Baltimore, MD (SportsNetwork.com) - The final game of the 2014 regular season is the classic Army-Navy matchup, played this year at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Black Knights will be closing up shop no matter what the outcome of this, the 115th edition of the battle between the Academies. Army won just twice through the first eight games of the season, defeating Buffalo and Ball State, but the team showed some resiliency in the last several weeks by posting two victories in three chances.
The squad took down UConn by a score of 35-21 the second week of November, and then closed out the month with a 42-31 triumph over Fordham at home. The Black Knights failed to win a single true road game, but the good news is that the squad did squeeze out a neutral-site triumph over the Huskies.
As for the Midshipmen, they already have plans made for the postseason, facing off against San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 23 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego regardless of the outcome of this meeting. Heading to the postseason for the 11th time since 2003, Navy enters this meeting one game over .500 thanks to a narrow 42-40 victory over South Alabama on the road on Nov. 28.
In terms of the series between these two programs, Navy is ahead by a count of 58-49-7, thanks in large part to a 12-game win streak that stretches back to 2002 for the Midshipmen. Last season, Navy delivered a 34-7 win in Philadelphia.
In games played in Baltimore, the Knights have managed to split four encounters, but at this particular facility, Navy is 2-0, with the most recent win being a 38-3 thrashing back in 2007.
The last win for Army took place in 2001 as the team secured a 26-17 final at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Both of these teams rely heavily on running the football, but Navy has managed to add some passing to the mix thanks to quarterback Keenan Reynolds. The signal caller has thrown five TDs this season, against three interceptions, to at least give defenses reason to cover receivers when they do appear on the field.
But make no mistake, Reynolds is a run-first quarterback who has become one of the best at his position in that mode. With three rushing touchdowns against South Alabama, Reynolds set an NCAA record for rushing scores by a quarterback with 60, with 20 of those coming this year alone. The MVP in each of the last two Army-Navy battles, Reynolds has also set the NCAA mark for the most games (12) with at least three rushing TDs, passing Montee Ball of Wisconsin.
Ranked first in the nation in rushing with 357.8 ypg, the Midshipmen have nine players who have gained at least 100 yards this season, three with at least 500 yards as Reynolds leads the way with his 1,082 yards on 205 attempts over the course of nine games. Noah Copeland contributes another 78.1 ypg, averaging better than eight yards per carry, and landing in the end zone five times.
Out on the edges, Jamir Tillman and Brendan Dudeck both have a pair of receiving scores, the former registering 18 receptions for 338 yards in an effort to keep defenses honest.
On the defensive side of the ball, Navy is giving up 426.2 ypg (86th in the nation), with a good portion of those yards coming on the ground (199.8 ypg), which ranks the squad 96th in the country. Jordan Drake paces the program with 85 tackles, while Parrish Gaines has picked off three passes and Bernard Sarra has been credited with three blocked kicks, something the Black Knights need to keep in mind.
Another aspect of the game that Navy has excelled at this season is in the area of penalties. A disciplined group for sure, the Midshipmen are first in the nation in both fewest penalties per game (2.27) and yards assessed (23.4 ypg).
Navy will be tasked with slowing down an Army rushing attack which is fifth in the nation with 305.5 ypg. Considering the Black Knights are dead last in the FBS with a mere 64.5 ypg through the air, the Midshipmen should be able to load the box and attack the line of scrimmage.
Quarterback Angel Santiago, who has taken the majority of the snaps for the Academy this season, has completed 51.5 percent of his pass attempts for a meager 44.4 ypg and a single TD, against one interception. Unlike Navy, the Knights go to the air only when they absolutely have to.
Instead, Santiago has taken off for a team-high 182 runs, leading to 793 yards and a team-best 10 touchdowns, his scoring total one ahead of Larry Dixon who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 177 attempts, leading to a team-high 1,028 yards.
Another legitimate threat is Terry Baggett who, during the 2013 campaign raced for 304 yards and four touchdowns in a huge win over Eastern Michigan. He hasn't had a break-out game anywhere near that since, but you never know when he could get into a groove for the Black Knights.
Should Army threaten to go to the air at any point this weekend, Edgar Poe would be a safe bet having caught a team-best 10 passes for 199 yards and a score, although Xavier Moss had even better results on his six grabs in 11 games, finding his way into the end zone twice.
The fact that the Knights rank 119th in the country in pass efficiency defense, with a rating of 154.88, it only makes sense that Navy would try to exploit that weakness. Jeremy Timpf, who leads the Knights in tackles with 102 and is first with 14.0 stops for loss, will do all he can to slow down the opposition, but it might be an uphill battle. Josh Jenkins (60 tackles) and Chris Carnegie (51 tackles) have combined with Timpf to account for 10 interceptions, but that aspect of the game will provide opportunities that are few and far between.