It’s that time of the year in college football. The regular season is behind us and recruiting and bowl season is approaching quickly. Fans and teams are looking back; some with joy and some with regret. Some wishing to have another shot at their rivals and some pleased with how the breaks went. Fans and teams are also looking forward. Some to travel to a bowl game and almost everyone looking at the next group of players heading their way.
But in the midst of the Great In-Between of the college football schedule exists a game that is wholly unique and materially different than every other game this year. That is, of course, the Army-Navy game.
ARMY-NAVY 2021: A GAME IN THE MOMENT
It’s been less than 14 days since the regular season ended. In that short span, we’ve seen surprising coaching departures, including private jets, crazy compensations, and fake accents. We’ve seen the apparent collapse of a playoff expansion, at least for another three years. And we have two new teams in the College Football Playoff, including our first Group of 5 team. Needless to say, it’s been chaotic in the last two weeks.
And it’s not going to end anytime soon. The early signing period starts in less than a week. Fans will be anxiously awaiting to see who is coming to their team. Teams are making final preparations for their bowl practices and travel plans. And, as hope springs eternal in this sport, everyone is dreaming of success next season.
It is the nature of this sport — to constantly be looking back, whether as a player or a coach looking at film, while simultaneously looking forward, whether it be on the recruiting trail for coaches or championship aspirations for fans. But for one Saturday a season, the game exists only at the moment.
Everyone knows these two teams are different. But not everyone realizes these two teams are different. In the Army-Navy rivalry, there is no looking back — you win this game and your season was a 1-0 success. You lose and, well, you have to watch as the other team sings second. Every other game you’ve played was merely an exhibition.
No one is looking around, either. No one cares about the out-of-town scoreboard. There are no conference championships or playoff implications for this game. It is a rivalry that stands alone, free of the distractions of college football modernity. There is just a game and a trophy and a lifetime of legacy, nothing more.
And no one is looking forward. This game is what the entire season was pointing towards. Almost none of the players will move on to the NFL. A bowl is nice, but it’s meaningless with a loss in this game. Neither team’s recruiting class was ranked in the Top 100 in the past four seasons.
And no one cares. Because every single person invested in this game will be in the moment.
Make no mistake, though, this is still a top-tier college football game. As much as goes on around the game, there’s plenty to pay attention to between the lines as well.
Army’s Moment of Momentum
The Cadets come into this game in the middle of the best era of Black Knights football since the Earl Blaik era (1941-1958). Coach Jeff Monken has taken Army to five bowls in the last six seasons, matching the total amount of bowl games Army had played until his arrival. Of the 13 coaches between Blaik and Monken, only four had records of .500 or better and only one had a better winning percentage than Monken. Army is 8-3 on the season with close losses to Wisconsin and ACC Division Champion Wake Forest. They are headed to the Armed Forces Bowl in Ft. Worth at the end of December.
Most importantly, the Cadets have won four of the last five games against Navy after surrendering 14 straight in the rivalry.
They will look to add to that total on Saturday. They’ll do so the same way they’ve always operated under Monken, with a punishing rushing attack, aggressive defense, and disciplined and inspired play.
Army is second in the nation with 301 yards rushing per game. Monken has used both Christian Anderson and Tyhier Tyler as quarterbacks during the last half of the season. Look for both to get snaps on Saturday. Notably, the Black Knights have 10 passing touchdowns this season, with Anderson having five of them. They’ve incorporated an efficient passing attack in the latter half of the season.
It’s Army defense, however, that continues to be underrated. The linebacking trio of Andre Carter, Arik Smith, and Malkelm Morrison have wreaked havoc on opposing teams this season. The Black Knights are 18th nationally in total defense and Carter has 14.5 sacks on the season. He is now Army’s all-time career sacks leader.
Navy’s Moment to Return
As similar as these two teams are, they find themselves in different positions coming into Saturday’s tilt. While it is looking up for Army, the Midshipmen have had a rough two seasons. Ken Niumatalolo‘s squad enters the game 3-8 after a disappointed 3-7 record during the 2020 campaign. This will be the third losing season out of the last four after ten straight bowl appearances for Navy. There is uncertainty about Niumatalolo’s future holds in Annapolis.
But it’s one of the great rivalries in all of sport and these two teams are mirror images of each other. Navy’s rushing attack 229 rushing yards per game. The offense is led by quarterback Tai Lavatai. He and fullback Isaac Ruoss have almost half of the total carries for the Midshipman offense.
Navy has righted the ship during the second half of the season after a disastrous start. If the Midshipman want to get back to their winning ways in this rivalry, they’ll have to play mistake-free football and get creative on the offensive side. And their defense will have to tighten up as they are yielding over 4 yards per rushing play.
It hasn’t been a great season for Navy, but they won’t be focused on that on Saturday. They will only be focused on the moment and the opportunity for redemption that it affords.
Army-Navy 2021: Right Where It Needs To Be
That’s an opportunity we can all take advantage of. We can escape the hectic bonds of college football chaos — the coaching calamities, the recruiting circus with commitment videos and signing day hoop-la, and the endless agonizing and celebration of the past and dreams of future seasons. On one Saturday a year, there’s just one game. One gridiron moment for us to savor.
And it’s in that moment that we can find ourselves right where we need to be: with the Army-Navy rivalry and the best that college football and sports have to offer.
Enjoy the moment.