Army vs Navy. It’s one of the greatest traditions and rivalries in college football. There are no future stars in the NFL, no one is going to declare for the draft after the game, no player is going to get suspended for a bowl game for violating NCAA rules.
And that’s the beauty of this game. It’s not about the money or the attention a program gets for winning. To be sure, there are huge bragging rights to be had. But this game is about more than football. The NCAA’s slogan for their student athletes is “going in pro in something else” and that couldn’t be more true of these players.
If you’ve never been, it is an incredible experience. It begins with the “March On”, where each academy marches in to the stadium in formation. Then a “Prisoner Exchange” of third year cadets and midshipmen who are spending the semester at the other academy is performed, allowing them to join their classmates in the stands. During the game “Spirit Spots”, videos from cadets and midshipmen and from soldiers abroad trash talking the opposition are shown, and at halftime the highest ranking government official in attendance changes sides. Out of respect, after the game the two teams sing the alma maters of both academies. Lately, both teams wear special jerseys for the game, honoring the past. And players wear patches honoring different units in their service, this year Army will wear paratrooper patches to complete their jersey theme that honors the 82nd Airborne. After the game, students on the winning side see a loosening of some daily regulations and codes.
This one should be a solid game.
For just the 2nd time in 20 years, Army brings a winning record to the game. Navy on the other hand has been a small school powerhouse: 13 bowl appearances in 14 years under Paul Johnson and now Ken Niumatalolo, and with it 14 straight wins over Army.
Because the teams can not compete in recruiting, they run unconventional offenses. Since 2002, Navy has run the flexbone triple option to perfection, Paul Johnson having brought it from Georgia Southern to Annapolis before leaving for Georgia Tech, Niumatalolo, his former assistant continues to run it. To try to turn the tide Army hired Niumatalolo’s own former assistant Jeff Monken, who like Johnson was head coach at Georgia Southern.
So expect a lot of big plays on the ground. Navy has the 6th best yards per rushing attempt in the country, Army is 14th, Navy is 1st in rushing touchdowns and Army is 4th, while both are bottom 5 in passing yards and touchdowns. But don’t overlook a big play in the passing game. The flexbone option offense passes rarely but is highly efficient when it does. Army has passing touchdowns by three different players, though starting QB Ahmad Bradshaw has 8 interceptions in just 84 attempts.
Navy QB Will Worth, who leads the team with 1196 rushing yards, has a passer rating of 179.3, but he is out with an injury sustained in the AAC Championship against Temple, Third string QB Zach Abey will get the start. Also out is third leading rusher Toneo Gulley, and second leading rusher Chris High is questionable. Against Army’s defense that is 5th in yards and 14th in points (Navy is 81st and 86th), they will have their work cut out for them.
This is also Verne Lundquist’s final Army-Navy game as he is retiring after the season.
It won’t be the best game you see all year, but it deserves your attention.
Location: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
And if I may get personal here for a moment...