Head-to-head: Army vs. Navy

The Army Black Knights (2-9) and Navy Midshipmen (7-4) will meet at Lincoln Field in Philadelphia on Saturday for the 113th time in college football's greatest rivalry game. For the first time since 2005 the two teams will battle for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Army has endured a frustrating and disappointing two win campaign.

The Black Knight's offense has been undermined by their struggling defense. Navy rebounded from two blowout losses to start the year to win seven of their last nine games. The Mids have found their new quarterback in talented true plebe Keenan Reynolds who has won five of his six starts. Navy has dominated the last decade winning a record ten consecutive games in the series. Navy leads the all-time series 56-49-7.

Navy's Rushing Offense
Army's Rushing Defense
Edge: Even

Navy's spread option rushing attack enters the finale ranked sixth in the nation averaging 285 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds (585 yards, 4.7 avg., 9TDs) has rushed for over 339 yards and four scores over the past three games. As a direct admit plebe Reynolds has showed remarkable poise since being named starting quarterback after leading the Mids to a comeback win against Air Force coming off the bench. Navy is 5-1 since Reynolds has been named starter.

Senior slotback Gee Gee Greene (750 yards, 7.2 per carry, 3 TDs) leads the team in rushing. Fullback Noah Copeland scored a career high two touchdowns and ran for 110 rushing yards in the MIds' last game against Texas State. Navy's offensive line has big size advantage inside with Josh Cabral, who will be making his 36th consecutive start on Saturday and guard Jake Zuzek against Army's undersized defensive tackles. Navy's offensive line will enjoy a rare size mismatch in their favor against the Army undersized front four. Navy's front line averages 286 pounds while Army's defensive line averages just 227 pounds.

Army's run defense was obliterated last game against Temple's mammoth offensive line. It was simply a mismatch as Temple ran for 531 rushing yards and 63 points. Fortunately for Army that does not seem to matter much as in this game. Last year Temple dominated Army yet the following game the Black Knights held Navy to less than their season rushing average. While Navy has won all three games since Ellerson has been Army's head coach they have only averaged 214 rushing yards per game against the Black Knights. Army will be sure to give Reynolds multiple looks in an attempt to disrupt his reads.

The Black Knight's defense did play well in the victory against fellow service academy rival Air Force. Army used a 5-2 defensive look to hold the Falcons to just 103 rushing yards which is well below their season average of over 366 rushing yards per game. Mike linebacker Geoffrey Bacon (122 tackles, 3 ½ TFL, FF, INT) made six tackles and recovered a fumble in last year's game. Bacon had a huge game in shutting down Air Force's running game. Last year Navy was able to knock him off the ball at times with their bigger interior linemen. Bacon and bandit linebacker Nate Combs need to penetrate and tackle well for Army to slow down the Mids rushing attack.

Navy's Passing Offense
Army's Passing Defense
Edge: Navy
This season true freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds has completed 46 of his 80 pass attempts (57.5%) for 754 yards with eight touchdown passes and only one interception. The last few years Army has dared Navy to beat them deep. Former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs was able to hit a number of big pass plays throwing over the top of the Black Knights defense. In 2009 Dobbs threw one touchdown pass but had two long pass plays called back by penalties. In 2010 Dobbs threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns in defeating Army. Last year Navy attempted just five pass attempts, completing just one pass for 13 yards and was sacked twice. Reynolds, like Dobbs, gives Navy a vertical passing threat that they lacked in last year's game. Brandon Turner (19 rec., 248 yards, 13.1 avg., 3 TDs) is the Mids most dangerous receiver. He is the type of big, physical and fast receiver that has historically given the Black Knights headaches. Turner caught a 32-yard touchdown pass against Army in 2010. Slotback Gee Gee Greene can get deep. Greene is averaging 20 yards on his 14 catches and has six career touchdown receptions. Shawn Lynch (13 rec., 262 yards, 20.2 avg., 1 TD) has been a reliable target with good speed in his first year as a starter.

