It’s one of the best weeks of the year. The 120th meeting between the Army and Navy football teams is upon us, and as always, the greatest rivalry in all of sports is shaping up to be a good one. We will have you covered all week long as we lead into the game, leading up to the 3 PM kickoff on Saturday on CBS.
What’s even more exciting for us here at Against All Enemies is that we will have five of our contributors on-site for the game, as well as joining forces with Banner Society who is also bringing along five esteemed individuals to give us quite the SB Nation presence this weekend. You can check out Austin’s article here to see where we will be and what we will be up to.
I’ve said it before that covering three rivals on the same site, especially when most of our contributors attended one of these fine institutions, can be a challenge. This is one of those weeks when I try and breakdown as logically as possible which team I think has the advantage at each position group heading into the game, and then Army fans call me a Navy homer and Navy fans tell me I’m not being enough of a homer.
All I can say is I’ve watched nearly every one of these teams games this year (sorry, I wasn’t staying up for that 12:30 AM Hawaii kickoff), and this is how I see it breaking down at each position. I’ll also say that this is Army-Navy, and records will be thrown out the window, and I fully expect a close game that comes down to the wire as each team fights desperately to bring the CIC trophy home with them Saturday night.
Let’s start with the offensive linchpin for each of these two option teams. Coach Monken has already said something to the effect of we will have available who we have available when asked about the starting quarterback situation at Army. It’s been a fluid situation all season as the team has dealt with injuries throughout the year. This was no doubt Kelvin Hopkins’ team at the beginning of the season. The senior from Charlotte, NC has had an up and down campaign but has shown throughout his career just what he brings to the game. This year he’s got just over 700 yards rushing with 7 touchdowns. His passing numbers have been subpar, completing only 43% of his attempts with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Jabari Laws, an electric sophomore, has spelled Hopkins in several games and gotten the start in a couple others as Hopkins dealt with injuries. Laws himself has had several injuries throughout the year, but he has shown a bright future for Army through the air and on the ground. He’s completed 80% of his pass attempts and rushed for just under 500 yards with four touchdowns on the season.
On the other side, Navy has the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year in senior Malcolm Perry. Perry has had a year to remember under center, and that is saying something given the recent success of Navy quarterbacks in the last decade. Perry has 1,500 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns on the season. That’s good to be tied for sixth in the country with Clemson running back Travis Etienne in yards, though Etienne has played in two more games than Perry. Perry is also sixth in rushing touchdowns, but once again, has played at least one game less than every other player. Perry has also eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in the passing game, which may have had the biggest difference in the offensive success of the Navy team this year. He’s got 1,027 yards through the air with 6 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Army has a couple of great slotbacks that have had great careers for the Black Knights. We said that Army would need to see them both step up this season, and they have had quietly successful seasons. Kell Walker has run for 387 yards and three touchdowns while also hauling in 41 yards receiving for another touchdown. Artice Hobbs IV, who is the biggest receiving threat out of the backfield on the team, has 297 yards receiving and a touchdown while also rushing for 124 yards and another two TDs. That gives Army two guys with over 400 yards total offense on the year from the slot.
Navy has seen a resurgence at the slotback position this season. Part of that is due to Perry’s confidence running the offense, but also a concerted effort to get them involved from offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper. The trio of Tazh Maloy, CJ Williams, and Keoni-Kordell Makekau each have over 300 yards of total offense on the season, which has been pretty balanced between the running and passing game. CJ Williams has become the primary go-to guy, especially with Maloy being injured later in the year, and he has emerged to have 264 yards on the ground with 3 touchdowns, 210 yards receiving with another pair of TDs, and a passing touchdown as well.
Advantage: Slight to Navy
Army has relied on the one-two punch of Connor Slomka and Sandon McCoy this season, splitting the carries nearly evenly between the two and they have responded with nearly identical performances. Slomka has 637 yards and 8 touchdowns at a 4.5 yards/carry clip and McCoy has 555 with 10 touchdowns at the same 4.5 yds/carry. That’s nearly 1200 yards and 18 touchdowns from the B-back position for the Black Knights and has been one of the consistencies for the team all year.
At the beginning of the season, I gave a bold prediction that Nelson Smith would have the best fullback season of any service academy football player in 2019. Smith has had a great year rushing for 557 yards and 7 touchdowns. He’s been very productive for the Mids. But no one expected the emergence of Jamale Carothers nearly a quarter of the way through year. The sophomore who was playing on the JV team at the beginning of the year has become the thunder to Malcolm Perry’s lightning, rushing for 637 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 8 games this year. He’s averaging 8.4 yards per rush and also has 104 yards receiving with a touchdown as well. He’s also coming off a 5 touchdown performance against Houston in his last outing of the year.
Advantage: Slight to Navy
Army has relied heavily on Hobbs out of the backfield in the receiving game as mentioned earlier, but they have also had a very solid season from Cam Harrison. The junior from Allen, TX has snagged 23 of Army’s 56 pass receptions this season for 415 yards and three touchdowns to lead the way for the Black Knights. The next closest person outside of Hobbs in terms of receptions is sophomore Michael Roberts who only has 5 catches.
Navy has a great weapon at wide receiver in Mychal Cooper. The sophomore wide out, also from Texas, has become a big-play threat down the field with 15 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns. He has been hobbled some as of late, which could be a factor heading into Saturday, but that has allowed for the emergence of Ryan Mitchell, who has seven catches for 178 yards and a TD.
