I had the pleasure of meeting Alex Funderburke (@AlexFunderburke) a few years ago through everyone’s favorite social media medium - Twitter. Alex is a rabid Army fan and is the son of a 1995 USMA alum and current student at UCF, home of the 2017 FBS National Champions. We have exchanged thoughts on Army and Navy athletics for some time now and he currently is the site manager for Inside & Outside Army. I recently had the pleasure of asking him some questions regarding the upcoming 119th meeting between Army and Navy. We talk about the obvious things like how Army or Navy will pull out the win or who deserves more credit for the 2018 season, but we also have some fun. In fact, I even compare one of Army’s players to MacGyver and it was intended as a compliment. Check it out.
How does Army win this game?
Alex: Army wins by playing their brand of football. They can’t get caught up in the fact that it’s The Army/Navy Game. If they keep the play calling simple and use the b-back dive to set up outside runs and play action passes, Army will be fine.
Austin: I think they need to continue their success on third down on both sides of the ball. Army has flourished using third down to either convert or put themselves in fourth and short situations at worst (where they have a pretty good track record when going for it). If they can maintain that offensive execution like they have been doing all year and compliment that with a strong third down defense, Army will find themselves in a pretty good spot.
What about Navy? How do they pull off the Vegas upset?
Alex: If they can take away the b-back dive, Army will have to go outside more than they want to. Then offensively they need to 1) win the time of possession and 2) score touchdowns when they get into the red zone, not field goals. If they do these things the chances of an upset are pretty high.
Austin: Keeping in line with the “two things” theme: Win at the line of scrimmage and win the turnover battle. Fans from both sides know that big plays are bound to happen in the Army-Navy game but if Navy establishes itself at the line, they can create success on both sides of the ball. Additionally, Navy needs to force turnovers and it wouldn't hurt to limit Army’s red zone appearances to field goal attempts while we’re at it.
Who is the unsung hero for Army football for the 2018 season? Who do we never hear about that deserves some credit for their success?
Alex: I think that it could be one of two people, on the offense I think it’s Connor Slomka because whenever there is a third and one or two he comes in and punches the ball through to pick up the first. He keeps drives alive for the Black Knights. Then on the defense I would say it’s James “Gibby” Gibson. People always talk about James Nachtigal, Cole Christiansen, Kenneth Brinson, and Elijah Riley, but Gibson is always calling the plays and flying around the field making key tackles.
How about for Navy?
Austin: Offensively I will give the nod to tackle Andrew Wood. Navy football fans know the name, but outside of that he doesn’t get enough credit for his success while at Navy. He has an impressive 38 consecutive starts and is a leader on an offensive line that always produces one of the best rushing teams in the country. On the defensive side of the ball I would say Jarid Ryan. Ryan had zero interceptions coming into the season and currently leads the team this year with three. He seems to be all over the place breaking up passes downfield.
What are some of the notable branch assignments for Army football Class of 2019?
Alex: Army football didn’t publicize them this year, Army Athletics did for other sports but not football, I wonder if they just forgot about them, haha.
Austin: Well, thankfully Scott and the rest of the Sports Information staff over at Navy are good at pushing this out each year. Navy football senior class will commission 16 Marines, 12 surface warfare officers, three Navy pilots, two intelligence officers, and one supply officer. Some assignments of note:
Zach Abey - Marine Corps Ground
Anthony Garguilo - Marine Corps Ground
Taylor Heflin - Marine Corps Ground
Garret Lewis - Surface Warfare
Mike Martin - Surface Warfare
Bennett Moehring - Navy Pilot
Sean Williams - Supply Officer
Andrew Wood - Navy Pilot
Alright, you are going to battle with a squad of four. You get to pick two players from each team, who are you picking and why?
Alex: From Army give me James Nachtigal and Elijah Riley and from Navy give me Jackson Pittman and Nelson Smith. I’d want the two Army guys because those are two of the most fired up players I’ve ever seen. They are always hyping up teammates and making big plays, I have to think that would translate to the battle field well. Then Pittman and Smith are like tanks, they’d be great in a battle.
Austin: I will take Darnell Woolfolk and Kenneth Brinson from West Point. Woolfolk seems to have a nose for the end zone and I would have to think he would have the same military success as a squad-mate. I recently read Brinson has a 3.9 GPA while majoring in chemical engineering. So, yeah - we could certainly use a MacGyver in the squad. From Navy I want Malcolm Perry because we need some speed and elusiveness in the group and probably Mike Martin for his humor. Humor keeps you sane while deployed so I feel like Martin would supply some much needed comedy for the group.
So, how does this game play out and what is your final score prediction?
Alex: This game is going to be fun as always but I have Army winning big in this one. I don’t think Navy’s defense will be able to stop Kelvin Hopkins Jr. and company. I also don’t think the Midshipmen offense will be able to move the ball against the Army defense. Navy will have one good drive but they’ll be held to a field goal and Army will score once per quarter and win their third straight game against Navy. Army 28 Navy 3.
Austin: I predict both teams coming out to slower offensive starts than desired before they finally settle down in the second quarter. Overall scoring is low and Navy ultimately finds the turnovers it needs. Navy 21 Army 17.