Navy Preview: Time For the Big Guns

Football is admittedly a three-phase sport, but it would be hard to deny that offense--not defense or special teams--must lead Army to victory in the 108th staging of the Army-Navy Game, to be held this Saturday in Baltimore.

Around the world or in West Point, in places far or near, among casual fans or football diehards, the story has been simple for the backers of the Black Knights in the past several years against Navy: the Midshipmen have weapons and resources to call upon in the second half, while the Brave Old Army Team--long on fight but short on raw offensive potency--fails to keep up for 60 whole minutes.

Navy's domination of Army under head coach Paul Johnson has been rather predictable not so much in its end result, but in the form of each Navy victory. Army comes out inspired, spilling its tank and maxing out on the field. The Black Knights contain Navy's offense and approach the midway point of the contest with a legitimate puncher's chance of prevailing. But as soon as halftime comes around, the Midshipmen wear down Army and find an extra gear, while a West Point offense--remaining impotent and ineffective--can't keep up with the apparatus from Annapolis. Army's defense starts to fade in the second halves of Navy games not because of a lack of quality, but because Army's offense is annually unable to keep Navy's triple-option attack off the field. Without any staying power from its offense, Army can't dictate the tempo, flow and score of any game against a Paul Johnson juggernaut. Such is the typical scenario in an Army-Navy encounter this decade.

This year, however, could be different for the lads of the Long Gray Line, as Stan Brock enters his first Army-Navy game as the head man in West Point. Army's offense showed enough against Tulsa to suggest that another explosive effort exists inside the bodies of the Black Knights' skill position players. Carson Williams is playing the quarterback position with far more distinction than at any other point of this up-and-down season. Though inconsistent, Army's backs and receivers have displayed an ability to hit home-run plays in 2007. A powder keg of a performance is very much within Army's reach. A full frontal assault by Brock's offense could define Saturday's upcoming Battle of Baltimore.

As much as the football fireworks against Tulsa have given Army's offense cause for hope, the bigger reason why offense is the key to a victory over Navy is the fact that the Midshipmen have regressed substantially on defense in 2007. The worst defense of the Johnson era has been eviscerated by low-level teams such as Duke (43 points), Notre Dame (44 points) and North Texas (62 points). Navy allowed eight touchdown passes to North Texas freshman quarterback Giovanni Gizza, who set an NCAA record against the hapless defenders who wore Navy's colors.

There's really little doubt about the matter: Army has its best chance in a long time to ring up a big number against Navy and force the Midshipmen to play a virtually perfect game on offense. Given Army's ability to play run defense this season, and there exists a scenario in which the Black Knights could definitely gain the upper hand against their sea-faring rivals.

Carson Williams and this oft-maligned offense show signs of considerable improvement at the present moment, but against Navy, that improvement will have to be displayed on the field. If it is, a season of struggles and a decade of disappointments will quickly fade away, as the Brock era will generate considerable momentum heading into 2008. Williams and his teammates could revel in the satisfaction of knowing that a long journey through many disappointments will have been more than worth the ride.

The battle lines are clearly drawn for Saturday's matchup in Maryland: if Army's offense can score big (we're talking the 45-point range) or score in the low-30s with a huge time of possession advantage, the Brave Old Army Team could bury the brigade and snap this lingering losing streak against Navy.

It's time for Army's tank to display the full measure of its weaponry and potency. It's time for the big guns to emerge against the Midshipmen.


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