When the Army and Navy squads take to the field this Saturday at the Link in Philadelphia it will…
Army-Navy, As It Happened
13:40 left, first quarter: It's not surprising that Army is coming out strong, but now we get to the final third of the field, which has always been the Black Knights' Waterloo against Navy. Can Army finish?
12:07: Yep, you bet you should go for it, Rich Ellerson, when you've been losing to Navy for a full decade.
11:53: The decision to go for it needs to be accompanied by a wrinkle or some kind of exotic, (Army offensive coordinator) Ian Shields.
9:03: If Army can't line up properly and can't avoid giving Navy first-and-five situations, well… you know how that sentence should be completed, yes?
7:58: That is such a great recovery to break up that deep ball. It looked as though the Navy receiver was all alone along the hashmarks, but that play was closed down in short order. Circle that play if Army can manage to gain scoreboard leverage later in this first half.
5:02: Army isn't likely to get every fumble back. The Black Knights cheated the odds right there; they had better not tempt the fates again today if they want to win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy.
3:43 Army, what do you have to lose? Going for it in unconventional situations is entirely the correct approach. It's not a percentage-based approach, but remember that the mindset of the coach translates to the attitude and confidence level of the team. Coaching decisions are often valuable not because of their strategic wisdom, but because of the way in which they change the psychological and motivational equations for a struggling team.
1:34: Army will gladly accept those missed reads by Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds. They prevented the Midshipmen from busting off a couple of sizeable runs.
0:37: Army should have been flagged for illegal motion (going forward at the time of the snap), but that is still terrific play design. The inside action drew Navy's linebackers to the middle of the field, creating an avenue on the outside for a pitch play. That's the kind of play Army needs to use in third-and-three and fourth-and-two situations.
End Of First Quarter Score: Army 0, Navy 0.
14:53 left, second quarter: Army is getting so lucky with all these recovered fumbles. One of these days, a fumble is going to be cradled by a Navy player.
14:23: YOU KNOW, LIKE THAT FUMBLE JUST THEN. (Sigh, sigh, sigh. Double-sigh. Sigh.)
10:21: That extra-effort first down for Navy feels awfully large. If the Midshipmen punch this ball into the end zone, Army will face a psychological climb in addition to a scoreboard climb.
9:27: Okay, Black Knights – will you succumb to the all-too-human temptation to slump your shoulders in light of how the past 10 Army-Navy games have unfolded, or can you fight back and not lose heart? Big-boy test number one, coming up next on CBS.
8:43: Here we go. Army reaches the Navy 40. Now comes the hard part.
7:05: That was particularly slick – and impressive – by Steelman. Letter-perfect execution.
6:20: So much for those worries about getting down and losing heart. Bim, bam, BOOM! Here's a statistical update, just under 24 minutes into this game: Army has already rushed for 191 yards and has thrown only one pass. Navy's run-pass balance is only slightly different: 17 runs and four passes. If Army can simply manage to protect the ball… (famous last words).
1:43: Army isn't cramming the tackle box on third and short. That's a testament to the effectiveness Navy has had running outside. Yet, it bears mentioning that Army has to force Navy into third and medium if it wants to feel comfortable at this point in time. Anything under two yards feels like a probable conversion for Navy right now.
0:25: Given that Navy's Gee Gee Greene dropped a touchdown pass on that drive, Army's ability to get a stop thanks to an alert piece of defensive line play (on that tipped pass) feels like more of a win than it otherwise would have been. If Navy hadn't dropped a touchdown pass, that drive would have felt like a very good sequence for the Midshipmen, but Greene's gaffe levels the playing field just before halftime.
0:13: Excellent timeout by Ellerson since he still has one in his pocket. Now you have to throw and try to get into field goal range.
0:07: So, did YOU think Army would get in field goal range on this drive? If so, you're a wiser person than most.
0:00: That's a stolen field goal and a first half that, for all of its mistakes, gives Army a lot of encouragement for the second half. Ellerson just told CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson that protecting the football and taking care of assignments on defense (we can assume he's referring to pass defense) are the two keys to the game. There should be no argument about either one of those points of emphasis. Can Army execute and find winning plays in these next 30 minutes?
Halftime Score: Army 10, Navy 10.
