Army-Navy 2012 preview

Larry Dixon Tra'ves Bush

Then-Army freshman Larry Dixon is tackled by then-Navy junior Tra’ves Bush during last season’s Army-Navy game outside Washington, D.C. Both players are back in key roles for their respective teams this season. (USA Today Sports photo by Danny Wild)

Sick of spirit spots? Done with uniform updates? Ready for some football? For college gridiron die-hards and once-a-year big-game watchers alike, here’s what you need to know entering Saturday’s Army-Navy showdown.

Who, where, when: Navy (7-4) vs. Army (2-9), Saturday, 3 p.m. Eastern, Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Weather: says to think spring — a few pregame showers, with temperatures approaching 60.

Quick history: It’s the 113th meeting between the teams. Navy leads the series 56-49-7 and has won 10 straight, most in series history. Army’s last win came in Philadelphia in 2001 in Veterans Stadium, which no longer exists. Navy won last year’s game 27-21.

For the trophy: Because both teams beat Air Force, Saturday’s winner takes home the Commander in Chief’s Trophy. Navy held it last in 2009, Army in 1996. A win by the Black Knights would give them the trophy and a 3-9 record — worst for a trophy holder since the series began in 1972.

TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson have the call; a recap of the pregame coverage schedule is No. 6 on this list.)

Gambling is illegal in most states: Navy is a seven-point favorite.

Who to watch, Army offense: Both teams use an option run attack, but Army’s has far outdistanced anybody else in the nation, averaging nearly 370 yards per game — 40 more per game than second-place Air Force, and about 80 more than sixth-place Navy. Senior quarterback Trent Steelman (1,152 rushing yards), junior running back Raymond Maples (1,059) and sophomore fullback Larry Dixon (778; more about him and the offense in this Wall Street Journal piece) have split the rushing load all season. Steelman set a new West Point career touchdown record (44) with his three-TD effort in a 63-32 loss to Temple on Nov. 17.

Who to watch, Navy defense: Senior linebacker Matt Warrick dropped Steelman twice on the final drive of last year’s Army-Navy game. Senior safety Tra’ves Bush had 13 tackles against Troy, the most by any Mid in a single game this year. And don’t expect the intricacies of the option attack to fool senior outside linebacker and academic all-American Keegan Wetzel.

Who to watch, Navy offense: The Mids are running on plebe power, as freshman Keenan Reynolds takes his 5-1 record as a starter into battle against the Black Knights. He’s got nine rushing touchdowns and eight TDs through the air — a dual threat that will prevent defenders from keying solely on Navy’s run game. That means more room to roam for senior slotback Gee Gee Greene, “a big play waiting to happen.” Durable sophomore fullback Noah Copeland has 592 yards on the year, second to Greene’s 750, and has started every game this season.

Who to watch, Army defense: Sophomore linebacker Geoffrey Bacon ranks seventh in the nation in tackles, averaging more than 11 per game. Senior linebacker Nate Combs is tops on the team with six sacks and 12 tackles for loss this year; last year against Navy, he recorded nine tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery.

The Mids win if: They score first — Army’s 0-6 this year when giving up the game’s first points and doesn’t have the passing attack most teams rely on for big comebacks.

The Black Knights win if: Their defense flexes its anti-option muscles — Army held Air Force’s option to 103 rushing yards in a 41-21 win Nov. 3.

Key questions: Reynolds has played like a veteran so far, but will the Army-Navy spotlight light up any unseen cracks? Will Steelman’s will to win his last game under center at Army be enough to overcome prior stumbles and an experienced Navy defense? Which of the teams, both ranked in the top five for fewest penalty yards, will lose its cool? Which kicker will show the most resolve under pressure, like this guy did 20 years ago? Nobody’ll know until Saturday. Until then, keep watching those spirit spots.


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