Monday, May 20, 2024

Beat Navy! 4 Keys to Victory in Boston

It’s almost time, friends. Damn, I’m excited.

Let’s talk about how Army wins this weekend!

Hold Onto the Football

For all their struggles with the new offense early in the season, the main thing that cost the Black Knights games early in the year had nothing to do with the Shotgun Option and everything to do with turnovers. In fact, the Black Knights have not lost a game this year when they managed to hold onto the football throughout the contest, and indeed, outside of their game at LSU, they probably wouldn’t have lost many games absent their early turnover problems. 

Even with their +6 turnover performance against Air Force, Army still stands at -5 for the year, putting them 110th in the FBS in turnover margin overall. They turned the ball over 5 times at ULM, twice at Syracuse, once against Boston College, 4 times against Troy, and 3 times against UMass. By comparison, they did not turn the ball over against UTSA, Air Force, or Holy Cross, and indeed, the Coastal Carolina game only got competitive in the fourth quarter after a turnover that stopped Army from going up three scores late in that game.

Whatever its other flaws or merits, the biggest issue with the Shotgun Option had nothing to do with the scheme and everything to do with the fact that guys seemed to be pressing early in the season, looking for some single game-breaking, out-of-body-experience-type play, and that caused problems. We saw so many fumbles or just crazy negative plays late in winnable contests, often in plus territory, invariably coming after a runner had already gained the yardage needed to move the sticks and keep an already good-looking drive alive.

This year’s Army Team has always been good. However, they haven’t always played with disciplined aggression

Once they got that fixed, they started winning. If they can continue playing with disciplined aggression, they can continue their winning streak.

Free Bison Daily

Army comes into this game ranked 9th nationally in rushing. The Black Knights currently average 208.3 rushing yards/game on 4.4 yards/carry and have earned 19 rushing touchdowns. More interestingly, QB Bryson Daily needs just 141 passing yards and 183 rushing yards to join former Army QB Kelvin Hopkins, Jr., in the 1000 Yards Passing, 1000 Yards Rushing Club*. What’s impressive about that is that Hopkins needed a standout bowl game performance to hit those numbers while Daily has actually missed about two full games’ worth of action due to injury this year. He still has a chance, even without the bowl game.

Daily has carried 188 times this season for 817 yards (4.3 yards/carry) and 7 rushing touchdowns. He’s also gone 53/106 passing for 859 yards (50.0%) with 6 passing touchdowns, 6 interceptions, and 6 sacks. His best rushing game came against Air Force, when he carried a whopping 36 times for 170 yards (4.7 yards/carry) and 2 rushing touchdowns. Amazingly, his best passing game came against Boston College in a driving rainstorm when he went 10/13 passing for 105 yards and a touchdown with no picks and no sacks. Daily actually only missed one pass in that 10/13 performance. His incompletions came off of drops.

It’s a little hard to know what the Black Knights are going to do this weekend. Will they come out in the Flexbone, or will they run the Gun-Option? Will they try to work between the tackles, or will they roll Daily out of the pocket and try to throw at the edges of Navy’s secondary?

Regardless, Bryson Daily is a physical guy who seems to play better once he’s taken a few hits — or maybe once he’s delivered a few. Fact is, lots of schools recruited him to play linebacker; only Army wanted him to play quarterback.

For Army to win this game, they need to unleash “Bison” Daily and let him run over some dudes. After that, if they want to throw at the perimeter, that’ll probably be there, too.

 * Hat-tip to Firstie Club member Brendan Jones for the statistical comparison between Daily and Hopkins.

Contain Navy FB Alex Tezca

We said before the Air Force game that Army needed to key on the Zoomies’ initial read, the Dive option to FB Emmanuel Michel and/or the Quarterback Keep option with QB Zac Larrier. The game against Navy will be the same but even moreso. The two guys that will really kill you on this Navy offense are FB Alex Tecza and QB Xavier Arline, assuming Arline starts.

This is important for two reasons. First, Army has struggled at times this season containing running quarterbacks, and Arline especially is good at dropping back in the pocket and then making something happen with his legs if there’s no one open downfield. The Mids made this game plan work to perfection in the 2019 Army-Navy Game, and they tried it several times last year as well. Arline played well last year, too, finishing with 28 carries for 102 yards, including several long outside runs. He never got particularly close to breaking one, but the Mids did break a long run that they set up with Arline’s speed outside.

However. This year’s Navy team has relied much more heavily on Tecza. He’s their leading rusher with 117 carries for 724 yards (6.2 yards/carry) and 5 rushing touchdowns, a lot of which has come on outside runs or pitch plays that he broke for long gains. At 6’0”, 200 lbs, Tecza is not remotely as big as triple-option fullbacks tend to be, but he has excellent speed and elusiveness, making him a deadly runner in space.

If Army can contain Tecza’s running, they can force the Mids outside of their comfort zone, making them reliant on either Arline’s legs or the kind of short passing game they’ve used a lot late this season. Navy has converted less than 30% of their third downs this year, so containing Tecza means containing breakaway runs. 

If the Black Knights’ defense can do that, they can win this game.

Take What’s There

Opponents know that Army wants to throw the ball a little more this season. Against the Gun Option, we’ve seen most teams line up in a more-or-less standard defense early but then commit their safeties to the box once Army starts running all over them. The Black Knights have then seen some unbelievable passing opportunities, but they’ve struggled to capitalize a little too often. 

They made the offense work as designed against UTSA — and freaking smoked a terrific defense in the process — and they passed pretty well against Boston College despite at least one miscue that cost them a touchdown that might have sealed victory.

Navy has a very good rushing defense, but they are much less good against the pass. More to the point, the Mids know that Army wants to pound the rock. It’s a service academy rivalry game; this is not exactly news.

Army is therefore very likely to have some passing opportunities in this game.

Daily and company need to hit quick passes to their tight ends and slot receivers reliably enough to cause problems for Navy’s defense. 

We saw these opportunities all over the place last year. Former OC Brent Davis called 12 passes in the 2022 game. At least 10 of them went to receivers who were either wide open in space or running down the field against one-on-one coverage. Army only completed 2 of these passes and drew one pass interference penalty, but more plays were absolutely there. Had the Black Knights completed just 2 or maybe even 3 more of those passes, the entire complexion of last year’s game would’ve changed — and not in Navy’s favor.

Obviously Army needs to run the ball. That’s the whole point of their offense. However, when quick hitting passing opportunities appear, they’ve got to make those work, too. If they can do that, they’ll impose their will all over the field.

Final thoughts

We should get a good one this weekend. The weather report looks fantastic, and for once, Army is the team trending upwards heading into this game. The last two years have seen Navy playing their best ball at the end of the season. This year, it’s Army who’s peaking at just the right time.

All season long we’ve said that we want to see this Army Team play better and build week-on-week with each performance. Despite a rough start, they’ve absolutely done that. We’ve now seen real Army Football over the past month.

The team now just needs to play tough, disciplined football, and they’ll come away with a win.

I can’t wait.

Cover image via Flickr: West Point – The U.S. Military Academy.

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