Service Academy Football Update: Week 8

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Army moves to the head of the class among the academies.

Everything’s coming up West Point. On Friday, it was announced that Michie Stadium would host the 2020 Army-Navy Game. This means West Point will play host to each of Army’s Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy games this year.

After Friday’s big news, then came Saturday, when it became clear — at least to this observer — that the 2020 CIC Trophy is the Black Knights’ trophy to lose. Army certainly seems best positioned to establish service-academy football supremacy in this pandemic season.

Army’s win over Mercer, an FCS team, didn’t prove this point. The argument gained support from Air Force’s and Navy’s losses on Saturday. Air Force scored just six points in a loss at San Jose State in Silicon Valley, while Navy started brightly and played well on defense but simply got worn down by Houston as the game progressed.

Start with Air Force. The Falcons crushed Navy back on Oct. 3 in the first of the three CIC Trophy games of the year, scoring 40 points. Three weeks later — partly affected by a lack of regular game rhythm, partly hurt by injuries along the offensive line — the Falcons had little to offer on offense, scoring only one touchdown. Yes, the officials might have robbed the Falcons of a touchdown in the second quarter, but even then, they would have had only two for the whole game against a San Jose State team which had only 10 on-campus practice sessions before opening night due to the state of California’s strict COVID-19 restrictions.

Air Force — with quarterback Donald Hammond entering the transfer portal — couldn’t find solutions with its two starting guards out. Nothing about the team’s offense, rushing or passing, clicked. Then, later in the game, center Nick Noyen got hurt. Not having the team’s most talented quarterback, and not having much available depth up front, both overwhelmed Air Force’s offensive unit, and San Jose State was able to take advantage.

This is the Air Force offense which will have to go to West Point on Nov. 7 to face an Army defense which continues to breathe fire.

The Black Knights allowed a seven-minute field goal drive to Mercer in the first quarter, and that’s it — the Bears did nothing else the rest of the day. Army’s defense hasn’t played a bad game yet this season. Air Force’s offense, especially its offensive line, doesn’t seem to be in sufficient shape to challenge the Black Knights at the highest level of competition.

It is much the same at the Naval Academy, where Navy’s offensive line — which went through a rough season in 2018 before rebounding in 2019 — is once again lacking the ability to consistently gain leverage at the point of attack. Navy threw two long passes to either set up or directly score touchdowns in the first half against Houston. Yet, as soon as quarterback Dalen Morris overthrew a wide-open receiver in the end zone early in the third quarter — with Navy trailing 16-13 — the Midshipmen’s last best chance to win had come and gone. Navy missed a tying field goal two plays after that overthrow. Navy’s defense — which played far better than the 37-21 final score could possibly indicate — made one more stop. However, Morris then threw an interception on the Mids’ next drive. Houston barreled in for a touchdown and a 23-13 lead. Navy’s rushing attack couldn’t do anything against the Cougars’ defense. The lack of an offensive line which can blow opponents off the ball was laid bare for all to see. Navy’s passing game is an important part of Ivin Jasper’s offense, but it shouldn’t be the centerpiece of the offense. Yet, on Saturday, it was. Houston dodged that one bullet and then controlled Navy’s offense the rest of the way.

Navy’s offensive line, like Air Force’s, is in bad shape. Army’s defensive front has to like its chances in each of the upcoming CIC Trophy matchups, both played in Michie Stadium.

As said at the top, everything’s coming up West Point. The Black Knights have the week off before hosting Air Force on Nov. 7.

Navy’s next game is at SMU, where the Midshipmen have to find a way to control the ball with their ground game so that the Mustangs and quarterback Shane Buechele don’t get their hands on the pigskin very often. SMU played poorly on offense against Cincinnati, so Navy has to be worried that the Ponies will correct their flaws and play a much stronger game on Halloween.

Air Force hosts Boise State, the big Mountain West Mountain Division contest for the Falcons each and every season. Air Force is not meeting the Broncos under ideal circumstances, but perhaps the loss to San Jose State will enable coach Troy Calhoun to identify quick fixes in his team’s offense.