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Keys to Victory: 2023 Army-Navy Game

Army and Navy meet for the 124th time in a week reserved for a historic rivalry game.

Army v Navy Photo by Edward Diller/Getty Images

It’s the only game in college football that has its own week reserved prior to bowl season.

The 2023 Army-Navy Game kicks off from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA at 3 PM ET, celebrating the two service academies for the 94th consecutive season and the 124th time overall. Army and Navy both carry 5-6 records into this matchup, so with no bowl game looming for either program, this is the final statement each academy makes until August 2024, when they’ll share the American Athletic Conference together.

For now, in 2023, a win gives Army sole possession of the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. A Navy win means that the CIC series would be split, and Air Force would retain it for another year.

The phrases “Go Army, Beat Navy!” and “Go Navy, Beat Army!” are woven into the lexicon for active enrollees and alumni of these academies, not just for the second weekend of December, but for all 365 days in a given year.

So here is how Army beats Navy and Navy beats Army in Saturday’s highly-anticipated matchup between the two rivals, forever associated with one another:

Army Black Knights keys to victory

Air Force Falcons vs Army Black Knights
Army QB Bryson Daily averaged 116 rushing yards in his last three games, which all ended up as wins for the Black Knights.
Photo by Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Daily dose of mobility

Army is led by junior quarterback Bryson Daily, who is completing his first year as the primary starter of the program. When Daily is the head of the snake in the run game, good things typically happen for the Black Knights. In games where the quarterback attains 65 rushing yards, Army is 5-1. When Daily plays and fails to reach this threshold, Army is 0-4.

Dominant rushing performances by the Abernathy, TX native produced Army’s top two wins of 2023. He cleared the century mark twice this year, posting 100 rushing yards to knock off AAC contender UTSA on the road and 170 to stun a then-undefeated Air Force squad in early November. At 6’0”, 218 pounds, Daily is a fleet-footed runner with plenty of nimbleness, but he also absorbs contact very well. His mobility is essential to Army — which lost 62-0 in the lone game he didn’t play this year. But making smart reads down the stretch of the season is why Army rides a 3-game win streak heading into this game, and those reads will be essential to his rushing numbers Saturday.

Break out the aerial attack

Earlier in the season, Army turned some heads for deviating from its signature triple option scheme. The Black Knights hired Drew Thatcher as offensive coordinator last December from Division II Nebraska-Kearney, with hopes of revolutionizing its offense to be a unit that seeks home run plays. Army threw more often than usual — and they often threw it deep when dropping back. Daily attempted double-digit passes in each of the first five games, but he only fired more than 10 passes once in his last five outings.

Army leaned toward its bread and butter option attack later in the season, and utilizing Daily’s mobility will be important, as stated above. But the Black Knights are also granted considerable advantages by testing the aerial attack against this Navy squad, which is prone to allowing chunk plays to receivers. Last outing against SMU, Navy yielded 275 passing yards to the Mustangs in the first quarter alone — the most passing yards in a single quarter since 2019. Navy allows the 12th highest completion rate in the country and the 39th most yards per game through the air. Their worst defensive games all year — Notre Dame, South Florida, SMU — transpired when opponents caught fire through the passing game immediately, and Army should consider cranking up a notch on the aerial attempts early in this game to string together some home run plays.

Special teams matter

Seven of the last nine Army-Navy games were decided by one possession. Last year’s went to double overtime, where the Black Knights edged the Midshipmen 20-17 in a low-scoring affair. With only 20 regulation points in that matchup, it’s clear — every point matters.

Army and Navy both feature top 50 scoring defenses, and both teams rank in the top 25 in red zone defense in the FBS. Navy is incredibly stout in this category, featuring the third-best red zone defense with an opponent scoring percentage of 71 percent. In 31 opponent red zone trips, the Midshipmen surrendered 22 touchdowns, three field goals, and nine empty-handed trips. With points so vital in a game expected to be low-scoring, Army must capitalize on one of its greatest advantages — the kicking game. Kicker Quinn Maretzki is one of the best in college football, sinking 11-of-13 field goals this season including 3-of-4 kicks beyond 40 yards. Navy is not nearly as adept on this front, faring a shaky 7-of-13 on fields goals in 2023. If the game comes down to one score, Army possesses a significant edge thanks to the under-appreciated facet of special teams.

Navy Midshipmen keys to victory

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Navy
Navy FB Alex Tecza averages 6.2 yards per carry this season, generating 724 yards to rank ninth among AAC rushers.
Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

Keep those turnover trends going

For a team that pitches the ball as much as Navy, one would imagine the turnover rate would be substantially high. Yes, the Midshipmen run fewer plays per game than all but about 20 teams, but the discipline they run the option with has been impeccable for year one under head coach Brian Newberry. Ball security is one of Navy’s best assets. The Midshipmen only lost 11 turnovers this season, which is tied for 12th in the FBS. For a breakdown of those 11 miscues, seven were fumbles and four were interceptions.

Army runs a similar amount of plays as Navy, yet the Black Knights don’t succeed in the ball security department to anywhere near the degree of the Midshipmen. Army is tied for 12th-to-last in the FBS in total turnovers with 22 on the season — coughing up 11 fumbles and tossing 11 interceptions. This matches perfectly with Navy’s tendency to force takeaways, a category the Midshipmen are tied for eighth in the country. In a game expected to see few possessions, points are certainly at a premium. If those trends continue, Navy can steal several critical possessions to swing the momentum in its favor.

Feed the fullback

The star of Navy’s offense is fullback Alex Tecza, and good things happen when the offense places the ball in the hands of the 6’0”, 195 pound Pittsburgh native. Tecza received at least 13 carries this year four times this year and the result was four highly-productive showings from the Navy offense. In 10 games against FBS competition this season, Navy scored at least 24 points on four occasions. Three of those four games allocated 13 or more carries to the fullback and he attained 80 or more yards in all four.

In a surprising trend, Tecza received an uncharacteristically small amount of touches out of the backfield in the regular season finale, fielding just two handoffs in a 59-14 thrashing from SMU. Getting Tecza involved at a higher rate can be the game-changer for Navy, and his ability to rattle off explosive gains alters the nature of this offense. He has five 30+ yard runs on the season, and his services will be greatly appreciated against an Army run defense which is highly-exploitable, ranking 116th in yards allowed per game and yielding 5.0 yards per carry to opponents.

Win the trenches, get off the field

The Army-Navy Game is usually a battle of run game vs. run defense. Using the bare bones of this, Navy possesses a substantial edge thanks to the run defense aspect of this battle alone. The Midshipmen have been more assertive up front all season, limiting opponents to 121.9 rushing yards per game and to 3.6 per carry. First Team All-AAC outside linebacker Colin Ramos has served as the lynchpin to this successful run-stopping unit, totaling 94 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, and forcing a pair of fumbles.

Ramos’ presence at the line of scrimmage will be needed Saturday, especially on fourth-and-short opportunities. These academies both love attempting fourth-and-shorts from anywhere, but Navy’s defense typically struggles to get off the field on these critical downs. Navy allows a 60.9 percent fourth down conversion rate, while Army succeeds on an impressive 59.4 percent of fourth downs. These plays are where line of scrimmage domination are needed most. Ramos and the Midshipmen must get off blocks quickly and stuff Army’s run game — especially short-yardage specialist Jakobi Buchanan — in order to swing field position with turnovers on downs.