, and undisciplined mistakes, it just might be about time that Army catches some breaks, or that they catch Navy snoozing.

Who is favored?
Navy is favored by 15 points.

Final Score –Navy 27– Army 14
(Predictions this year 5-6)

Game will be shown on CBS @ 3:00 EST.

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