For the past five seasons the majority of Navy fans have penciled in the final regular season game of each year as a "W." Oh don't tell me you haven't done it at least once, after all we can talk about the greatness of the rivalry and all it symbolizes all day long (and certainly with good reason) but when it comes to the Army-Navy games of late, Paul Johnson and the Midshipmen have dominated. In fact, from the years 2002-2005 Navy outscored Army 176-54 in a series of games that for all intensive purposes were not even close. That was until last year when, in Robby Ross' final game, the Black Knights put on an inspired first half performance and came within several late offensive miscues of beating the Midshipmen. This year Navy once again comes in with a winning record and having already cliched a bowl game, while Army limps in with only three win on the year. Like last year, however, Army will be no "gimme" for the Midshipmen, who are looking to extend their winning streak over the Black Knights at six games.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Despite 3-9 Record, Army No "Gimme"
Army is not a very good football team, but on Saturday they will be an extremely motivated football team, and when you couple that with their ability to at least be competitive this year with Navy's defensive struggles, you get a recipe for a closer than expected game, if not an outright upset. It's cliche, but it's true; you have to throw out the records in a game like this, and when you don't you risk overlooking an opponent with a lot to play for. And with a group of seniors who have never beaten Navy and the eyes of the nation upon them, I'd say that Coach Brock's group has a lot to play for.
Maybe Paul Johnson's "coach speak" is starting to wear off on me, but after what we saw last year I'm nervous about this game. Remember, last season Navy came into this game at 8-3, fresh off poundings of Eastern Michigan and Temple. The triple option was unstoppable, and it looked like Navy would coast to another big win over Army, just as the Mids had done each of the past four seasons. After all, Army limped into the game at a paltry 3-8, having dropped six straight and smack in the middle of what many fans would tell you was a football program in crisis. It made perfect sense then that for three quarters the team remained, for all intensive purposes anyway, deadlocked, in a game which probably resembled by-gone days in which each program was in it's glory or in it's misery, mostly depending on who you talked to in the stands. If last year wasn't a reminder to us that anything can happen when it comes to a rivalry like this, I don't know what is.
It's disconcerting to say the least if you're a Navy fan, especially considering the success Army had against the triple option last year, and the glaring fact that it was Navy's defense which won the game for the Midshipmen. That defense is of course long since gone, and despite an offense which is supposedly much better, the concern most Navy fans seem to be feeling today is whether or not Navy's defense can bail the offense out if Army's defense can effectively brickwall the triple option as it did last year. It's an interesting question, and on which I'm really not too sure about. On one hand you have to believe the offense will find a way to keep on doing what it's been doing, but with Kaipo-Noa not having played in three weeks you wonder if he'll be as sharp as he looked in the first half against North Texas. But, unfortunately for us, the problem may not be caused by Navy's offensive play, as when you take a look back at the tape last year it's clear that Army's defense just flat out out-played Navy in the first half last year. Some people have suggested Kaipo's nerves may have gotten the better of him in his first Army-Navy game last year, but to tell you the truth I think that's a cop-out. The reality is that Army's defensive line did a good job stringing out the triple option, and this begins with the play of the defensive end and the disruption of the initial read. In fact, if we look at stopping the triple option in terms of experience, then Army should have an advantage on most of Navy's 2007 opponents.
Once again, as I've found myself saying all season long, Navy "should" beat Army. Army has had some valiant games this season, but they're still 115th in the country in total offense, and 114th in the country against the run. Usually these are the kinds of numbers that jump out at you, but keep in mind the Black Knights are in a similar statistical situation as they were last year, and that didn't stop them from containing the triple option for much of the game. Who knows, Navy may come out guns a blazing and put up numbers reminiscent of 2002 or 2003, but if last year was any indicator, this game will likely start out slowly with both team's getting a feel for one another. Yet if Navy's offense can't get on track by the beginning of the first quarter, the Midshipmen endanger their chances by putting too much pressure on the defense, which, despite the favorable matchups against Army, is still susceptible to giving up big yards. Like last year, the Mids will have to play fundamentally sound defense, and not give up the big play to guys like Jeremy Trimble in the passing game. If the Midshipmen can do that and limit the time of Army's possessions, the offense, slow starting or not, should be able to carry the game. Anyway you look at it though, this game is far from a "gimme."