There have been times this season that Navy’s offense has struggled to score points. No longer is this a triple-option attack orchestrated by Keenan Reynolds or Will Worth. The Midshipmen scored just a single touchdown against Air Force and were kept off the scoreboard by Cincinnati.
But since that 42-0 drubbing at the hands of the Bearcats, Navy’s offense has looked better. The Mids scored 24 points on the road at UCF, hung 37 points on the board in a home win against Tulsa and scored 28 points on the road against Tulane. After starting the season playing wide receiver, Zach Abey has retaken the reins under center for Navy, leading them on a bit of scoring surge to end the season.
Meanwhile, Army might have its best defense of the Jeff Monken era. Only twice this season have they allowed an opponent to scored 30 points or more. Those performances came in a road loss at Duke and a home double-overtime win against Miami (Ohio). Army remains the only team to hold Oklahoma under 37 points in a single game, holding the Sooners to 28 points in an overtime defeat in Norman.
Can Army keep up its stellar play against Navy on Saturday in Philadelphia? Or will Abey lead the Midshipmen on multiple scoring drives in his third Army-Navy game?
Rushing: 3,467 yards, 5 yards per-carry, 36 touchdowns
Passing: 866 yards, 7.8 yards per-attempt, 44.1 percent completion, 5 touchdowns
Giveaways: 3 interceptions, 10 fumbles lost
Best Performance: On Nov. 17 against Tulsa, the Midshipmen ran for 389 yards and five touchdowns. They were 11-of-15 on third downs and also converted their lone fourth down attempt. They lost just one fumble and held possession for nearly 33 minutes. Abey led the way by scampering for 128 yards and two scores on 26 carries. Malcolm Perry, Tre Walker and Anthony Gargiulo each eclipsed 50 yards rushing and Nelson Smith scored a pair of touchdowns too.
Navy should also be noted for their Sept. 8 home win over Memphis, who went on to play in the American Athletic Conference title game. The Midshipmen had the ball for nearly 43 minutes and won on a fourth quarter drive that lasted 13 plays and covered 56 yards of ground in 6:51. Malcolm Perry had 205 yards of total offense and two touchdowns.
Worst Performance: It’s the Cincinnati game. At Nippert Stadium, Navy totaled less than 200 yards of total offense, went 3-of-13 on third down conversions and 0-for-3 on fourth down conversions. They also lost a fumble. On 28 carries, Abey had a yards-per-carry average of 1.3 yards.
Top Weapon: It’s Perry, who has shown he can run, catch and pass a little bit. He’s an electric player and has the ability to break off gains for big yardage if he has just a few inches of open space to squeeze through. He’s rushed for seven touchdowns this season, caught another and thrown for two more. Perry has totaled 1,406 yards of total offense this year and Army will be forced to keep tabs on him.
Rushing allowed: 1,171 yards, 4.15 yards per-carry, 10 touchdowns
Passing allowed: 2,143 yards, 7,68 yards per-attempt, 59.8 completion percentage, 16 touchdowns
Turnovers forced: 3 interceptions, 9 fumbles recovered
Best Performance: In terms of points allowed, Army’s defense was at its best against San Jose State, where the home team scored just three points on Oct. 13. San Jose State never entered the endzone, totaled just 171 yards of total offense and lost four fumbles.
But when measuring the strength of the opponent, Army’s best defensive performance came in a loss, against Oklahoma. Again, the Black Knights are still the only team to hold the Sooners to four scores or less. Oklahoma, set to complete in the College Football Playoff, has the eighth best passing offense in the country and is quarterbacked by a Heisman Trophy finalist. The Sooners also have the 11th best rushing offense. Army held Kyler Murray to his lowest passing total of the season, just 165 yards, and held the Sooners rushing attack under 200 yards. Had Army quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. not thrown a pair of interceptions, the Black Knights may have pulled off the upset.
Worst Performance: It’s the Miami (Ohio) game, where the Black Knights allowed Red Hawks’ quarterback Gus Ragland to throw for 329 yards and four touchdowns. Army didn’t force a turnover and allowed Miami to convert seven-of-nine fourth down attempts. Army still won in overtime.
Top weapon: There’s two guys that Navy’s men in the trenches need to keep an eye on. Cole Christiansen had 65 total tackles this season and also led the Black Knights in stops in the backfield with 10.5 tackles for loss. He also has a sack, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. Arguably Army’s top pass rusher is James Nachtigal, who leads the team with five sacks. He has 73 total tackles, has forced two fumbles and recovered one.
While Navy’s offense has improved, Army’s defense is playing at a very high level. They have the 12th best rushing defense in all of FBS. However, one area where Army might be exposed is in the passing game, as they haven’t been able intercept many passes and have let a few quarterbacks throw for big yardage this year.
But Navy hasn’t shown that they can pass the ball efficiently. To beat Army, Navy is going to have to complete a few passes, take care of the ball, eat the clock and convert on third downs. All of that will be much easier said than done.