The Navy offense took a little while to get fully rolling last weekend, but when they did the ground game was way too much for Tulsa to handle. That win has Navy sitting at 4-0 on the season (and 3-0 in conference) as the team takes a break from AAC play on Saturday to take on Air Force. This is the first of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy games this season, a trophy Navy is looking to win back from the Falcons.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Find a way to run the ball
It is not often that Navy gets stopped its tracks when trying to run the triple-option. When it does though it is more often than not against a team that knows the system inside out and that has the advantage of playing the Mids on a yearly basis. This is exactly what happened in 2016 against Air Force as the Falcons shut down the Navy option and gave the Mids no realistic way of winning the game.
Air Force will stack the box against Navy and try to make the Mids into something they are not. Last season the Will Worth led Navy squad was only able to muster 57 yards on 38 rushing attempts against an active and disciplined Falcons front. That meant Worth had to take to the air, and he completed 17-of-30 passes for 260 yards and a couple of picks. When Navy posts a box score that looks like a middle of the road Big 10 team there is an issue, an issue that Air Force took full advantage of in a 28-14 win that wasn’t as close as it sounds.
Stop Air Force passing the ball
Of all the primarily triple-option based offenses, Air Force does the most in terms of throwing the football. Head coach Troy Calhoun has implemented so much over his 11 years at the helm that playing Air Force year after year is a totally different prospect based on the personnel he has at his disposal. The Falcons will line up under center or in the shotgun. They will run motion all over the place pre-snap and they will force defenders into mismatches and blown assignments. They are a hard team to prepare for.
Last season the Mids were caught off guard by the potency of the Air Force passing game. Quarterback Nate Romine hit touchdowns passes of 62 yards to Tim McVey and 75 yards to Jalen Robinette, burning Navy with their formations and ability to score on chink passes. Romine is no longer the starter after being replaced by Arion Worthman, but Air Force will still look to open up the playbook if the Navy back seven are not aware.
Air Force started the season with a couple of wins. Since then, though, the Falcons have dropped three straight and visit Annapolis having not won a game on the road yet this season. Competitive losses to Michigan and San Diego State were impressive, but the Falcons lost a bad one against New Mexico last week when they gave up over half a century of points to New Mexico in a 56-38 loss.
If Navy gets on top of Air Force early then there is every chance that the Falcons could start to feel the heat of not having won for almost a month. Confidence is a fragile thing in sport and after Richard McQuarley rushed for 179 yards and five touchdowns against them last week it is a fair bet that the Air Force mentality is shaky. If Navy can get a two score lead early then they could run away with the game.