Both teams have earned bowl invites this season, with Navy heading to the Poinsettia Bowl to take on San Diego State on December 23rd, and Army lining up against SMU in the Armed Forces Bowl on December 30th. It's the first time since 1996 that both teams enter this annual encounter having won the minimum games required to go to a bowl game.
Since splitting its first four games of the 2010 season, Navy has won six of its last seven to bring an 8-3 record into this contest. The Midshipmen took care of Arkansas State in their most recent outing, 35-19, and that game came just two weeks after scoring a whopping 76 points in a win at East Carolina.
Navy is coached by Ken Niumataolo, who is 26-13 in his three years in Annapolis. The Mids can match the school record for wins in a season if they prevail over Army and win their bowl game later this month, and it will mark the first time in school history that they will have logged back-to-back 10- win campaigns.
Army is 6-5 on the season, and a win over the Midshipmen would clinch its first winning campaign since 1996 (10-2). Save for a modest two-game win streak over North Texas and Duke in September, the Black Knights have alternated wins and losses throughout the 2010 season. The last time out, Army put forth a dreadful offensive performance in a 27-3 loss to Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium.
Army is led by Rich Ellerson, who has an 11-12 record at West Point in this his second season, and he was recently awarded a contract extension for getting the Black Knights to the postseason for the first time since appearing in the Independence Bowl 14 years ago.
Navy leads the all-time series, 54-49-7, and the Mids have won the last eight meetings. Navy took a 17-3 decision from Army in Philadelphia last year.
Navy enter this clash ranked fifth in the country in rushing offense (302.6 ypg), and 35 of the 45 TDs scored by the offense have come on the ground. QB Ricky Dobbs has done it all for the Midshipmen this season, rushing for a team-high 806 yards and 13 scores, while also completing 54.8 percent of his pass attempts for 1,194 yards, 10 TDs and only four INTs. Alexander Teich has also enjoyed a solid season running the football, churning out 778 yards and five TDs, helping the team as a whole average 5.5 ypc. Greg Jones is Navy's top pass catcher with 28 grabs for 554 yards and four scores, and the Mids currently rank 19th nationally in passing efficiency (151.2).
Dobbs scored three times in Navy's recent win over Arkansas State, giving him 40 rushing scores over the past two seasons, which is a new NCAA record for rushing TDs by QB in successive campaigns. His 48 career rushing scores rank him fifth all-time.
On the defensive side of the ball, Navy is permitting 380.5 total ypg, with the pass being its biggest problem area as foes are generating 228.8 ypg through the air. The Midshipmen have done an exceptional job of making adjustments once a game gets underway though, yielding a total of 28 points in the third quarter this year, and just 84 during the second half. Tyler Simmons has been a man possessed for Navy from his linebacker spot, collecting 111 total tackles and an INT. He is ranked 20th in the country in tackles per game (10.1), while Jabaree Tuani sits 22nd in TFLs per contest (1.3). Being as disciplined a bunch as Navy is, it's no wonder the team is the least penalized in the nation in terms of lost yardage (29.1 ypg).
Not to be outdone by their military academy brethren, Army checks in ninth in the country in rushing (260.3 ypg), as FB Jared Hassin and QB Trent Steelman lead the way with a combined 1,501 yards and 20 TDs. Steelman has had little choice but to run the football, seeing as how he averages just 9.6 pass attempts per game, with only 5.3 of them each game being completed. As a result, the Black Knights gain a modest 77.9 ypg through the air, and while Austin Barr's mere 13 receptions lead the team, he has three of the team's five aerial scores.
Army has not scored a TD against the Navy defense since the fourth quarter of the 2006 game, and has mustered just a pair of field goals in the 12 quarters since.
Coach Ellerson knows it's going to take a complete effort in all phases of the game for his Knights to not only break their TD drought against the Mids, but also to knock off their fiercest rival, "We're going to have to play Army football. We're going to have to be in the moment. We're going to have to be precise and disciplined."
The Army defense is giving up 332.6 total ypg, with that production pretty evenly distributed between rushing yards (141.7 per game) and passing yards (190.9 per game). The same goes for TDs allowed, with 17 coming on the ground and 18 through the air. The Black Knights have actually done a decent job on third down, allowing the opposition just a 40 percent success rate, and the defense is typically on the field for roughly seven fewer minutes per game than the team's offense. Army has allowed a total of 48 first-quarter points this season (4.4 per game), but has seen that figure climb steadily as games wear on. Stephen Anderson has logged 82 total tackles to lead the Black Knights, who have also gotten solid efforts from Steve Erzinger (67 tackles), Donovan Travis (47 tackles, five INTs, two fumble recoveries) and Josh McNary (9.5 sacks).
McNary is certainly aware of the special meaning this game has for all involved, "Expect a hard-fought game between two bitter rivals and basically just expect a good fight. We're a team that has been underdogs for the last few years. Coming into his game, we're a completely different team than in the past and a completely different team than Navy has faced in the past. We expect them to be a great opponent. The spectator at the Army-Navy game has a lot in store for them."
This game promises to be physical with plenty of momentum changes throughout. Navy is the better team from top to bottom, but Army isn't about to let a little thing like that keep it from playing hard and fighting until the final second ticks off the clock. Expect the Midshipmen to keep their winning streak over the Black Knights in tact, but the fact that both teams will be playing another game beyond this one already makes it a successful campaign for each.