The Army-Navy game has resulted in a win for the Mids on 14 straight occasions. Navy is in a weird position going into this game as the focus has been on success in the American Athletic Conference while Army has been concentrating solely on this game for over a month. The Mids will have to bring the intensity to beat the Black Knights and continue a streak that began back in 2001.
Here are the three keys to beating the Black Knights:
1) Win the rushing battle
It is Army vs Navy. It is triple-option vs triple-option. It is strength vs strength. In the most simple terms, whichever team rushes the ball better will win this game.
One week ago this rushing matchup looked like it would roll in the favor of Navy. Then, on a single play against Temple. the Mids lost their starting quarterback Will Worth and their best slotback in Toneo Gulley for the remainder of the year. That is why coming into this game the Black Knights have the No. 2 ranked rushing offense in the nation (328.9 yards per game) and Navy has the No. 3 rushing attack (327.5 yards per game).
Where Navy has been better than Army is in turning that yardage into points. The Black Knights have scored 37 rushing touchdowns through 11 games, while Navy have scored 54 rushing touchdowns through 12 games. Navy though will be without Worth, the nation’s touchdown leader, so it will be interesting to see if their running game functions against a very good Army defense with third-stringer Zach Abey under center.
2) Control time of possession
It is no secret that Navy is beaten up at this point in the season. The Mids have played 12 games to the Black Knights 11 and this will mark the eighth straight weekend that Navy has played a game. Army, by contrast, has been idle for the last two weekends and its last game with any level of physicality was back on November 12 when they took on Notre Dame.
All this means that it is a bad time for the tired Navy defense to face a punishing and physical option running game. The Navy offense has to find a way to function with Abey at quarterback and get enough first downs in the first half of the game to keep the Army offense off of the field. If either team has a big advantage in first half possession, when that team is going to be in the driver’s seat as the fourth quarter winds down.
3) Win on special teams
The Navy special teams unit has not been perfect in 2016, but it has at least been consistently good. Army, on the other hand, has a special teams squad that has cost them at least one, and potentially as many as three, games. This will most likely be a tight affair, especially as the Mids scoring power has decreased with Worth out of the game. Bennett Moehring will have to make his kicks in the frigid Baltimore air, while the punting and coverage units need to pin Army deep in their territory and force them to drive the length of the field to score.
A big day from the Mids special teams would help alleviate some of the problems that will happen with a rookie at the quarterback spot.