One of America’s greatest rivalries will officially bring college football’s regular season to a close this weekend in Philadelphia when Army meets Navy for the 120th time. Having won the last three meetings, Army’s seniors are determined to graduate without ever losing a game to Navy, a feat not accomplished by an Army class since 1996. But after a few seasons trending in the wrong direction, the Midshipmen have returned to their winning ways on the field and are preparing for a trip to the Liberty Bowl.
Both teams will be entering the game in style, as well. Army is wearing a specialty uniform honoring one division for the third straight year, this time modeling their uniform after the 1st Cavalry Division. Navy will be wearing throwback uniforms from the 1960s, which give a nod to a pair of Heisman Trophy winners.
Can Navy snap their losing streak to Army and once again sing their alma mater second in one of college football’s richest traditions?
Army vs. Navy
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
Spread: Navy -10.5
When Army Has the Ball
Army’s option offense is led by senior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and senior running back Connor Slomka. The two have combined for more than 1,300 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. Sandon McCoy has been a significant contributor as well, especially close to the goal line with a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns to go with his 555 yards. Army has put up more than 500 yards of offense in each of its last three games, including at least 400 rushing yards in each. The Black Knights have also run at least 70 plays in the past three games, but that number figures to drop this week against Navy. Maximizing opportunities with the football will be key.
It will be interesting to see how Army's run-heavy approach fares against a Midshipmen defense that's 17th nationally in stopping the ground game. Navy is giving up 109.7 rushing yards per game. The most they have allowed in any one game is 187 to Tulane, who ranks 13th in the country in rushing offense (249.8 ypg). Contrast that to Army, second in the nation (behind only Navy) at 311.7 yards on the ground per game. The Black Knights have been held under 200 just three times this season. Not surprisingly, they lost all three games (Tulane, WKU, Air Force), scoring a total of 54 points in those contests. If Army can't get it going on the ground against Navy, it will be a long afternoon for the Black Knights.
When Navy Has the Ball
Navy’s Malcolm Perry has turned in a phenomenal season. The senior quarterback is fifth in the nation in rushing with 136.4 rushing yards per game, and he does it on 6.3 yards per carry in Navy’s option offense. But Perry also brings the threat to throw the football this season with 1,027 yards and six touchdowns. Navy will still pick the right time to take to the air, but that could be a difference in the game this season. The passing game hurt Navy last season against Army with just five completions on 17 attempts and two interceptions thrown. Expect to see Jamale Carothers involved too after rushing for 188 yards and five touchdowns in Navy’s last game against Houston.
The Midshipmen may be the best in the country at running the ball (360.8 ypg), but the Black Knights have also been stout in stopping the run (144.1 ypg), compared to Navy. So even though Perry is more of a threat to throw the ball this time around, don't be surprised if the Midshipmen try to give Army a dose of its own medicine. In last year's game, which the Black Knights won 17-10, they outrushed Navy 222-127. The Midshipmen also look to do a better job of holding onto the ball this time around, as four turnovers played a big part in last year's loss.
As is typically the case each season, Army and Navy bring similar styles to the field. In the last few years, Army has had the more cohesive unit and a three-game winning streak to show, but this year, Navy looks to hold the upper hand. Navy’s rebound season is missing just one thing now, and that is a win against Army. With Malcolm Perry being the star of the game, the Midshipmen will once again sing second.
Prediction: Navy 24, Army 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of @NavyFB)