Army’s senior laden offensive line, led by the likes of Alex Herndon, Jax Deaton, Jack Sides, along with juniors such as Peyton Reeder, have paved the way for a rushing attack that sits second in the country with 311 yards/game. The only problem is that the offensive line for the other side is the number one rushing attack in the country in the Navy Midshipmen, who sit a comfortable 50 yards per game ahead at 361. Navy’s O-line has been anchored by an All-AAC season from left guard David Forney, as well as captain Ford Higgins, Kendel Wright, Peter Nestrowitz, and Billy Honaker. They have been a big part of Navy’s resurgence on offense this year, as they have opened up holes and blocked for Perry, Carothers, and Co. effectively all year long.
Advantage: Slight to Navy
Kwabena Bonsu and Jacob Covington have both had terrific seasons for Army along the defensive line. Bonsu has been especially stout, with 33 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 5 QB hurries, and 2 fumble recoveries on the season. Covington is right there with him with 32 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery himself. Army’s defense overall is a top 30 unit in yards per game at 338, and they are allowing just 22 points per game. They haven’t been particularly adept at stopping the run, but overall this unit has had a solid campaign.
Navy’s defensive line has been led by J’arius Warren, Jackson Pittman, and Jackson Perkins, and depending on the scheme in defensive coordinator Brian Newberry’s “4-2-5 with 3-4 principles”, Nizaire Cromartie. Cromartie has been the most successful of the bunch, though he is not strictly lining up on the defensive line, with 31 tackles, including 8 for a loss and 3.5 sacks, as well as two forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Warren, Pittman and Perkins have all had their moments on the year too, and this group has been improved over last season overall, though they haven’t always gotten consistent pressure in the backfield. However, the overall improvement of the defense from last year to this year under Newberry has been nothing short of remarkable in 2019.
Advantage: Slight to Army
Both Army and Navy have two terrific linebackers anchoring their defense in the middle. Cole Christiansen, the two-year captain, and Diego Fagot, both man the MIKE spot for their respective teams and have had dominant seasons. Christiansen leads the Black Knights with 103 tackles and has a couple forced fumbles to go along with a fumble recovery. Fagot has been equally impressive for the Midshipmen and was named first team All-AAC for his efforts. He has 85 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, to go with an interception returned for a TD. Arik Smith has provided a great 1-2 punch for Army at the WILL spot, registering 71 tackles including 4 for loss and 2.5 sacks on the year. Paul Carothers, another of the Navy captains, has emerged during the season at the WILL spot to rack up 50 tackles including 8.5 for loss and 4 sacks. Depending on where you scout Jacob Springer and his Striker position, you could consider him a linebacker, and he has also been terrific, getting honorable mention All-AAC, and has an impressive 13.5 tackles for loss on the season including 7 sacks and he also has 3 forced fumbles. However, it is hard to pinpoint him to one area of the back seven as his Striker position moves all over.
Army may have the best player on the defensive side of the ball sitting in their defensive backfield on Saturday in senior Elijah Riley, who has garnered NFL attention throughout the year, and always seems to play his best football in the biggest games. He has been the linchpin in the secondary for the Black Knights for several seasons now, and is finishing off his Army career in electric fashion, with 74 tackles, including 8 for a loss and 4 sacks. He also has 3 interceptions, 6 pass breakups, and 3 forced fumbles. He is the primary reason Army has a top 20 pass defense at just 193 yards per game. Malkelm Morrison and Javhari Bourdeau have also had great years for the Black Knights.
Navy has a great pair of cornerbacks as well in Michael McMorris and Cameron Kinley. McMorris has proven to be a great DB at the field corner spot in just his sophomore season. He has 41 tackles, an interception, and 9 pass breakups on the season. Kinley has also shown flashes, registering 31 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 3 QB hurries.
The safety position for Army has been hampered some this year due to the injuries to Jaylon McClinton and Cam Jones. McClinton has only been able to suit up for six games and Jones for four this year, and these two were expected to anchor the safety spots for a Black Knight defense that was so good last year in the defensive backfield. However, Ryan Velez has stepped up to have a great year with 40 tackles, 3.5 for loss and two interceptions. Cedrick Cunningham has also had a great year with 43 tackles.
Navy has had two great years from both Kevin Brennan and Evan Fochtman at the Bandit and Free Safety positions. If you include Jacob Springer back there as well, like we mentioned before, you have quite the group of players. Brennan leads the way with 69 tackles and two INTs, while Fochtman has settled in nicely at FS with 46 tackles and 2 interceptions of his own. If Army was at full strength at the position, this would be a pretty evenly matched group for sure, but I have to give the slight edge to Navy because of the way the injury bug has plagued Army’s secondary.
Advantage: Slight to Navy
Zach Harding has emerged as a pretty good weapon for Army at punter. It has been a pretty even split between him and the other Zach, Zach Potter, but Harding has been the most consistent of the two. He is averaging over 48 yards per attempt and has 7 punts of over 50 yards in just 17 attempts all season.
Owen White has been great for Navy all year. He was named a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, which should prove just how effective he has been when called upon. His average is slightly less than Harding at 44 yards per kick, but he has almost double the amount of punts on the season. He has 11 fair catches out of his 33 kicks, including putting 15 inside the 20, and booting 6 for more than 50 yards.
Army has seen a very mixed back at kicker this season. Cole Talley is just 1 for 3 and David Cooper has fared a little better making 3 out of 4, but his one miss was inside 30 and his long on the season is just 40 yards. Army has only attempted 7 FGs on the season, and there just hasn’t been the consistency at that position all year. The two combined for 43 of 46 PATs.
Navy found a weapon in freshman Bijan Nichols, who has made 9 out of 12 kicks on the year, with all three misses coming on attempts longer than 40 yards and having booted a long of 49 as well as a game winning kick against Tulane. He has also been reliable on PATs, booting 55 of 56 on the year.
Well, there you have it. I know absolutely none of this matters when they get between the white lines on Saturday, but taking a look at how the different units stack up on both teams should give some explanation perhaps to the way the two seasons have gone and the 10.5 point spread coming from Vegas.