The Army Black Knights (2-9) and the Navy Midshipmen (9-2) will meet in America's Game this coming Saturday. This is the 116th meeting in college football's greatest rivalry game. Army lost their fourth straight game in losing to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-7) at Michie Stadium on Senior Day about three weeks ago. Plebe quarterback Chris Carter made his first start and led the Black Knights to 401 yards of total offense in their last game. Navy lost to the American Athletic Conference champions No. 20 Houston Cougars 52-31 on November 27 in a game that clinched the West Division title for the Cougars. Navy's defense which entered the game the top scoring defense in the AAC but could not stop the Cougars on third and fourth down. Houston quarterback Greg Ward made plays all day with his arm and legs after the teams traded touchdowns early. Last year the Army lost to the Navy, 17-10, the thirteenth consecutive loss for the Black Knight. The Midshipmen lead in the all-time series 59-49-7.
NAVY'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. ARMY'S PASSING DEFENSE
Keenan Reynolds has completed 46-of-84 passes (54.8%) for 964 passing yards with six passing touchdowns and one pick this year. Against Houston Reynolds showed why he was a longshot Heisman Trophy candidate. Keenan Reynolds completed 13-of-16 passes for a career-high 312 passing yards with a touchdown. Reynolds suffered his first interception this year off an unlucky tipped pass. Keenan battled through the air to keep the Mids in the game with Houston shutting down the Mids running game much of the day and Navy trailing. Jamir Tillman leads the Mids with 22 receptions for 468 yards, a 21.3 average, and four touchdowns. Tillman had his best game against Houston with five receptions for 162 receiving yards and a 25-yard reception for the touchdown. Reynolds set a Navy record with his 29th career touchdown pass on that throw. Last year Keenan completed 6-of-8 passes for 77 yards and a key touchdown against Army. Reynolds was on the money all day last year and he should have had another completion, but fullback Noah Copeland dropped a pass when he was wide open on a wheel route. Navy's offensive line has the second-worst sack percentage per pass attempt in football and needs to watch for Army Mike linebacker Andrew King who likes to blitz through the A-gaps.
Army's passing defense is ranked 59th in the country this season allowing 219 passing yards per game. The Black Knights have played a lot better on defense this year. They have allowed 12 touchdown passes while picking off six passes. Plebe cornerback Brandon Jackson (56 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INTs, 7 PD) has had a nice debut season replacing Army's best player, Josh Jenkins, who missed the season. In Army's last game Rutgers completed 13-of-21 passes for 105 yards. The Black Knights did a solid job in coverage most of the game as they limited Rutgers to 3-for-10 on third down. Senior cornerback Chris Carnegie (27 tackles, INT, 7 PD) has started all four years. Free safety Rhyan England (64 tackles, 4 PD) injured his knee against Rutgers but with the time off he is now healthy and will start against Navy. Mike linebacker Andrew King (89 tackles, 15 1/2, 4 1/2, 2 FR ) made 11 tackles, two for a loss and had the only sack of Reynolds in last year's game.
NAVY'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. ARMY'S RUSHING DEFENSE
Navy's spread option offense is ranked second in the nation in rushing. The Mids are averaging over 330 rushing yards a game. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds was recently named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year after he rushed for 1,093 yards and 19 touchdowns. Reynolds has run for a Navy record 4,279 yards passing the legendary Napoleon McCallum for the career record. Reynolds is fifth in rushing yards in NCAA history for a quarterback. He has scored 83 career rushing touchdowns which are the most in NCAA FBS history. Navy uses three B-backs in Chris Swain, Quentin Ezell, and junior Shawn White. The fullbacks have combined to rush for 1,226 yards and 17 touchdowns on 244 carries this year. Swain leads the fullbacks with 847 yards and 10 touchdowns. DeBrandon Sanders leads the Navy slotbacks with 310 rushing yards and a 7.6 average.
The Black Knights are ranked 58th in the nation against the run. Last season they held Navy to only 205 rushing yards, a 3.7 average and just one score. Will Linebacker Jeremy Timpf was all over the field making 15 tackles against the Mids.Timpf is second on the team with 83 tackles, four for a loss with 1 1/2 sacks and a pick. Last time out they had a rough game against Rutgers. Army allowed 254 yards, a 6.5 average per carry and four touchdowns.The Black Knights had played solidly against the run most of the season but were run over by Rutgers. Andrew King (9 tackles) Jeremy Timpf (8 tackles) were making most of their tackles down the field. Army had trouble against RU stretch play which created cut back lanes. The best player on the Army defensive line is end John Voit with 44 tackles, 3 1/2 tackles for a loss and two sacks.
