The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the site of one of college football’s longest rivalries.
Instead of being played at a neutral site such as Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. or Baltimore, Md., Army (7-2) will host Navy (3-6) on Saturday afternoon at Michie Stadium at West Point, N.Y., with President Donald Trump scheduled to be in attendance, according to Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk.
It is the first time since 1943 — during another global crisis (World War II) — that the game will be played at one of the service academies’ home fields.
“There’s nothing like the Army-Navy game,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “There’s a chill that goes through you unlike any other game. It’s almost like the Gladiator movie. You’re in the locker room and it’s quiet, then you step onto the field and there’s this huge roar.”
Navy leads the all-time series 61-52-7 after snapping Army’s three-game series winning streak last season with a 31-7 victory at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
If Army defeats Navy on Saturday, then the winner of the Army-Air Force (3-2) game on Dec. 19 will determine who wins the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, which was won by Navy last year. If Navy, which lost to Air Force earlier this year, wins on Saturday and Army beats Air Force, then all three teams would be 1-1 against each other. In that event, the Midshipmen would retain the trophy, which is awarded annually to winner of the series among the service academies.
“At first, I was disappointed…I didn’t really want to go up there,” Navy senior cornerback Cameron Kinley said. “Then I thought about the opportunity we have in front of us as a team. To travel up to West Point for the first time since World War II and beat them on their home field and in their own stadium, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
With the Midshipmen having lost four consecutive games and Army winning five of its past six, the Black Knights began the week as a 6.5-point favorite. Before Navy’s lopsided win over Army last year, the teams’ previous five meetings were decided by seven points or fewer.
“I have learned during my time here that this is more than just a football game,” Army senior fullback Sandon McCoy said. “It’s a representation of the Army-Navy jerseys we represent and all of the soldiers that have fallen in combat, all of the soldiers who are retired and all of the soldiers that are deployed right now, or just in the service in general.”
McCoy leads the Black Knights’ run-oriented offense with 10 touchdowns, while Jakobi Buchanan has rushed for a team-high 383 yards and five touchdowns.
Army has only attempted 67 passes all season, rushing for 296.7 yards per game and leads the nation with 31 rushing touchdowns. Army only attempted one pass in its 28-27 win over Georgia Southern last week and ran for 243 yards, led by Tyhier Tyler’s 121 yards on 35 carries.
Navy has had trouble slowing down opposing running games, yielding 212.6 yards per game on the ground and has scored only 13 points in its past two defeats against Memphis and Tulsa.
Fullback Nelson Smith leads the Midshipmen with 622 yards and eight touchdowns on 117 carries while the passing game has been in flux.
Last week against Tulsa, the Midshipmen went with freshman quarterbackXavier Arline, who went 4-of-8 passing for 27 yards. Dalen Morris came in and threw two passes — both incomplete. This season, Morris (32-of-62 passing for 570 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) and Tyger Goslin (15-of-35 passing for 333 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) have received the majority of snaps.
Linebacker Diego Fagot leads Navy’s defense with 67 tackles and three sacks.
Army ranks 23rd in run defense allowing 119 yards per game and has allowed five rushing touchdowns all season.
“The offensive line is very experienced from the fullback to the guards and the tackles, just playing together as a collective unit,” Army defensive lineman Amadeo West said. “We, as a position group, just have to remind ourselves that this is a good position group that we’re going up against and that we have to be very disciplined and fundamentally sound if we’re going to get the victory.”
–Field Level Media