Saturday brings us this year’s version of the annual Army-Navy college football game. A tradition since 1890, the football has not evolved as much from then as one might think. These are two offenses that run the typical service academy run-heavy scheme, and generally have capable enough defenses, especially when not outmatched athletically.
While it is no surprise that this game checks in with a total well under 40 (34.5 as of this writing), we should still look for some angles other than the immediate “Bet the Under” that likely comes to mind. Let’s take a look at the betting outlook for the game.
Coming off an impressive win against a good Liberty squad and NFL prospect Malik Willis, Army’s defense has to be feeling confident. They held Willis to only 37 yards rushing and 2 total TDs (one rushing, one passing). Further, the best comp that Army has for a game like this is their game against Air Force, who runs a similarly styled service academy option attack, in which they won 21-14 (notice this game had the same final total as the current O/U for Saturday’s clash). Haaqiz Daniels actually threw the ball 22 times for 226 yards in that one, so it will be a little bit of a different story for Navy, who actively avoids throwing the ball quite that much. Since Navy will be attacking Army primarily on the ground, it is worth noting that Army has the 11th-best rushing defense in all of college football, allowing 103 rushing yards per game, although that likely has plenty to do with their own offense milking plenty of time of possession and not allowing the volume of carries to build up to any substantive rushing total, as they are allowing a much more generous 3.65 YPC. Among service academies, the opposite of the typical adage is true — sometimes the best defense is a methodical and competent offense that keeps your defense off the field. Army has been susceptible to high volume and/or efficient passing attacks, but they won’t have to worry about that here.
On that note, Army has an opportunity to have success here on the offensive side of the ball. Navy has allowed 4 YPC and 24 TDs, both of which are the worst in all of college football. That plays right into the hands of what Army will want to do — they threw only 85 passes all season. Using a variety of ball carriers, primarily Tyhier Tyler, Jakobi Buchanan and Christian Anderson (two of whom are technically QBs, by the way), Army has rushed 670 times for 3,313 yards this season. Any time that sort of strength matches up with an opponent's weakness, we should expect them to have quite a bit of success. Navy has also been torched through the air — most recently by Holton Ahlers of ECU, who put up 405 yards and 3 TDs in late November in a 38-35 shootout, but Army won’t want or need to do any of that. With us expecting Army’s O-Line to get plenty of push and their rushing plays to have high success rates, I’m going to lean towards Army controlling the game enough that even a -7.5 number isn’t enough to scare me off.
It’s been storms and squalls for Navy all season, with only three victories, all three against weak programs, Tulsa, UCF (post Dillon Gabriel) and Temple. As discussed above, the defense gets absolutely smashed however the opponent chooses to carve them up, by land or by air. Only Tulsa scored fewer than 27 points against Navy, and notably, in their similarly most comparable game against Air Force, Navy got crushed 23-3, and Air Force QB Haaziq Daniels didn’t find the need to throw the ball more than 10 times. That game featured plenty of Brad Roberts and Daniels on the ground, with the pair combining for 43 carries, 148 yards and 3 TDs. We should expect more of the same here.
If Navy has any opportunity to keep this one close and make a game of it, it will be due to their offense being able to continue the success they’ve had in recent weeks, primarily of course do to their volume based rushing attack. The triumvirate of Tai Lavatai, Isaac Ruoss and James Harris II has added explosive senior slot back Carlinos Acie to the mix. With the rushing attack able to drive 35-plus points in each of their last two games, they are hitting the ground running against a tough Army defense. Navy will score more than people are expecting, but likely won’t be able to keep up with Army in terms of efficiency and ultimately on the scoreboard.