ARMY'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. NAVY'S PASSING DEFENSE
The question for Army is which quarterback will play as the Black Knights have started three this season. Chris Carter has received most of the first-team snaps so far in practice. In his start against Rutgers, Carter completed 4-of-6 passes for 140 yards with a touchdown and an interception. It marked the most yards thrown by an Army quarterback this year. Carter’s 140 passing yard effort was the most for an Army quarterback since Trent Steelman threw for 149 yards at Kent State in 2010. Army sophomore quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw has seven starts this year. Bradshaw has completed 23-of-48 passes (47.9%) for 429 passing yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions this season. I wouldn't be surprised if both played. Army's leading receiver is lanky Edgar Poe (11 rec., 320 yds., 29.1 avg,, 5 TDs). Against Rutgers Poe made a great leaping highlight reel catch over cornerback Blessaun Austin to snatch the ball on Carter's underthrown pass. Poe stiff-armed Austin and warded off his attempt to push him out of bounds as he tightroped down the sidelines for a 65-yard score. At 6-feet-4 Poe is dangerous on jump balls. Slotback John Trainor has the best hands on the team and has hauled in eight passes for 176 yards, 22.0 average per catch, and a score. Trainor's game is similar to former Navy slotback John Howell. Wide receiver DeAndre Bell has five receptions for 121 yards, a 24.2 average, and one touchdown. Army's offensive line is ranked dead last in sack percentage in the FBS.
Navy's secondary is ranked 74th in the nation as they are allowing 230 passing yards per game. Navy allowed Greg Ward Jr., to complete 26-of-35 passes for 308 yards and three scores. The Mids secondary, which has played well this season, couldn't get Houston off the field as they converted a total of 18-of-21 third and fourth down attempts. Brandon Clements (45 tackles, 2 INT, 4 PD) battled but missed a chance at an interception Navy really needed and the deflection was caught by Houston for a huge gain. Rover Daiquan Thomasson (34 tackles, INT, 3 PD) was late with the help on Bonner's touchdown reception off an option pass from Ayers against the Cougars. Cornerback Quincy Adams (60 tackles, 7 PD) allowed two touchdown passes and had a rough day in coverage against Houston last game. Defensive end Will Anthony leads the Mids with 6 1/2 sacks. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said Anthony is the best defensive lineman he's ever had at Navy. Navy has been able to create pressure and dominate Army's offensive line when they are forced to pass. Last year Navy allowed Army only two pass completions and sacked Army quarterbacks three times.
ARMY'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. NAVY'S RUSHING DEFENSE
Army's offense is averaging 22.5 points per contest and ranks eighth nationally with 254 rushing yards per contest. The rushing rank has been disappointing, but the Black Knights have run the ball better the last few weeks after they were able to get healthier and keep the offensive line together. Last time out they ran for 261 rushing yards, averaged 5.0 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. Quarterback Chris Carter played well in his debut despite two fumbles. Carter ran 20 times for 111 yards and scored a touchdown. He distributed the ball well and showed his speed on a 45-yard run that set up his touchdown. Ahmad Bradshaw has rushed for 468 yards, a 3.6 average, and five touchdowns. B-back Aaron Kemper (506 yards, 5.4 avg, 3 TDs) ripped off a 38-yard touchdown run against Rutgers. Behind him at fullback are senior Matt Giachinta (281 yds., 4.8 avg., TD) and plebe Drue Harris (179 yds, 4.2 avg., 2 TDs). Sophomore slotback John Trainor leads the slotbacks with 252 rushing yards, an 8.7 average, and two scores. Army didn't score an offensive touchdown against Navy last year.
