It must be something in the air – literally. Every year, I begin to preview the Army-Navy Game…and start off by getting the weather forecast wrong.
I knew there was a chance for snow in Philadelphia in 2017, for instance. I still thought the Over was a good wager. Heck, a little bit of snow can actually help a triple-option QB trick a defense that’s slipping and sliding while trying to read the play and react.
A little bit of snow. Yeeeeeeaaahhh.
Oh, and the total went Under…of course.
Try, try again. Forecasts are calling for drizzle and a slight breeze during Saturday’s CiC rivalry meeting at Lincoln Financial Field. But the temperature will be unseasonably mild, and so help me, I’m looking hard at the Over again despite a trend-line of low-scoring results in the Army-Navy Game.
Who: Army Black Knights vs Navy Midshipmen
When: Saturday, December 14th, 3 PM EST
Where: Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
Lines: Army (+10.5) vs Navy (-10.5) / O/U Total: (40.5)
Malcolm Perry’s senior season behind center has turned into a doozy for the marvelous Mids. Navy has beaten SMU, Tulane, Air Force, and Houston, running-up a 10-2 overall record and missing out on the American Athletic Conference title game (and a division title) only by virtue of a tie-breaker. Perry has rushed for exactly 1500 yards and 19 touchdowns while improving his passing touch to the tune of 13 yards-per-attempt and a 181.1 rating.
Sophomore Jamale Carothers has blossomed into a rare individual rushing star in Navy’s backfield-by-committee, galloping for 13 touchdowns and averaging over 8 (!) yards-per-carry from the B-back position.
Meanwhile, a blitzing Annapolis defense has improved by leaps and bounds under new DC Brian Newberry. If gamblers haven’t noticed that Navy has a top-40 type of defense to go with its top-20 offense, well, better late than never – a Flexbone team with a Power-5 level D could rip a hole in Las Vegas thanks to the number of casual bettors used to watching Army, Navy, and Air Force labor to out-score opponents. The ’19 Midshipmen held athletic South Florida to just 3 points while scoring 35 of their own, and nearly shut-out Southern Methodist in the 2nd half in a November victory.
2 teams found a formula to beat Navy by multiple scores in 2019, though it’s unclear if Army has the tools to replicate either program’s effort. Memphis met Navy in late September (in what turned out to be the deciding game in the American West) and dominated the Mids on special teams, racking up over 200 yards on punt and kickoff returns to prevail 35-23. But the Black Knights don’t have the speed or the depth to defeat Navy that way. Notre Dame forced a series of costly lost-fumbles from Perry and the Midshipmen, then connected on long bombs for TDs to drown Navy 52-20 in South Bend. But as talented as Army QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr. may be, his name is not Ian Book.
Army’s mid-season slump knocked the Black Knights out of a bowl berth. Easy opponents UTSA and Morgan State were dispatched after the Michigan loss, but then came a long slide downhill – a 5-game losing streak began with a 42-33 loss to Tulane and culminated in a painful defeat at the hands of Air Force.
5’9” backup QB Jabari Laws went a terrific 9-of-11 through the air against the Falcons, but was stifled on option-keepers as the Mountain West charges out-gained Army on the ground and won 17-13. 4 weeks later the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors hosted the Black Knights and gave up only 4 touchdowns (a moral win for Hawaii’s poor defense) in a 52-31 victory despite allowing 400+ yards from Monken’s team on the ground.
Even though West Point stands at 5-7 and would earn the usual bowl-requisite 6th win with an upset over Navy on Saturday, current FBS rules stipulate that Army needs 7 victories to qualify for the postseason due to playing a 13-game schedule. This will be the final go-around for Hopkins Jr. and the rest of the Black Knights’ senior class.
There is little injury news that handicappers didn’t already know about. Hopkins Jr. has been sidelined intermittently with an undisclosed ailment, but the 2-week break prior to this weekend’s rivalry game in Philadelphia appears to have helped him out. Likewise, freshman Tama Tuitele is questionable for a Midshipmen LB corps that’s been up and down since ruling the AAC in mid-season. But Tuitele has been banged-up for much of the season, and Newberry is used to going without him.
Navy was a solid pick to cover ATS at (-9), but that ship has sailed already as the line moves toward an 11-point margin. Perry and Caruthers are the kind of difference-makers who can score points in bunches despite playing against 11 fanatics in blood-rivalry combat. But as confident as I am that the Midshipmen will score touchdowns on Saturday, it may not be possible for Newberry’s defense to pitch a shut-out or anything close to it. Navy has relied on blitzes in 2019 and a blitzing scheme creates a crap-shoot against a Flexbone offense that can hurl the ball downfield accurately on play-action.
That’s why Over (40.5) is the best market available. If Navy wins by a blow-out score, mop-up points in the 4th quarter are likely to push the total over no matter what. If Army shoots out to a surprise early lead, Niumatalolo will open things up and let Perry scramble and fling passes in the 2nd half. Any play from scrimmage is potentially explosive given the speed and muscle in the Navy backfield.
Wager the Over on a battle that’ll include extra snaps, plenty of razzle-dazzle, and probably a few more points than bookmakers are expecting.