Navy easing into most important game of the year
For the first time this season, players on the Navy football team got an extended break from practice, and in this instance, they used the time off to go home to visit family and friends for the long Thanksgiving weekend. In an unusual set of circumstances, the Midshipmen don't play again until Dec. 11, meaning they will have had three weeks off before their annual showdown with Army, so instead of the normal week of practice, Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo had his team conduct workouts only on Monday through Wednesday.
The prolonged time without a game is essentially what many bowl-eligible teams must navigate between the end of the regular season and their bowl game. In Navy's case, it will be the first of two such layoffs. After playing Army at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, the Midshipmen have nearly two more weeks off until their appearance in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 23.
"We've never had this before," Niumatalolo said. "We've had two weeks but not three weeks. . . . We're going to let guys go home for Thanksgiving, hopefully see their families and rejuvenate themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, whatever it is, and come back ready to go, and then we'll go those last two weeks like we normally do."
Except it's never really normal when it comes to Army. The Midshipmen make no secret it's the most anticipated game each and every season, and this year, the outcome figures to be decidedly less sure for Navy than the past three games, all comfortable victories. Navy has beaten Army by a combined 89-6 in those games, but the Black Knights are a much improved bunch this season under first-year coach Rich Ellerson, who has Army (6-5) bowl eligible for the first time in 14 years.
Navy, meantime, is coming off a 35-19 victory over Arkansas State in which senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs set a career high with 318 yards of total offense and accounted for four touchdowns and senior wide receiver Greg Jones had 129 yards on four receptions, including an 85-yarder for a touchdown. Senior defensive end Billy Yarborough added three sacks in the final game for the seniors at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"I think you just go out to practice, and you treat it like another game," Jones said of Army. "And I don't want to say it's another game because it's Army, and Army is a great team. Watching them on film, they have a great squad. They've come a long way, and they're well respected, and you want to go in like you're playing an opponent like that. You want to stay focused, but at the same time you can't get too ahead of yourself."