Bobby Kough can still remember the moment Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds got away.
"Somebody tried to cut [block] me. I was right there to tackle him," Kough, a junior defensive end for Army, said earlier this week. "I didn't have any force or power in my legs, so it was just my upper body. He kind of ran opposite of me, and I slid off of him. He strung it out to the sideline and our guys couldn't get to him."
The next thing Kough (pronounced Co) saw, Reynolds was in the end zone after an 8-yard touchdown run, one that gave the Midshipmen the lead with 4:41 remaining in last year's game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
After a subsequent fumble by Army fullback Larry Dixon deep in Navy territory, the Midshipmen held on for a 17-13 victory. The win stretched Navy's winning streak in the annual game to 11 and secured the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for coach Ken Niumatalolo's team.
Kough and his defensive teammates did a pretty good job containing Reynolds, particularly on the ground, until the freshman made a series of big plays that also included a 49-yard pass to senior wide receiver Brandon Turner to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
When the service academy teams reconverge at the same stadium Saturday afternoon, the Black Knights will be trying to do what few have been able to accomplish lately — slow down Reynolds, whose 26 rushing touchdowns this season is one shy of matching the Football Bowl Subdivision record held by former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs (2009) and former Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein (2011).
Asked the difference in what he sees on tape of Reynolds this season compared to a year ago, Kough said, "He definitely looks more solid than last year. He's gotten more comfortable running the offense. He's the backbone, if not all of that offense."
Reynolds was held to 43 yards on 10 carries against Army, and he also coughed up a fumble. It was his fewest yards up until that point since taking over earlier in the season from Trey Miller as Navy's starting quarterback. Reynolds also completed 10 of 17 passes for 130 yards.
While he has been held in check a couple of times this season, Reynolds heads into Saturday coming off his most productive game at Navy. In a 58-52 triple overtime win at San Jose State on Nov. 22, Reynolds rushed 36 times for 240 yards and six touchdowns and completed 4 of 6 passes for 46 yards and a touchdown.
"He's gone from being a relative novice [running the triple option] to be absolutely expert in a relatively short amount of time," Army coach Rich Ellerson said of the sophomore. "Clearly he's different [from last year]. A lot of guys can get a lot of reps and not get close to where he is after a few months."
Army cornerback Chris Carnegie, who defended Turner on the long pass, said that most of the big plays Reynolds and the Midshipmen made a year ago were the result of the Black Knights "being out of alignment or something like that," but he quickly added that "if we do make a mistake, he'll capitalize on it and make things happen."
Carnegie said Navy might be at an advantage because of Reynolds' big play capabilities.
"All they need is one big play on offense; we need a bunch of big plays on defense," he said.
Still, Carnegie said, "We don't doubt we can shut him down to any extent. ... His backs don't look like they're always on the same page as they were last year."
Carnegie said the lack of a big-play receiver such as Turner, who graduated, and senior co-captain Matt Aiken, who tore his ACL against San Jose State, could also hurt the Midshipmen in Saturday's game.
But Carnegie also recognizes that others can do as much damage if the Black Knights focus on Reynolds.
A year ago, then-sophomore fullback Noah Copeland rushed 22 times for 99 yards and a touchdown. Because of injuries, Copeland has not played since the first half of Navy's Oct. 26 win over Pittsburgh, which came a week after he rushed for a career-high 153 yards on 28 carries in an overtime loss at Toledo.
Asked whether another player beside Reynolds can beat the Black Knights nearly by himself, Carnegie said, "Straight out beat us? I would say no. They're going to need a contribution from everybody to beat us."
Even Reynolds agrees with that.
"We've got a lot of guys that are capable of making big plays, that have made big plays throughout the season," Reynolds said after practice Wednesday night in Annapolis. "If they're going to take me away, we're just going to have find ways to make plays."
Kough has been waiting for another chance at Reynolds for a year.
"He does seem better this year. Watching game tape of him, it's really going to come down to assignments," Kough said. "We have contain guys. We have players to shadow the quarterback, the fullback. If each guy on the defense does his job, it should be a fight. We should be able to slow him down a bit. His legs are our biggest concern."
Ellerson played tape of Reynolds' touchdown run for his team on Tuesday.
"I said, 'C'mon coach, you've got to put that one in there?'" Kough said. "Coach said, 'You want to be that guy they run at. You want to be the guy who makes the big play.''Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun