Forward March: Army-Navy Very Much A Ground Game
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — In the NFL, Tim Tebow is bringing the triple option back. At Army and Navy, they figure it never went out of style.
Plan the trips to the kitchen accordingly — because the clock should run and run and run some more, just as the teams like to do, when the academies reconvene Saturday for the 112th edition of one of the most special rivalries in sports.
“Honestly, coming in, when I initially got recruited and found out we were going to be running the triple option, I was kind of a little disappointed,” said Army senior Max Jenkins, one of three quarterbacks to start a game for the Black Knights this season, “because I came from a passing offense in high school that threw the ball 30 times a game.”
Now he’s a convert. When his brother brought up the topic at Thanksgiving, Jenkins had a ready explanation for his change of heart.
“Actually being in it, you learn to appreciate what it does,” Jenkins said. “It’s not just trying to spread the field and throw it to the superior athlete. It really does take a team effort and all 11 guys in this offense, and if one guy messes up, we’re going to get a loss of a couple of yards.
“But when everybody’s working together and it’s all clicking, it’s pretty fun to have those 13-, 14-play touchdown drives and wear down defenses.”
Army has the top rushing offense in the nation, averaging 350.9 yards per game. Navy is fourth at 313.7. Army has thrown only 91 passes all season, by far the fewest among FBS schools. Navy has the next fewest, having tossed the ball just 132 times.
“Once I started to finally understand it, I think this is the coolest offense there is,” Navy fullback Alexander Teich said. “You leave three guys at the point of attack unblocked, that’s almost unheard of in any other kind of offense. It’s a fast-hit, quick-play, quick-hit, big-play kind of offense. You look at how many plays you have over 30 yards over the course of the season.”
The triple option has been an unqualified success for Navy over the years, but a porous defense means the Midshipmen (4-7) won’t be going to a bowl this season, ending a run of eight straight postseason appearances.
But the game against Army (3-8) is a bigger deal anyway, and the Mids’ streak of nine consecutive wins over the Black Knights is what really counts. Navy has been truly dominant in the series, winning every game since 2002 by at least a dozen points.
“We talk about the brotherhood and not letting the tradition fall,” Teich said. “You don’t want to let that ball drop while it’s in your hands, so this game is big for us to continue that success and really to erase this whole entire season. It would make all those losses feel a lot better and heal a lot of wounds.”
Army, of course, figures this might be the year to finally come out on top. No one wants to be part of yet another class that never won the biggest game of the season.
“For the senior class, this is our last chance to beat Navy, and we’re well aware of that,” Army linebacker Andrew Rodriguez said. “I was talking a lot to the younger guys, it always seems like you’re going to have more chances, but the time goes by so fast and so you want to take advantage of every opportunity you get, and we feel we have a good opportunity to win this year.”
These teams usually have the element of novelty working in their favor — most colleges aren’t used to defending the triple option — but this is a game where both sides know how to defend the other.
“I think we’re contrarians in some regard,” Army coach Rich Ellerson said, “but I think the practitioners of the game recognize the obvious, recognize the opportunity, when you’re doing something that everybody else doesn’t do. The fact that we’re somewhat unique to most of the people we play is a tremendous advantage for us. It mitigates some of those maybe physical disadvantages and got us in some games. We didn’t win a bunch of games, but we were competitive in a bunch of games this year that we might not have been had we not been doing something as unique as we are.”
Here’s another reason the clock won’t stop as much: Both schools, as would be expected, are extremely disciplined. Navy has committed just 26 penalties all season — best in the country — and while Army has the third fewest (44).
The tradition-filled day — which includes pregame marches and fly-bys by both academies — has a new setting this year. The game is being played in the vicinity of the nation’s capital for the first time, with the Washington Redskins stadium playing host as a break from the usual site in Philadelphia.
“We’ve got a longer bus ride than they do,” said Ellerson, noting that Navy’s home in Annapolis is just down the road. “But, beyond that, it’s entirely appropriate that this game gets played here from time to time.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)