13:13 left, third quarter: Were you expecting a three-and-out? I wasn't.
12:53: Were you expecting that fumbled punt? I wasn't.
11:20: The Army front four has done a lot of heavy lifting in six plays this half. Two three-and-outs, one of them in a sudden-change situation on the Black Knights' side of the 50. It's hard to express just how massive a feat that is for the Brave Old Army Team, which is competing at a high level today. It's all about securing the pig… and not allowing it to be so greasy.
10:12: Army is doing so much damage to Navy by running behind the left side of its offensive line. The Black Knights are continuing to run left, and are daring the Midshipmen to stop them. That's an aggressive mentality, one that can only boost the confidence of each and every West Point player.
8:55: Army promptly stops running left. Army punts. Sometimes, life isn't as complicated as it normally is.
7:45: Army is putting some big sticks on Reynolds, and those ferocious hits – combined with active hands – are prying the ball loose. It's true that this game is being played after a three-week break, but the question remains valid: Where was this defense for most of the regular season in West Point? It's playing at a very, VERY high level right now.
5:22 Is Army really about to take a touchdown lead on Navy in the latter half of the third quarter, with Navy's quarterback situation in a state of pronounced uncertainty?
4:15: No, Army is not about to take a touchdown lead. That was a false start on the Black Knights, and yet, in a weird plot twist, Army would have wanted the penalty to be called… because it lost three yards on the play and could have used an extra snap.
3:36: Army leads, but that field goal feels a lot like a punt, at least for the moment. If Army can tack on seven more points to build a two-possession lead, that field goal will acquire an added measure of value.
1:25: Army has so often shot itself in the foot against Navy. On that fourth-and-inches play, Navy sabotaged its own drive. It's all lining up for the Black Knights. They'll get the ball with a chance to get a two-score lead. There's no mystery to the "how" here. We all know "how" Army has to go about its business. It's all a matter of doing what has to be done, doing what everyone knows is needed.
0:16: Dropping an easy first-down-converting pass on third and four is NOT an example of doing what needs to be done. It's worth pointing out that ever since the Army-Navy Game has been played after a three-week break for both teams, the two teams – under this new schedule arrangement – have become less precise and polished, not more. It's worth considering a schedule alteration that allows the Black Knights and Midshipmen to play after only two weeks off.
End Of Third Quarter Score: Army 13, Navy 10.
12:05 left, fourth quarter: That missed third-down pass by Navy is precisely the kind of play Army has missed in previous fourth quarters when trailing in the Army-Navy Game. This bit of role reversal is extremely encouraging for the Black Knights. If it can run its course for 12 more minutes, the 10-game losing streak will end… and the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy will make its way to West Point. It's a long way to Tipperary, but the opportunity is there. Now, can Trent Steelman – in this, his final Army-Navy Game – produce a drive for the ages, one that will ripple through the pages of time?
10:37: Army needs to pull an unexpected pass out of the bag and go for a kill shot.
9:24: It's not a guarantee, but Army is 24 yards from winning this game. Can players perform under pressure?
7:11: After all the great runs and pitch plays by Steelman outside the tackle box, that trap play on third and seven is simply an ABYSMAL play call by Ian Shields.
6:57: Are any words really necessary at this point?
5:07: Navy dropped a deep ball in the first half. It didn't drop that one.
4:41: The biggest thing to keep in mind after that Navy touchdown? Army has plenty of time to run the ball. DON'T. PANIC.
4:06: Well, it sure looks as though Army is in fact panicking, sad to say. Yet, this calm-everyone-down timeout by Ellerson could be just the thing to reset and reorganize. The bad part of that timeout? It makes this drive an unquestioned last-chance drive. No drives after this one.
2:39: Here we are yet again, inside the Navy 40 with a chance to win in crunch time. Buckle up.
1:08: No. No. No.
1:04: No. That's too unspeakably, unbearably sad for Trent Steelman. That's not the finish so many people wanted for him and for West Point.
0:00: It's just a game, we tell ourselves. It's trivial. It doesn't matter the way the birth of a child or a career in public service matters. Yet, sports hurt. Competitive athletics is a cruel beast. A cruel, cruel beast. Man.
Final Score: Navy 17, Army 13.