Sinking the Army Gray

While Army might rely much more on raw emotion to beat Navy this Saturday in the latest edition of college football's most treasured rivalry, the perspective from Annapolis is different. For a team that's favored to dominate the Black Knights for the fourth time in as many tries under Paul Johnson, the recipe for victory is not to be found in emotion, but in execution.

Of course, it's true that emotions will flow like a mighty river in this Saturday's game. Every Army-Navy game is like that, as it should be. But when you get down to the business of winning the game and doing the things it takes to succeed, emotions become secondary, especially whenever there's a heavy favorite in this game. And until proven otherwise, a cold and neutral analysis of this rivalry suggests that under Paul Johnson, Navy and its triple option should be decisively favored against Army. The results offer more than enough proof.

Navy has crushed Army the past three years, and Coach Johnson's 3-0 record against Army has been attained by a combined margin of 103 points, good for an average margin of victory in excess of 34 points. The triple option--in its diversity, balance, quickness and unpredictability--has flummoxed Army's defenses and given the Midshipmen an incalculable advantage against an Army team that runs a basic, conventional offense and therefore can't burn Navy with the element of surprise. Navy football is succeeding under Johnson for much the same reason that Air Force Academy football succeeded for many years under Fisher DeBerry: the threat posed by an unconventional offense that's hard enough to prepare for in practice or the film room, and which is even harder to read and react to on gameday. When Dee Dowis or Beau Morgan executed the wishbone well, it was lights out for the Falcons' opposition. So it also is for Navy's opponents. When Craig Candeto, then Aaron Polanco, and now Lamar Owens, makes great reads in the option while holding onto the pigskin, Navy wins games, period. It's not a point of debate--the truth of the matter is that solid and unimpeachable.

Army needs a number of keys, factors, intangibles and turning points to all go in its direction in order for the Black Knights to come away with an upset triumph. For Navy, the calculus is much more simple and much more bereft of drama. If Owens and the rest of Navy's backs and receivers avoid the turnover bug, the Midshipmen will win this game, and win it fairly comfortably. There's no reason to have to think about this game in more complex terms. Army might rise up with a noble effort, but as well as the Black Knights might play, Navy will have to make some mistakes for Army to truly have a chance in this contest. If Navy doesn't give Army any openings, any possibilities to make game-changing, emotion-swinging plays, the Black Knights are through. The Johnson Boys--without any turnovers--will sink the Army gray for a fourth consecutive year. And what's more, they'll do so with a formula that's as black and white as it gets. Top Stories