Army-Navy prepare after long layoff

The layoff between games for both Army and Navy feels more like the time spent getting ready for a bowl game. By the time the two archrivals play Saturday in Philadelphia, each team will have had three weeks off between contests.

The extra time off has been an added challenge for both teams to try to stay focused and fresh. One positive -- it has given banged-up players a chance to heal, and practices have not been as intense.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo tried to balance that with getting the game plan installed. His team normally practices during Thanksgiving, but this year he let his players go home for the holiday. The first week off was spent more to recuperate from injuries. Last week the game plan was installed and this week time has been spent finalizing and detailing the plan.

"I am concerned," Niumatalolo said in a phone interview. "I don’t know the formula. This is the first time we’ve had a three-week layoff. Our practices have been pretty short and concise. When you've got three weeks off, things can get mundane and redundant, so we wanted shorter, crisper practices. Hopefully it works. I don't know if this is the right formula. Saturday the proof will be in the pudding if it worked or not."

Navy (8-3) has won eight straight over Army (6-3), but the Black Knights are much improved going into this game. In fact, this is the first time both teams will be playing each other with a winning record since 1996. Army is in a bowl game for the first time since playing in the Independence Bowl that season, and comes into the game off a tough 27-3 loss to Notre Dame that has had to sit with it for a long time.

Army has also taken it easy in practice the way Navy has, hoping a slower pace will help the players.

"The coaches have done a nice job of spacing things out, pacing our practice tempo over the last couple of weeks," Army defensive end Josh McNary said in a phone interview. "Everybody wants to go out and redeem themselves, but we have been able to keep morale up day in and day out in practice. We're making sure we are executing the right assignments and putting forth the maximum effort we can. Good practices have shed a lot of optimism and added confidence in our ability to beat Navy."