Army Black Knights vs. Navy Midshipmen 12-12-09

December 12, 2009

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Saturday, December 12th, 2:30 p.m. (et)

GAME NOTES: The only college football game on the docket this weekend is set to take place in Philadelphia, as one of the greatest rivalries in sports enjoys its 110th edition, when Army takes on Navy in a worldwide broadcast from Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday afternoon.

The fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium will be treated to a game between the Army Black Knights and the Navy Midshipmen when they take their seats on Saturday.

Oddsmakers currently have the Midshipmen listed as 14-point favorites versus the Black Knights, while the game’s total is sitting at 42.

Head coach Rich Ellerson is in his first season at the helm in West Point and has his Black Knights on the verge of their first postseason berth since the 1996 Independence Bowl. If Army, which has won two straight games entering this season-finale, wins, the Black Knights will move on to the EagleBank Bowl to take on the Temple Owls. A loss would leave Army at 5-7 overall and obviously out of this year’s bowl picture.

Earning that sixth victory won’t come easy as Navy is sporting an impressive 8-4 record in Ken Niumatalolo’s second season in Annapolis. The Midshipmen are coming off a 24-17 loss at Hawaii last time out however, and would like to get back on track before a New Year’s Eve showdown with Missouri in the Texas Bowl.

The Midshipmen have won the last six Commander-In-Chief’s Trophies and will look to add to their streak of 13 straight victories over both Army and Air Force combined. Navy holds a 53-49-7 advantage in the all-time series with Army, thanks to seven straight wins over the Black Knights. Navy blanked Army last year, 34-0.

Freshman QB Trent Steelman is poised to be only the second plebe to start an Army/Navy game. Its hard to argue with the decision, as the youngster is the team’s top rusher with 690 yards and five TDs. Steelman has not had that much success throwing the football, but then again, Ellerson doesn’t require that very often of his QBs. Joining Steelman in the backfield are slotback Patrick Mealy (625 yards, three TDs) and fullback Kingsley Ehie (445 yards, two TDs). In all, the Black Knights are a dangerous rushing team, averaging 212.1 yards per game.

Still, senior Ali Villanueva does have the ability to make plays downfield. At 6-10, 283 pounds, he poses serious matchup problems, and that has led to him leading the team in receptions (29), receiving yards (460) and TDs (five).

The Army defense has done a nice job for the most part this season, limiting the opposition to a mere 22.4 ppg. The rush defense has been lax at times (149.3 ypg), but the pass defense has been tremendous (161.2 ypg). In addition, the Black Knights have recorded 23 sacks and 22 takeaways in the first 11 games.

The unit will be without standout linebacker Stephen Anderson, who was lost for the season early in November with a torn ACL. It is a bit telling that Anderson remains the team’s top tackler on the year (83 stops). Sophomore LB Andrew Rodriguez (70 tackles, two INTs) and junior safety Donovan Travis (68 tackles, team-high four INTs) will need to continue to excel in the back seven, while junior end Josh McNary (59 tackles, 22.5 TFLs, 12.5 sacks) continues to blow things up in the backfield.

If Army is good running the football, than Navy is great at it. The Midshipmen rank among the nation’s top rushing teams, averaging a hefty 279.7 yards per game (third nationally) on 4.8 yards per carry. It is a pick-your-poison with this lethal option attack, as both QB Ricky Dobbs and RB Vince Murray are closing in on 1,000-yard campaigns. Dobbs has rushed for a team-high 924 yards on the year, with an eye-popping 23 touchdowns. Murray has amassed 884 yards on the season, with six scores. In all, Navy has rushed for 39 touchdowns, compared to just four through the air.

Much like the Army defensive unit, Navy’s defense has flown a little under the radar, considering the big numbers the offense is capable of generating. The Midshipmen are yielding just 21.3 ppg on the year, holding foes to a respectable 345.8 yards of total offense.

The play of linebacker is what fuels the Navy attack. Senior LB Ross Pospisil leads the way with his 91 total tackles. Fellow senior LB Tony Haberer is a distant second with 69 tackles, followed closely by junior LB Tyler Simmons (63 stops). Junior safety Wyatt Middleton (61 tackles, three INTs, two fumble recoveries) highlights the play in the secondary, while sophomore Jabaree Tuani (45 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks) can get the job done up front.

These are two of the four teams nationally that average over 50 carries per game. Expect a fast four quarters, as both programs will run early and often. The Midshipmen are the better team however on both sides of the football and that should lead to another Navy victory, leaving the Black Knights home once again for the holidays.

Army rallied from a halftime deficit in Week 12 to pick up a 17-13 win over North Texas.

The Black Knights won that game as a pick’em, while the combined score fell UNDER the day’s posted total (53.5).

Navy was defeated 24-17 by Hawaii as a 9.5-point favorite in Week 13. That game’s 41 points went UNDER the posted total of 56.

Ricky Dobbs ran for a 55-yard rushing touchdown to lead the Navy in the loss.

Current streak:
Army has won 2 straight games.

Team records:
Army: 5-6 SU, 3-8 ATS
Navy: 8-4 SU, 4-6-2 ATS

Army most recently:
When playing in December are 1-9
When playing on turf are 5-5
After being outgained are 4-6
When playing within the conference are 1-9

Navy most recently:
When playing in December are 7-3
When playing on turf are 7-3
After being outgained are 7-3
When playing within the conference are 8-2

A few trends to consider:
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Army’s last 6 games on the road
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Army’s last 6 games when playing Navy
Army is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games on the road
Army is 8-17 SU in its last 25 games
Navy is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing Army
Navy is 5-0 SU in its last 5 games when playing at home against Army
Navy is 7-1 ATS in its last 8 games when playing at home against Army
Navy is 6-1 ATS in its last 7 games when playing Army

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