Eight years ago, after Army lost to Navy for the 12th straight time, the Black Knights decided the only way to compete with the Midshipmen was to be like them.
So they hired a former Navy assistant coach and went about the business of mimicking the success of their service academy rival.
Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., when Army (8-3) meets Navy (3-8) for 122nd time, the Black Knights will try to best the Mids for the fifth time in the past six years and capture their fourth Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy in the last five seasons.
The author of Army’s turnaround is Jeff Monken, 54. He coached at Navy from 2002-07 under Paul Johnson, helping the Mids to five CIC trophies and five bowl games. When Johnson departed for Georgia Tech, Monken followed, while fellow Navy assistant Ken Niumatalolo stayed on board to take over the program.
Niumatalolo has guided the Midshipmen to six more CIC titles and 10 bowl games. Navy has struggled this year but a lot of that has been the level of competition. The Mids have had the misfortune of facing six of the nation’s top 22 defenses as ranked by Pro Football Focus, including Notre Dame and Cincinnati.
“We’ve been improving,” Niumatalolo said. “But if you’re a boxer and you’re fighting Floyd Mayweather, you might have gotten better but you’ve got six black eyes.”
The Army defense will be tough to solve for Navy as well. The Black Knights have five starters back from last year’s defense that pitched a shutout in a 15-0 win against the Midshipmen. Linebacker Arik Smith leads the team in tackles (67), while Andre Carter II (14.5 sacks) has blossomed as a pass rusher.
“This is the biggest game of the year,” said Army defensive back Marquel Broughton. “This is the biggest rivalry in football, the most intense rivalry in college football.”
Army ranks second in the nation in rushing (301.2 yards per game) and features a balanced attack with Tyrell Robinson (582 yards), who averages 9.9 yards per carry, Tyhier Tyler (470 yards) and quarterback Christian Anderson (519 yards).
Navy, which ranks No. 7 in the country in rushing (228.2), counters with the inside power of Isaac Ruoss (608 yards) and the outside speed of Carlinos Acie (546 yards), who averages 9.6 yards per rush.
During the game, the teams will honor the memory of Navy SEAL commander Brian Bourgeois, 43, who tragically died in a training accident on Saturday while fast-roping from a helicopter. Bourgeois played four seasons for Navy.
–Field Level Media