Army bandit linebacker Nate Combs (55 tackles, 12 TFL, 6 sacks, 1INT, 4 PD, 3 FR and 2 FF) had both of Army's sacks last year against the Mids. Combs is Army's best defensive player. Sophomore SAM safety Hayden Pierce will play for the first time since injuring his collarbone against Boston College. With Pierce's return senior Josh Jackson, who has been playing safety, will move back to field cornerback. Cornerback Marques Avery is the only defensive player who is will definitely miss the game. Avery injured his shoulder when he fell in the end zone against Rutgers and had surgery on his shoulder. Plebe cornerback Chris Carnegie (47 TT, 3 PD) tackling has been inconsistent and he has been outrun on some long patterns this year.

Army's Rushing Offense
Navy 's Rushing Defense
Edge: Army
Army enters the game leading the nation in rushing for the second consecutive year. The Black Knights are averaging over 369 rushing yards per game. Senior quarterback Trent Steelman (1,152 rushing yards, 5.1 avg., 16 TDs) enters the game playing the best football of his long career. Steelman has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last five games while running for eight scores. He ran for 139 yards on 20 carries and had three touchdowns his last game against Temple. Trent's 56-yard touchdown run at Michie Stadium to pass Glenn Davis as Army's all-time leader in touchdowns was one of the best runs of his career. Junior A-back Raymond Maples (1,059 yards, 5.4 avg., 2 TDs) ran for 94 yards against Temple but lost a fumble when he dropped a pitch. He had a similar fumble last year against Navy. Maples has run for over 100 yards in each of the past two seasons. The long layoff should have allowed fullback Larry Dixon's (778 yards, 6.3 avg., 6 TDs) sore ankle to heal. Army enters the game with right tackle MoMo Kime out after suffering a season ending knee injury against Temple. Left tackle Ben Jebb returns from an injury after missing two games but Derek Bisgard is still listed as the starter. Zach Reichert is scheduled to make his first start at right tackle in place of Kime.

Navy is ranked 60th in run defense this year allowing over 160 rushing yards per game. Last year Army was able to run the ball successfully against the Mids. They ran for 298 yards and averaged six yards per carry. Navy was able to capitalize on Army fumbling three times and losing the ball twice. Both times the turnovers gave Navy a short field and were converted into touchdowns. Senior inside linebacker Matt Warrick (73 tackles, 3 INT, 3 PD) needs to play well along with fellow inside linebacker Cody Peterson (48 tackles, FF) especially against Army's effective use of counters. Warrick led the Mids with nine tackles in last year win over Army. Warrick has recorded 22 tackles in his two Army-Navy games. He made his first career start as a sophomore against Army and had a game-high 13 tackles in Navy's 31-17 victory. Nose tackle Barry Dabney (19 tackles) draws the toughest assignment matched up against Army's best player in Remington watch list center Ryan Powis.

Army's Passing Offense
Navy's Pass Defense
Edge: Navy

Trent Steelman has completed 39 of 85 passes (45.9%) for 619 passing yards with one touchdown and two interceptions this season. Steelman has passed the ball fairly well the last two years against Navy. He has completed 15-of-26 passes for 205 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Army lacks a lot of explosiveness at wide receiver. Sophomore Chevaughn Lawrence (19 REC, 313 yards, 17.4 avg., 0TD) has emerged as Steelman favorite target but his hands are inconsistent. Patrick Laird (11 REC., 125 yards, 11.4 avg., 1 TD) is essentially a wide blocker. The player Navy probably needs to watch is C-back Malcolm Brown. Brown has caught three touchdown passes and scored four touchdowns against the Mids the last two years. The Black Knights do struggle at times in pass protection allowing a sack 10 percent of the time they drop back to pass. Army will be glad to see that Navy star defensive end Jabaree Tuani has graduated because they couldn't block him the last four years.

