Forward march: Army-Navy very much a ground game

In the NFL, Tim Tebow is bringing the triple option back. At

Army and Navy, they figure it never went out of style.

Plan the trips to the kitchen accordingly – because the clock

should run and run and run some more, just as the teams like to do,

when the academies reconvene Saturday for the 112th edition of one

of the most special rivalries in sports.

”Honestly, coming in, when I initially got recruited and found

out we were going to be running the triple option, I was kind of a

little disappointed,” said Army senior Max Jenkins, one of three

quarterbacks to start a game for the Black Knights this season,

”because I came from a passing offense in high school that threw

the ball 30 times a game.”

Now he’s a convert. When his brother brought up the topic at

Thanksgiving, Jenkins had a ready explanation for his change of

heart.

”Actually being in it, you learn to appreciate what it does,”

Jenkins said. ”It’s not just trying to spread the field and throw

it to the superior athlete. It really does take a team effort and

all 11 guys in this offense, and if one guy messes up, we’re going

to get a loss of a couple of yards.

”But when everybody’s working together and it’s all clicking,

it’s pretty fun to have those 13-, 14-play touchdown drives and

wear down defenses.”

Army has the top rushing offense in the nation, averaging 350.9

yards per game. Navy is fourth at 313.7. Army has thrown only 91

passes all season, by far the fewest among FBS schools. Navy has

the next fewest, having tossed the ball just 132 times.

”Once I started to finally understand it, I think this is the

coolest offense there is,” Navy fullback Alexander Teich said.

”You leave three guys at the point of attack unblocked, that’s

almost unheard of in any other kind of offense. It’s a fast-hit,

quick-play, quick-hit, big-play kind of offense. You look at how

many plays you have over 30 yards over the course of the

season.”

The triple option has been an unqualified success for Navy over

the years, but a porous defense means the Midshipmen (4-7) won’t be

going to a bowl this season, ending a run of eight straight

postseason appearances.

But the game against Army (3-8) is a bigger deal anyway, and the

Mids’ streak of nine consecutive wins over the Black Knights is

what really counts. Navy has been truly dominant in the series,

winning every game since 2002 by at least a dozen points.

”We talk about the brotherhood and not letting the tradition

fall,” Teich said. ”You don’t want to let that ball drop while

it’s in your hands, so this game is big for us to continue that

success and really to erase this whole entire season. It would make

all those losses feel a lot better and heal a lot of wounds.”

Army, of course, figures this might be the year to finally come

out on top. No one wants to be part of yet another class that never

won the biggest game of the season.

”For the senior class, this is our last chance to beat Navy,

and we’re well aware of that,” Army linebacker Andrew Rodriguez

said. ”I was talking a lot to the younger guys, it always seems

like you’re going to have more chances, but the time goes by so

fast and so you want to take advantage of every opportunity you

get, and we feel we have a good opportunity to win this year.”

These teams usually have the element of novelty working in their

favor – most colleges aren’t used to defending the triple option –

but this is a game where both sides know how to defend the

other.

”I think we’re contrarians in some regard,” Army coach Rich

Ellerson said, ”but I think the practitioners of the game

recognize the obvious, recognize the opportunity, when you’re doing

something that everybody else doesn’t do.

”The fact that we’re somewhat unique to most of the people we

play is a tremendous advantage for us. It mitigates some of those

maybe physical disadvantages and got us in some games. We didn’t

win a bunch of games, but we were competitive in a bunch of games

this year that we might not have been had we not been doing

something as unique as we are.”

Here’s another reason the clock won’t stop as much: Both

schools, as would be expected, are extremely disciplined. Navy has

committed just 26 penalties all season – best in the country – and

while Army has the third fewest (44).

The tradition-filled day – which includes pregame marches and

fly-bys by both academies – has a new setting this year. The game

is being played in the vicinity of the nation’s capital for the

first time, with the Washington Redskins stadium playing host as a

break from the usual site in Philadelphia.

”We’ve got a longer bus ride than they do,” said Ellerson,

noting that Navy’s home in Annapolis is just down the road. ”But,

beyond that, it’s entirely appropriate that this game gets played

here from time to time.”

Joseph White can be reached at http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP