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What the Black Knights quarterback carousel means for the Army-Navy game

Coach Monken has had to utilize included six players and four starters this season under center.

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from the challenges COVID-19 has placed on scheduling games and travel, the quarterback situation for Army football has been a bit of a Pandora’s box all season.

A myriad of injuries has led to the Black Knights having six players under-center this year.

And the decision of who will start at quarterback for the Army-Navy game on Saturday almost seems almost like any man’s game at this point.

“We’ve had a lot of injury issues with our quarterback position and frankly, were kind of forced into playing a bunch of different guys and playing two and three quarterbacks in multiple games,” Army head coach Jeff Monnken said. “So, that’s certainly not ideal, but just proud of our players for being ready when they’re called.”

Senior Christian Anderson started in the first three matchups of the season before leaving mid-game against Abilene Christian due to injury. He missed the following three games against The Citadel, UTSA and Mercer.

Then, it was Jemel Jones up next in the carousel. The sophomore threw for 75 yards and a touchdown in his first appearance against The Citadel. But Jones wouldn’t be the last of the rotation. Freshman Cade Ballard and sophomore Tyhier Tyler both got field time against Mercer. Even in the midst of this four-game stretch, Army still managed to pull out four wins.

Notably, against Tulane, Army’s performance wasn’t as on-par. With Anderson back under-center, the team had two fumbles, one for loss, and was just 6-of-17 on third down opportunities. Granted, the team was coming off an unexpected week-long absence thanks to yet another COVID-19 spurred rescheduling session, but it was still a 38-12 loss, nonetheless.

“The monkey wrench is COVID-19 and its changed teams and its changed this season in ways that I never imagined,” Monken said. “Not just with the physical health of our team, with the typical injuries that take place during a season, but with people being tested and coming up positive and contact tracing bringing more guys in, it’s been a really odd year.”

It’s a challenge to adequately assess who would be the most appropriate to start in Saturday’s matchup against Navy.

Anderson, a junior, has the most experience and started in last year’s game, a loss for Army. In this second-to-last — and arguably, more important game of the season — Monken might see the incentive in bringing back a player who’s led the team against Louisiana-Monroe and Tennessee State, and a tough loss to Cincinnati.

But heading into Saturday, Tyhier Tyler is listed as No. 1 on Army’s depth chart and Anderson is No. 2.

Tyler, a sophomore, started and rushed for 121 yards in the Black Knights’ most recent game — a Nov. 21 win over Georgia Southern. A 5-foot-8 product of Newport News, Virginia, Tyler has played well when called upon. He’s seen action in four games, rushing 73 times for 344 yards, a 4.7 yards per-carry average.

“We’re still practicing with a bunch of different guys, trying to have as many of them ready as possible,” said Monken.

In 2020, these players have had to prime themselves to be susceptible to change. Both Army and Navy are operating under conditions and stresses unlike any other year.

Through all the ups and downs, injuries and alterations due to the pandemic, Army various quarterbacks have consistently answered the call. Whoever gets the start on Saturday will have a big chance to prove themselves as the Black Knights host Navy for the first time since 1943, and try to take the first step in capturing this year’s C.I.C. Trophy.