Three Keys: Navy

If you were to come up with three keys to Army's game against Navy this Saturday, you would probably say something to the effect of, "Turnovers. Turnovers. Turnovers... are we clear?" However, turnovers can only cover one key. What are the other two? Jeff Monken has to be able to get his players to meet a few basic goals... and go from there.


THREE KEYS TO BEATING NAVY

1 – Turnovers, expansively viewed.
There is no guesswork surrounding the first key of every Army-Navy Game: turnovers. Army’s best chance came two years ago, but Trent Steelman made the error that crushed him and the Army football family. The Black Knights applied game pressure to the Midshipmen in other Rich Ellerson-era games, but Navy took the ball away near its own goal line on multiple occasions, sometimes running the ball the length of the field for a defensive touchdown. This year, Navy has lost 12 fumbles and has put the ball on the ground 19 times. If the Midshipmen are still careless (enough) with the ball, Army can establish the plus-three or plus-four turnover differential it will need to win.

However, let’s not view turnovers solely in terms of fumbles and interceptions. Punting the ball turns it over (in that looser sense of the expression) to the opposition. Failing on fourth and two turns the ball over. Roughing the punter on fourth and 12 turns the ball over, because the act of punting concedes a possession; the roughing penalty transfers the ball back – it might as well be a turnover. A 12-men-on-the-field penalty when the opposing offense has fourth and 3? That’s a turnover. Jumping offsides on fourth and one? That’s a turnover of sorts, at least if the team was prepared to punt and had set up a punt formation.

Fumbles and interceptions are certainly the biggest parts of the story, but Army can’t commit the penalties which so severely hurt its cause a year ago against Navy. The Black Knights need to see what will happen if they can play 60 dogged minutes without giving away anything in terms of possessions or points. If Army can avoid a single penalty or turnover in 60 minutes, and can avoid giving Navy easy points on kick returns while converting all relevant kicks in its own right, the Black Knights should have a very good chance of winning. Just trying to get out of their own way should be the immediate test for the Black Knights. If they play a clean game, imagine how far into the proceedings they could remain competitive.

2 – Keep Reynolds under wraps. When Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds gets into a groove, Navy’s offense becomes extremely hard to stop. This has been the case for the past month, following a sluggish month of October in which Reynolds wasn’t fully healthy. Army needs to do its homework in film study, making determinations of how Reynolds likes to operate. If the Black Knights like their defensive game plan, they need to trust it all the way. If they can execute their defensive game plan, they could find themselves throwing a huge party for the first time since 2001.

3 – Third and five: The Black Knights have to own it. Army’s offense will arrive at some third and fives or third and fours during this game. The Black Knights, in order to pull off the upset, have to come up with a winning concept and a framework that can go with it. Army has to win the vast majority of third downs on Saturday, because this will limit Navy’s time of possession and represent the best defense against Keenan Reynolds. Army’s offense has to be uncommonly good in third-and-medium situations in order to create a memorable upset in Baltimore.

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