Army hosts Navy on Saturday at Michie Stadium. Here are your three keys to an Army victory.
Here it is – no, not just the Army-Navy Game, but the game’s first on-campus edition since 1943, when Michie Stadium and the West Point campus hosted this American sports classic. Michie Stadium is once again the venue due to COVID-19 complications. It made far more sense to bring the game to a small and cozy campus site, since a full crowd isn’t able to attend. Instead of having two teams travel to a game site, having only one team travel reduced complexity and confusion. Army was able to host, and now – as you might have seen on social media earlier this week – one can see a photo of a Michie Stadium end zone having the letters “N-A-V-Y” painted in it.
It’s pretty special to have this game on campus, a great adjustment in a pandemic.
Now, let’s see what Army needs to do to win on Saturday.
1 – The front seven
Army’s front seven has been very good this season. The Army defense has usually carried the freight for Jeff Monken and the Black Knights in 2020. Even when the defense has occasionally wobbled, it has managed to steady itself and keep the team in games. A case in point was the team’s most recent game, the win over Georgia Southern in which Army came back from a two-touchdown deficit. The defense was so good in the second half that the Black Knights were able to stay close and then rally in the fourth quarter to prevail.
The most fundamental battle in this game is when Navy has the ball. The Midshipmen had a dynamic offense in 2019 with Malcolm Perry. This year they have started over at quarterback and have not found answers. If Army takes away Navy’s running game, it will be very hard for the Midshipmen to pass against a defense which knows the pass is coming. Navy’s offensive line has been shoved around most of the season. That O-line will be intent on playing its best game of the season this Saturday; it’s up to Army’s front seven to make sure Navy’s offensive line doesn’t gain any confidence. As long as Army achieves this one specific goal, it becomes much harder for Navy to have a path to victory. Navy’s offense has been shut down the past two weeks by Memphis and Tulsa. Army can do the same thing, and it all starts at the line of scrimmage. If Navy’s run blocking doesn’t improve, the Midshipmen are likely toast.
If Army contains Navy up front, the only other way Navy can win this game is…
2 – Army turnovers
Army has had problems fumbling the ball at times this season. When Navy was in the midst of its 14-game winning streak over Army, it seemed that whenever the Black Knights were on the verge of either winning or tying the game, they would commit a huge fumble. This year, Navy’s offense has been very poor, well below Ken Niumatalolo’s standards. If Army’s defense locks down the Midshipmen, the only other real portal to victory for Navy is for Army to fumble the ball, especially in either red zone. If the turnover differential in this game is zero, Army’s odds of winning go way up.
3 – The big pass
When two triple-option teams play, the constant focus on the running game can lead to that one moment when an offensive coordinator thinks he can spring a surprise on a defense by uncorking a long downfield pass. Navy has historically (in the 21st century) been better at executing this play than Army, but in one game with emotions running high, it takes just one wrong read or one flawed reaction to create a 70-yard touchdown which instantly changes the nature of the battle. Army doesn’t necessarily need to be the team which successfully pulls off the big pass, but much like turnovers, Army needs to have a zero differential here. As long as the Black Knights aren’t minus-one in this category (completed passes of 40 yards or more, let’s say), they should be in good shape.
Saturday’s game begins at 3:00 PM ET. You can watch this game on the CBS Network.