Service Academy Football Update: Week 9

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Twins: Navy and Air Force play the same losing game on Halloween evening.

It was fascinating to see Navy and Air Force play late-afternoon, early-evening games on Halloween. Both games unfolded in similar ways: They started as a treat, but then became a trick. The Midshipmen and Falcons both started brightly but couldn’t sustain the level of performance needed to beat two solid teams.

These losses are not bad losses, one must hasten to note. SMU and Boise State are both in the top 25 of the polls. SMU is in the hunt for a berth in the AAC Championship Game right now. Boise State – if Cincinnati loses a game – will have a shot at the Group of Five championship and a New Year’s Six bowl game. These losses tell us different things about Navy and Air Force, but it is first and foremost a fascinating reality that these games developed along such similar lines.

Navy led by seven after the first quarter. So did Air Force.

Navy got buried by a 31-point SMU second quarter. Air Force got crushed by a 21-point second quarter from Boise State.

Navy scored 17 points in the first half. Air Force scored 17 points in the first half.

Navy got shut out in the third quarter. Air Force did as well. SMU and Boise State both adjusted to the nuances of Navy’s and AFA’s offenses as these games wore on.

Navy scored 20 points in the fourth quarter in desperate scramble mode, as SMU’s defense put in backups and relaxed. Air Force scored 13 points in the fourth quarter in desperate scramble mode, as Boise State’s defense relaxed.

SMU 51, Navy 37. Boise State 49, Air Force 30. In suburban Dallas and in Colorado Springs, two conspicuously similar games unfolded.

SMU-Navy had 985 total yards and 52 first downs. Boise State-Air Force had 943 yards and 51 first downs. Navy forced one SMU turnover; it probably needed to force at least four turnovers to have a real shot. Air Force didn’t force a single Boise State turnover. It needed at least two if not three to have a chance.

What should we take away from these games? Let’s start with Navy.

The main story I derive from this loss is that Navy simply got caught in a bad cycle, while SMU took advantage of a situation in which it was set up to succeed. Navy is in a transition year after the loss of Malcolm Perry to graduation, and after the loss of an offensive line which maxed out in 2019. SMU, on the other hand, has veteran Texas transfer Shane Buechele at the controls of Sonny Dykes’ passing attack. SMU had the elite gunslinger while Navy is caught in between at several positions on its offense. This isn’t a game which “got away” from Navy so much as SMU established itself as the better team. There are losses which cause coaches and players to lose sleep; this isn’t one of them. SMU was better. One doesn’t have to like it, but one can relatively easily accept it.

The Air Force-Boise State game is a little harder to take for Air Force and its fans… but not in the way you might first think.

The story of this game for Air Force – in which it hung 30 points on a good Boise State defense – is that it magnifies the lost opportunity a week earlier against San Jose State.

If you noticed elsewhere in the country on Saturday night, New Mexico moved the ball fairly well against San Jose State – over 400 total yards — and scored 21 points. Air Force scored only six points against the Spartans. The Boise State game was a bad matchup for Air Force, which means this loss isn’t wrenching or uniquely problematic in itself. The loss, however, does magnify what happened a week earlier in Silicon Valley: The Falcons’ performance against San Jose State left a lot to be desired on offense. That game against SJSU looks so much worse in light of how AFA played Boise State.

What’s next? Navy begins a crucial multi-game homestand with Tulsa, one of only two AAC teams which hasn’t yet lost a conference game (though the Golden Hurricane should have lost to East Carolina; a bad call by the replay booth cost the Pirates late).

Air Force plays its biggest game of the season this coming Saturday. If the Falcons can knock off Army in West Point, they will win the 2020 Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. Army is coming off an idle week, so the Black Knights will be fresh and rested. Air Force figures to have a very tough time solving the Army defense, but Army’s offense has not been especially dependable this season. Expect a low-scoring game at Michie Stadium.