This has not been the type of season Ken Niumatalolo and his staff would have envisioned at the beginning of 2017. It has not been pretty and at times it has been a real struggle for the Mids to get their offense going. Still, a win over Army here to regain the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy would instantly make the season feel better.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Figure out how to use Malcolm Perry
Malcolm Perry is the best weapon on the field for Navy. If they want to beat Army then the sophomore needs to get as many touches of the ball as possible. Perry has averaged nearly nine yards per rushing 2017, but that pales in comparison to his sensational 25 yards per catch. He is a touchdown waiting to happen
The only question is where will Perry be deployed?
Perry has started nine games at slotback for the Mids this season He sat out the contest against Notre Dame with an ankle injury. He also started the SMU game at quarterback – his first collegiate start at the position – scything off huge chunks of real estate as he rushed for 282 yards and four touchdowns.
Logic would dictate that Perry needs to see time under center on Saturday. He is just too dynamic to be given the limited touches of a slotback. Figuring out how to best inset Perry into the game plan is going to be huge for the Mids.
Make Army throw the ball
The Black Knights offense is the most one dimensional in the country. Navy may not pass the ball all that much, but they are a run and shoot offense compared to what Army expects from quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw.
The Black Knights rushed for 368.1 yards per game this season, which was the top mark in the nation. In contrast, they passed for just 30.5 yards per game, the worst mark in the nation. Bradshaw is simply not a threat to throw the ball. The Army triple-option attack runs through the senior, with his ability to run inside the tackle box keeping it ticking over. If Navy can stop that running attack, however, then Army will struggle.
Putting Army in third and long situations is going to be key. If Bradshaw has no option but to throw the ball, then Navy will get turnovers. Big run stuffs on first and second down matter in this game.
Win the turnover battle
No matter the two records of the Midshipmen and the Black Knights coming in, this is always a close game. Four of the last five contests have been decided by a touchdown or less, with the only blowout in the stretch coming via a 34-7 Navy victory back in 2013.
This year the teams look more evenly matched than ever, with Army having all the momentum heading to Philadelphia. It is a strange position for Navy to be in and the Mids know that in a tight game like this one promises to be, every possession is going to be important.
If Navy can manufacture an extra possession or two via turnovers they will be in a better position to win. Bradshaw will put the ball up for grabs if he is pressured. It will be a cold day too, increasing the chance of fumbles occurring in the option game. The team that wins the turnover battle is likely to sing last.