Navy hosts Air Force on Saturday in Annapolis, MD. Here are your three keys to a Navy win over Air Force.
Here we go: It’s the first installment of the Commander In Chief’s Trophy series, and it’s a game Navy badly needs to win.
The Navy-Air Force series has been a home team series in recent years. The last time a road team won in this series was in 2012, when the Midshipmen went to Colorado Springs and avenged a loss to the Falcons in Annapolis in 2011.
Navy fell on hard times in 2017 and especially in 2018. A win here puts the CIC Trophy back in play for the Army game at the end of the season. It also would enable the Mids to wipe away the sting of the loss at Memphis, in which Navy grabbed a 13-point lead but allowed one kickoff return by the Tigers to have a domino effect on the rest of the game. Let’s explore what Navy has to do to regain the upper hand against its academy rival from Colorado.
Key 1 – Roll with the punches
Navy’s lack of resilience after Memphis’s kickoff return cut a 20-7 deficit to 20-14 was noticeable. Ken Niumatalolo owned up to that reality after the game. Yes, Navy wasn’t tested very much by either Holy Cross or East Carolina. The Midshipmen had off weeks between their Week 1 and Week 3 games, and then between Week 3 and Week 5, so the lack of regular weekly play might have been a factor there. Nevertheless, Navy looked like a team which didn’t know how to respond to a negative series of developments.
This is, in fact, Navy’s first game of the 2019 season played one week after a previous game. The ability to finally play in consecutive weeks (albeit not on consecutive Saturdays; the Memphis game was on a Thursday night) might give Navy more of a battle-hardened exterior. The Mids will need it, because Air Force has looked very solid through its first five weeks of the season. This game figures to be close, and it figures to be full of plot twists. Navy needs to accept that there will be a lot of turbulence. Calmly absorbing the bad blows is one of the competitive virtues the Midshipmen need to acquire – and display – on Saturday.
Key 2 – Pound Donald Hammond
Hammond sat out at the start of last week’s game for Air Force against San Jose State, but the quarterback was pressed into action when his replacement got injured. Hammond is playing with a sore ankle. Navy needs to make sure that if Hammond keeps the ball on an option play, he pays a physical price. Making Hammond aware of the physical challenge he will face in this game is an important message for Navy to convey in the early stages of this game.
Key 3 – Prime time for the O-line
Navy’s offensive line played one of the worst games of the Niumatalolo era last year against Air Force. Navy managed under 150 yards on the ground, one of its lowest outputs ever under Niumatalolo or Paul Johnson. The offensive line got dominated in Colorado Springs. Every member of that Navy offensive line who will be on the field this Saturday needs to take that game very personally and respond with a fire-breathing performance. If Navy can turn the tables with its offensive line play, it has a very good chance of beating the Falcons.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 3:00 ET. Watch on the CBS Sports Network.