Preseason Preview: Navy vs. Army

The final installment of our preview of the 2013 football schedule for Navy is the one that means the most to the vast majority of fans. Without further ado here is the preview of that all American classic, Army versus Navy.

The final installment of our preview of the 2013 football schedule for Navy is the one that means the most to the vast majority of fans. Without further ado here is the preview of that all American classic, Army versus Navy.

WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 14; 3:00 p.m. EST

WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia, Pa.)

LAST SEASON: 2-10 (Worst independent record; No bowl game)

CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not ranked

SERIES HISTORY: Navy leads, 57-49-7. (Last meeting: Navy 17, Army 13, in the final game last season)

OFFENSE: Well, at least with Army you know what is coming. Last season the Black Knights averaged 67 rushes and threw less than 10 passes per game. Though this ratio may change a little with a new man under center, the philosophy will basically stay the same. Army is going to line up and try to run over and around you and challenge you to stop them. This team has led the FBS in rushing the past two years and lest year averaged 370 yards per contest, which is a ridiculous 25 percent more per game than second placed Air Force.

The problem is that all the rushing yardage resulted in precisely two wins. The big star to watch is Raymond Maples who ran for 1,215 yards last year and who is the primary option between the red zones. His running mate in the backfield, and the player who will get most of the goal line work now Steelman has departed, is junior fullback Larry Dixon. Dixon has 11 touchdowns over the last two seasons, a number that could double this year if Army can get the ball into scoring position. Throw in four more running backs who can go and you can see that the Black Knights running game is in good hands.

What started out as a four way battle for the quarterback spot has been narrowed down to two, with junior Angel Santiago and sophomore A.J. Schurr both expected to see snaps early in the season. Santiago entered the competition behind Schurr, but he has improved his passing markedly since his one start in 2011. His major advantage is in the ground game where he is the Black Knights best running threat out of the triple option. He has been solid in camp holding on to the ball and has been making the right reads in the run game. [Editor's Note: Santiago started the Black Knights' opening 28-12 victory over Morgan State. He ran for 120 yards and 3 scores while completing 4-of-8 passes for 101 yards and one touchdown.]

If the Black Knights do decide to throw the ball there is one major threat. Chevaughn Lawrence had 21 catches for 357 yards last year and he would be a weapon in the receiving game in any style of offense. If the quarterback can find him with the ball Lawrence is a game-breaker, but like any wide out in the Army system his bread and butter is blocking for the ground game.

Conclusion: A big issue for the Black Knights is at offensive line where only center Ryan Powis is expected to be starting at the same position he held last year. For a line where technique and repetitions are key this could be a stumbling block. The Cadets are not going to overwhelm anyone with size and strength (one of the potential left tackle starters is 238 pounds) so the cohesion has to be there. The Mids defense, of course, is more familiar than most with working against the option. This level of prior knowledge should allow the Navy defense to boss the game up front and shut down, as much as you can, the Army ground attack.

DEFENSE: The heartbeat of the Army team is middle linebacker Geoffery Bacon. After flashing his skills as a freshman safety, Bacon jumped into the Army spotlight last year after a position change. Controlling the field in the middle of the Black Knight defense Bacon made 136 stops, the ninth most in the vaunted history of Army football. With the lack of size that Army has up front on defense it is imperative that the sideline to sideline run stopping ability of Bacon come to the fore in order for Army to stop anybody.

It is perhaps surprising then that Bacon seems to be moving again, and back to his old position at that. Though Army is clearly deeper at the linebacker spot than they are in the defensive backfield it is still something of a gamble to move a proven commodity who was excelling in his role. Bacon is joined in the secondary by three cornerbacks with starting experience, players who will need to stay healthy if Army is to improve from last fall.

The biggest problem for the Army defense this decade has been the lack of anything (other than Josh McNary) resembling a pass rush. The newest answer to this perennial problem is senior Holt Zalneraitis who is shifting from outside linebacker to pass rushing defensive end. As with other areas on the Army team size is a huge problem on the line. Expect to see any number of bodies rotated in, but at tackle and at end, in order to generate any kind of pressure without wearing bodies down.

Conclusion: Huge worries remain about the Black Knights ability to stop anyone with a pulse in the passing game. There simply has to be more production from the guys up front in terms of getting to opposition quarterbacks. In the simplest terms Army will be a much better team, and have a much better season, if Bacon makes about a third less tackles than he did last fall.

Other Factors: The Army special teams are underwhelming to the point of weakness. The lack of explosiveness in the return game is frustrating but manageable. What needs to change though is the coverage of kicks and punts where Army was terrible a year ago. For a team which runs the ball so much field position is vital. Army just cannot give up as many big returns if they want to be successful in 2013.

Conclusion: The run game will do its thing, but without new ideas and a new spark the Army offense will continue to struggle against teams who can shut down that first option. Defensively Army should be better, but with just one proven starter there are more questions than answers. If the defense can step up as a unit and work its way back to the level of 2010 then this team has a shot in a few games. Navy should simply be too good for this Army team and it would be shocking if the game was as close as the contest from a year ago.

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