Navy's defense is ranked 85th in the nation in pass defense. The Mids secondary has improved this season despite having to rely on plebes at one cornerback spot. Sophomore Parrish Gaines (56 TT, 2 INT, 2 PD) has been one of the reasons for the Mids improvement. Last season Gaines was thrown in the deep end of the pool as a plebe and struggled as a starter. He's rebounded to have an excellent year and is one of the Mids better defensive players. Rover Tra'ves Bush (76 tackles, 4 PD, 1 FR, 1 FF) leads Navy in tackles and is always around the ball. Wave Ryder replaced Chris Ferguson in the starting lineup at free safety after Chris had a rough game against Troy. Senior outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel is an Academic All-America candidate. Wetzel has posted 63 tackles (13 ½ TFL) and a team-high six sacks.

Special Teams
Edge: Navy
Navy plebe kicker Nick Sloan won the job in preseason beating out five other kickers. This year Sloan has hit 9-for-13 on field goals and is perfect on extra-points. Sloan started the year on fire making his first seven college field goal attempts. Over the last three games he's struggled making only two of six attempts. Sophomore punter Pablo Beltran is averaging 45.1 yards per punt on his 34 punts this year. Currently that stands as the best single season average ever for a Navy punter. Beltran had 14 punts downed inside the 20. He has boomed eleven punts this year over fifty yards. Marcus Thomas has averaged 23.0 yards on kickoff returns. On punt returns Shawn Lynch has averaged 9.4 per punt return. Navy's coverage teams have generally solid.

Army punter Chis Boldt (38.3 per punt) has placed seven punts inside the 20-yard line. Eric Osteen replaced slumping freshman Dan Grochowski as the kicker last game. Osteen made his only field goal attempt against Temple but missed an extra point. Osteen has been impressive on kickoffs recording 27 touchbacks. Punt returner Josh Jackson (11.3 avg.) has only one decent return all year. Kick returner Julian Crockett (19.7 yard avg. KOR) has demonstrated good quickness on kickoff returns.

Edge: Navy
Comments: Ken Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to a 39-25 (.609) record in his fifth season as head coach. This season may have been Niumatalolo best coaching job as he's incorporated 14 freshmen into the lineup and had 17 players make their first career start. Navy's four losses this season have occurred against opponents whose record stands at 35-13 (.729) including top-ranked Notre Dame. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper offense has been a little lackluster since the East Carolina game. After allowing 84 point the first two games, Buddy Green's defense has allowed just 19.4 points per game the rest of the way.

This may be the most important game in Rich Ellerson's career. After losing his first six service academy rivalry games Ellerson's team broke the streak with a 41-21 rout of Air Force. The Black Knights defense enters the game having held Navy to less than their season rushing average in all three games. Navy has won all three games despite rushing for an average of just 214 yards per game against the Black Knights. Army's game plan on defense has been well designed against Navy.

Edge: Even
Navy has dominated Army the past decade winning a series record ten 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 last decade, posting an 18-2 record against Army and Air Force.

The Black Knights haven't won on the road since their victory in the 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. They had been plagued with turnovers in service academy games until they crushed Air Force 41-21 in early November. The Black Knights defense has had success limiting Navy's running game. Army best players are healthy and playing well.

PREDICTION: Army, 24-21. I think this is the year Army ends the streak. Navy is still the bigger, faster and the better team overall. I like the Black Knights because I think quarterback Trent Steelman is playing the best football of his career. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has been terrific but may struggle with his pitch reads against Army's flex front. The Mids aren't as physical at center as past years and establishing the fullback has been hit or miss this year. The Mids enter this game after a few rather lackluster offensive performances. Army's turnovers have been the difference in the games the past few years. The Black Knights have done a better job protecting the ball the last few games. Army's offensive line also will not have to deal with Navy defensive end Jabaree Tuani who they simply could not block the last four games in the series. It should be a close one either way but I think this is Army's year.

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