Photo courtesy of Army athletics
If there was going to be one familiarity in college football this year, it would have been this one.
The 121st Army-Navy game is (almost) unlike any we have seen before. The Black Knights will take the field against the Midshipmen on Saturday at West Point. It is the first true home game for Army in the series since 1943.
History At West Point
West Point has seen three Army-Navy games played on its campus — two of which took place on “The Plain” in 1890 and 1892. The most recent took place at Michie Stadium.
Navy has taken all three of the games played at West Point by a combined score of 49-4. In 1943, Navy finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country — its best finish since going 9-0-1 in 1926 with a shared No. 1 national ranking.
Army finished that 1943 season ranked 11th, with its lone losses coming to No. 4 Navy and top-ranked Notre Dame. The Black Knights, with a pair of Heisman Trophy winners in Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard, then went on to win three straight national championships from 1944-46, with a 28-game unbeaten streak over those seasons.
Navy’s 2020 Season
The Midshipmen got off to a rough start this season and were obviously hurting after sending Malcolm Perry to the NFL. Their season opener against BYU was ugly — a 55-3 loss where they only mustered 119 rushing yards. Navy has had a historically poor season running the ball, but thanks to standout fullback Nelson Smith, Navy can have some confidence when he is on the field.
Since that first loss, Navy has gone 3-5. Wins against Tulane, Temple, and East Carolina haven’t proven to be top tier. In Navy’s three wins, its top rusher has averaged 134.6 yards. Smith led the charge in two of those games.
It would be fair to say that Navy’s passing attack is poor. Dalen Morris has 570 passing yards and three touchdown passes. His QBR is a sour 25.7, with two interceptions and a completion percentage of 51.6%.
If Navy wants to win, it will have to find ways to get Smith into space and let him run. He has been a key factor of this offense, and is one of the most relied on rushers for head coach Ken Niumatalolo.
The Midshipmen defense has been led by linebacker Tama Tuitele. Tuitele won’t have many opportunities to force the ball loose like he’s done so often this year. But Tuitele will need to coordinate a defense that has struggled all year, and make sure it is aggressive against this Army offense.
Army’s 2020 Season
The Black Knights have played a poor schedule this year. They’re not all to blame, as they had to throw it together rather quickly. Athletics director Mike Buddie has done a great job of getting this schedule paired quickly. Since then, the players have done their part.
At 7-2, Army’s losses came to Tulane, and current No. 8 Cincinnati. Both games were not a great display on either side of the ball with poor showings all around. Army’s offense has six different rushers that average at least four yards per carry.
On defense, no one has been better than Bendarik Award semifinalist Jon Rhattigan. Rhattigan has 67 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two interceptions. He will have to maintain focus throughout as Navy will look to catch the defense sleeping. Fortunately for Rhattigan, he can rely on an offense that is averaging 30.6 points per game.
Army’s 24-10 loss to Cincinnati on Sept. 26 was an ugly performance that showed Army exactly what it needs to do better. But, it also showed Navy the exact way it needs to execute.
Army will have to disguise its formations better if it wants to be able to keep Navy’s defense on the field. The key to the game for Army will be scoring. The Black Knights need to score more than 21 points. Since 2006, if one of the academies scores more than 21 points, it went on to win the game.
Prediction / How To Bet This Game
Spread: Army -7 / Navy +7
Moneyline: Army (-295) vs. Navy (+230)
In the last five years when these teams have met both unranked, the game has been decided by one point and four points. Army is 5-4 against the spread this year. When it covers, it covers small, with an average cover of 1.2 points.
Navy on the other hand, is 4-5 with a cover margin of -7.8. This stat for Navy could be eye-popping, but remember that 52-point loss to BYU? The Midshipmen were only one-point underdogs.
Navy is going to have enough firepower to keep this game within reach for 60 minutes. The fourth quarter could prove big for Navy as it is averaging 7.4 points in the final 15 minutes this season.
The Pick: Navy +7
Since 2005, games involving two of the three service academy teams have gone 36-9-1 to the under. When Army and Navy face off, it’s 14-1. The over/under opened at 42.5 with the sharps placing big money on the under.
This has pushed its total down to a measly 38. While the sharps have been eyeing the under, it’s interesting to see that 95% of money that’s come in on the under. Only 65% of the total bets have been on the under. This only pushes the envelope that the sharps are backing the under in a big way.
The Pick: Under 38
Although Army’s schedule has been sub-par, the Black Knights are still a tough football team. They have one of the best multi-faceted rushing attacks in the country. Not to mention, their defense has played some of its best games in recent memory this season (at home).
Navy will not be able to push through and garner much points, but neither will Army’s offense, which has been slow as of late. Christian Anderson, Tyhier Tyler, and the stout offensive line will maneuver Navy’s defense and win in the trenches for late scores to punch out the win.
The Pick: Army (-295)