2019 marks the 120th edition of the Army-Navy game. “America’s Game” has evolved considerably since 1890 and now features all sorts of pageantry such as uniform reveals, pre-game competitions, aircraft flyovers, spirit videos, and much more. But at the heart of all the modern-day trappings, the importance revolves around the football game. Thousands of cadets and midshipmen relentlessly urging on their respective teams for 60 minutes in a bitter rivalry. It doesn’t get much better than that.
While Army’s season hasn’t gone quite as expected, and Navy has seen fit to take personal offense to my pre-season article and make me look foolish, I now stand charged with making the case as to why the Black Knights will win (and I firmly believe they will).
When service academy rivalry games roll around, you might as well through season records out the window. Case in point - in 2012 and 2015, Army went 2-10 in both years and still only lost by four points in each game, 17-13 and 21-17, respectively. Even this season against Air Force, the Black Knights lost by less than a touchdown (and should have won the game) and the Falcons have concluded their regular season at 10-2 with a #24 ranking in the AP and Coaches Polls.
So, despite Navy entering the game with a 9-2 record, Army has the rivalry momentum heading into this year’s contest. The Black Knights have won three straight since 2016, so the pressure is now on Navy to break the streak. Army has nothing left to play for. This is the end of the season for them. The ball is in Navy’s court— Army has emerged victorious the past three years and has every confidence in their ability to make it four.
Navy rode the rivalry momentum for over a decade from 2002 until 2016, but now the tables have turned. Obviously the Army players and coaches feel a certain level of pressure to win this year to somewhat salvage a largely disappointing season, but the real pressure is on Navy’s team. If the Midshipmen don’t pull out a win this year, Navy’s Class of 2020 will be the first group in over 20 years to not win a single Army-Navy game.
One of the prevalent story-lines behind Army’s sub-par 2019 season has been injuries. The Black Knights have been plagued with injuries at several position groups, particularly among their safeties, offensive line, and quarterback. And while these injuries have played a big role in Army’s failure to pull out manageable wins against the likes of Georgia State, Western Kentucky, San Jose State, and Air Force, they have also had unintended positive consequences.
As a result of these injuries, the Black Knights have been forced to rotate in younger players who might otherwise not have gotten significant game experience over the course of the season. This has been especially the case at quarterback where Army has seen quite a bit of Jabari Laws, Christian Anderson, and even Jemel Jones to a degree with Kelvin Hopkins nursing injuries throughout the season.
It has taken some time, but over the past three games, Army has proven that it can effectively move the ball on offense regardless of who is under center. On defense, Army’s secondary has also demonstrated that it can shut down even the most dangerous deep passing attacks as it did against Hawaii. Cole McDonald couldn’t beat the Black Knights deep, so he was forced to make precise, methodical short passes to move Hawaii down the field. Unfortunately, he had the ability to rise to that challenge.
For all his athletic skill, Navy’s Malcolm Perry can’t replicate Cole McDonald’s passing prowess. Normally, injuries could be the biggest excuse of why a team won’t win; however, Army has become so comfortable being uncomfortable with their numerous injuries this season that they will beat Navy for the fourth straight year because of their injuries.
Saturday’s forecast in Philadelphia shows mid-50s temperatures and rain. Such conditions are similar to those experiences by the 1st Cavalry Division’s units in their engagements throughout the Vietnam War. It just so happens that Army will be honoring these units who fought and won in the miserable rain and mud with their sleek alternate uniforms. Sloppy field conditions could further prove to be advantageous to Army’s run-first style of offense, and a disadvantage to Navy’s more balanced style with a healthy dose of passes sprinkled in.
Furthermore, adverse weather conditions have benefited Army in the past as they did in 2017 when Army’s 10th Mountain Division uniforms blended in perfectly with the snow, and Navy’s kicker missed a potentially game-winning field goal as time expired in the thick snow. In a close rivalry game which will likely come down to similar late-game theatrics, poor weather conditions could be a difference maker for Army.
Navy has some talented players, and they’ve put together a terrific rebound season in 2019, and I wish them well in their bowl game. But the fact that they’ve gone 9-2 and have a bowl game to look forward could be their undoing. It’s possible that Navy walks into this game overconfident and cocky, forgetting that they are the ones on the losing end of a 3-0 streak.
In any case, I’d prepare for a spirited and passionate battle between two bitter rivals, a violent battle in the rain and mud, not unlike those you might see portrayed in the likes of We Were Soldiers or Hamburger Hill. Of course I may be biased, but I firmly believe Army WILL win for a fourth straight year!
Go Army, Beat Navy!