WEST POINT -- Keenan Reynolds can run. How well? The Navy quarterback leads the Midshipmen with 1,283 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, including an incredible 240 yards and seven touchdowns in Navy’s 58-52 overtime victory over San Jose State. Keenan Reynolds can pass. How well? He’s completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. Yes, Army coach Rich Ellerson knows who his team need contain if they stand a chance Saturday.
“Offensively, they are a solid football team until you get a throw from Keenan Reynolds and then it becomes scary,” he said. “That guy is a real different figure.”
Different enough that last season he became just the third quarterback in school history to start as a freshman – the first in 21 years. He played in all 13 games, starting the last eight, during which time Navy was 6-2, including three fourth-quarter comebacks. By season’s end the Midshipmen were sixth in the nation in rushing offense; Reynolds himself rushed for 10 touchdowns and passed for nine. In the Midshipmen’s 17-13 victory over Army, he completed 10 of 17 passes for 130 yards and rushed for 53 and the game-winning touchdown. He was good. He’s gotten better.
“[We have to] control their quarterback because he can make plays with his legs, he can make plays with his arms and he can make plays with what’s between his ears,” Ellerson said. “He is a very competent, cool and calm operator. He sees the game very well and keeps them out of bad situations. He takes care of the football team very well. He is not out there just making plays, he is running their offense and distributing the ball. Clearly getting him to have a bad game would be a huge thing for us. When you do that you are not just talking about how he throws and how he runs but you are talking about the decisions he makes, which is hard to do because he sees the game very well.”
Ellerson has had freshman quarterback Tevin Long simulate Reynolds in practice, but Reynolds’ skill sets are tough to duplicate.
“Tevin does a great job with that in terms of allusiveness and getting to the perimeter quickly,” he said. “He doesn’t throw like Keenan, but he is the same kind of moving target.”
As for targets, outside Reynolds there is no one Navy player on which Army may need necessarily focus. The Midshipmen have eight running backs with triple figures in yards, the most being the 377 gained by Chris Swain. But add up everyone and the 320.1 yards per game Navy accumulates on the ground is third in the nation, just 2 ½ yards less than No. 2 Army. In 10 games, wide receiver DeBrandon Sanders has made 11 catches for a team-high 211 yards.
“It’s not only knowing what you are looking at but being able to practice what you are looking at. Both defenses benefit from the fact that we can simulate this stuff,” Ellerson said. “Typically, the opponent doesn’t have the tools, the understanding or the background to prepare their defense with the speed of the game. Obviously, that is a part of it, but I think there is a real understanding of the game. This is one of those games where we say, ‘We know that they know, that we know what they know,’ and you can screw yourself into the ground pretty tight because we know the coaches and players very well, and they know us.”
Rushing yards aren’t the only numbers at which Army and Navy rank high nationally. Navy has completed the fewest penalties per game, just 2.82; the Midshipmen’s 23.09 penalty yards per game is also the best in the nation. Army is No. 6 in the nation with both the fewest penalties per game (3.73) and penalty yards per game (30.91). Navy has lost only four fumbles, which is No. 3.
Nevertheless, it is the Navy defense that's been keeping him up nights.
“As I’ve said, our team and Navy’s team are playing each other for the first time,” he said. “There are some guys from our team and from their team that were out there last year but this iteration of the 2013 Army-Navy football game is entirely unique and no points carry over. Having said that, I would argue that this is as good as, or better, than any Navy defense we have faced. They are a really solid outfit and they know their business.”
During the course of Army’s 11-game losing streak to Navy, the Black Knights have averaged less than 13 ½ points per game. That includes one shutout (in 2008) and three additional games in which they were held to single-figure scoring.
“We’ve faced this defense over the years,” he said. “They’ll adjust to the iterations that we come up with. We’re paying attention to the nuances, but they don’t get very far away from their base defense when they play us. That’s very typical of teams that play defense well against our offense. They don’t get too creative in their preparation for the offense. They find the answers within their own systems. Their defense shares the same practice environment with an offense that is fundamentally very similar to ours. They’ll have a well-informed approach. Sometimes folks will look at what we’re doing and it’s just different enough to their background that they’ll assume some things about us that aren’t necessarily accurate. That won’t be true on Saturday.”