Last year Navy's defense held the Black Knights running game to just 198 yards and kept them out of the end zone. Navy is ranked 32nd in the nation in run defense and are allowing just over 138 rushing yards a game. The Mids had their worst game against Houston with 218 rushing yards, a 5.0 average and three rushing touchdowns. Mike linebacker Micah Thomas leads the Mids with 64 tackles. Nose guard Bernie Sarra anchors the Mids defensive line with 33 tackles and three tackles for a loss. Sarra had a busy day against Houston with six tackles and one tackle for a loss. Sarra has dominated Army's centers the last two years. Inside linebacker Daniel Gonzalez (55 tackles, 2 1/2 TFL, Int., FF) made five tackles last year against the Back Knights. Navy did a nice job in taking away the slotbacks last year and forcing the game between the tackles were they have outplayed Army at the point of attack.
Navy kicker Austin Grebe has hit 11-of-13 field goal attempts this years with a long of 44 yards. Grebe hit a field goal from 39 yards against Houston. Grebe has 16 touchbacks on his 67 kickoffs. Alex Barta is averaging 42.2 yards per punt on 28 punts. Barta has a good leg and does a nice job placing the ball inside the 20-yard line but can be inconsistent. Dishan Romine is averaging 27.4 yards on his kickoff returns. Romine had an 90-yard kickoff return against Tulsa which set up an easy touchdown. DeBrandon Sanders is averaging 7.3 on punt returns. Calvin Cass Jr. the other punt returner in Navy's two returner set up has averaged 5.5 yards on his punt returns. Navy’s coverage teams have struggled in recent weeks. They are now allowing 22.4 on kick returns and 15.1 on punt returns.
Army senior Daniel Grochowski has hit 5-of-7 field goal attempts his year. Grochowski had his 42-yard attempt blocked against the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has blocked all three field goal attempts that Grochowski had attempted against them in his career. He has 18 of his 47 kickoffs going for touchbacks. Punter Alex Tardieu is averaging 39.9 per punt with 11 fair catches and 13 placed inside the 20-yard line. Marcus Hyatt is averaging 20.0 yards per kickoff return. Edgar Poe has a 3.4-yard punt return average on ten returns. Army kick and punt coverage teams have been good allowing just 17.8 on kick returns and 5.4 on punts returns. Army is sixth in the country with four blocked kicks. The Black Knights blocked a Navy punt last year that was returned for the opening touchdown.
Ken Niumatalolo was named the American Athletic Conference Co-Coach of the Year after he led Navy to a 9-2 regular-season and a 7-1 mark in the Mids’ first year in the conference. Navy has been ranked in the top 25 the last five weeks for the first time since Roger Staubach was the quarterback in 1963. Niumatalolo is Navy's all-time winningest coach with a 66-37 (.641) record. Niumatalolo is 7-0 all-time against Army. He is the first head coach in the history of the Army-Navy game to win his first seven games against the rival service academy. Navy is very well coached. The Mids have committed the fewest penalties (35) and has the fewest turnovers (7) of any team in the nation.
Jeff Monken has a career 44-33 record but is just 6-17 in his time at West Point. Monken has made a lot of strides on the recruiting front in securing better and more athletic classes than the Ellerson regime. His inexperienced squad has lost six games this year by just 26 points. Monken's young offense led the nation in fumbles this year. Offensive coordinator Brent Davis did an excellent job in getting Chris Carter ready to play at a high level against Rutgers in his first start. Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman's defense has improved over last year and was well prepared and played well against Navy last season.
Navy's 13-game winning streak against the Black Knights is the longest in NCAA history among any two main rivals. Navy knows they are better than Army and plays like it. The Mids have dominated Army the past decade. 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 with a 22-3 record against Army and Air Force.
Jeff Monken has his team well prepared last year against Navy. Monken had service academy game experience at Navy and he will not be overwhelmed by the game. I expect him to be aggressive and try to force the issue taking risks on special teams and with a few trick plays. The Black Knights are desperate for a win against Navy. The Black Knights have lost all three service academy games under Monken by a combined 60-19 score.
PREDICTION: Navy, 27-7. This is the best Navy team in the triple option era. Navy is the bigger, faster and the better team. Army had their chance to beat Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds as a plebe but has been outscored 51-17 since. Navy's defense has been terrific against the run. Army couldn't run the ball against Air Force and haven't scored an offensive touchdown in three service academy games. Navy is better in the trenches. Army will probably hang tough for a half, but Navy is simply the more explosive and talented team. The streak continues.