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COMMENTARY

One thing can salvage this Navy football season: A win over Army

The frustrations experienced by Navy football players in 2020 would be eased considerably if the are able to "sing second" after this week's Army game, as they did in this 2011 photo.

STARS AND STRIPES

By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: December 7, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — It is now a one-game season for Navy football.

Nothing that has happened to date means anything at this point.

Beat Army and all is well in the world for Navy fans, alumni and supporters.

Everyone is eager to flush 2020 down the toilet then try desperately to forget it forever. It's been a miserably painful year on many fronts with the worldwide pandemic leading the way.

This year certainly won't be remembered fondly by anyone associated with Navy football. The Midshipmen did not meet any of their major goals, notably reclaiming the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy or capturing an American Athletic Conference championship.

Navy might wind up in a bowl game, but that would hardly qualify as an accomplishment. In this strange season impacted by coronavirus, bowl berths are being handed out, not earned.

Saturday night's 19-6 loss to No. 22 Tulsa guaranteed Navy (3-6 overall, 3-4 AAC) will suffer just its third losing season since 2003. A defeat at Air Force assured the best the Mids can do is retain the CIC Trophy.

Tulsa put an end to an impressive 17-year winning streak on Senior Day for Navy, which will finish with a losing record within the American for only the second time since joining in 2015.

Most frustrating is the way things got to this point with Navy's normally potent triple-option offense sputtering the entire season. Three different starting quarterbacks could not get the offense operating properly. The Mids looked every bit as dysfunctional in Game 9 as they did in Game 1.

But now is not the time to dwell on what went wrong and why. Coach Ken Niumatalolo and the rest of the offensive braintrust must figure out some way to move the ball and score points next Saturday.

Navy travels to West Point to battle Army at Michie Stadium, marking the first time since World War II this rivalry game will be played on the campus of either institution. Filling the stands will be the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen, bringing some much needed noise and atmosphere to the proceedings.

There is some good news for Navy. Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry has solved the problems plaguing his unit, as Navy's defense has been outstanding the past two games, shutting down a pair of high-powered offenses in Memphis and Tulsa.

In any other season, when the offense was functional, Navy would have won those contests.

Army (7-1) has played a schedule softer than tissue paper but that does not detract from what it has accomplished this season. The Black Knights have a good football team and the tape bears that out.

Army has beaten up on a host of Conference USA, Sun Belt Conference and Football Championship Subdivision opponents such as Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana-Monroe, Abiline Christian and Mercer.

Army barely slipped past The Citadel, 14-9, and Georgia Southern, 28-27, and was beaten soundly by two AAC opponents in Cincinnati (24-10) and Tulane (38-12). That last result provides hope since Navy defeated Tulane on its home field early in the season.

It should be noted Cincinnati and Tulane were two of only three road games for Army, which will play at home a whopping eight times this season.

Army's version of the triple-option has been highly effective despite the fact six different quarterbacks have lined up under center. The Black Knights rank third nationally in rushing offense with an average of 296.7 yards.

Army is scoring 30 points per game and giving up just 16. The Black Knights rank No. 23 in rushing defense, allowing an average of 119 yards, a statistic that does not bode well for the Midshipmen and their struggling ground game.

After being limited to 126 rushing yards by Tulsa, Navy now ranks 46th nationally in that category. For a proud program that has routinely led the nation in rushing and almost always ranks Top 5, that is simply unfathomable.

Yards and points are always hard to come by in these service academy games because the respective defenses thoroughly understand the triple-option and know how to stop it. It's rock-em, sock-em football with every inch of turf having to be earned, which is why a lot of Army-Navy games are close and low-scoring.

I fully expect Newberry to design a sound game-plan and for the Diego Fagot-led defense to do its part by holding Army to a minimal amount of points, 20 or less. Newberry was hired, in part, because he defended the triple-option every day in practice while working for former Navy assistant Brian Bohannon at Kennesaw State.

Newberry showed he knew what he was doing in his Army-Navy debut, crafting a plan that shut down the archrival. The Black Knights managed only 148 yards in a 31-7 loss a year ago.

Unfortunately, I don't know what Navy can do in three practices to fix its broken offense. If freshman Xavier Arline starts at quarterback and tries to run the read triple-option against Army, it's probably going to be a long day.

After all, if you cannot move the ball and score points against Memphis and Tulsa, you certainly are not going to do so against Army.

Who knows? Perhaps Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper throw caution to the wind and do something completely whacky on offense. Maybe you put Dalen Morris in shotgun formation with five wide receivers and throw the ball all day.

Navy's coaching staff better figure out some way for the offense to be effective because this game offers an opportunity to salvage this season.

No matter what it takes, Navy needs to beat Army.

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