As the Navy Midshipmen get set to take on the Air Force Falcons in a game that could be significantly impacted by the path of Hurricane Joaquin, there is an added level of depth to what is already a formidable rivalry.
This year, in addition to the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy providing the backdrop for the annual service academy matchup, there will also be bragging rights on the line between the Mountain West and American Athletic Conferences.
We want to thank Duane Grasmick of Mountain West Connection for taking time to answer a few questions about what Navy fans can expect to see out of Air Force on Saturday.
1. Outside of Tulsa-New Mexico a couple weeks ago, this game between Air Force and Navy is the only matchup between MWC and AAC teams this year. With both conferences looking to prove to the CFP committee that they deserve the Group of 5 spot at the end of the season, how important do you feel this game is for the MWC and AAC?
I think it is crucial for both actually. Navy sitting at 2-0 in conference has put themselves in the driver's seat in their division. Navy, much like Air Force, would be a sentimental favorite if they were able to capture the conference title. They don't want a loss to the Falcons, especially at home, if they are going to get a look from the playoff committee.
This has been a rough non-conference season for the Mountain West. There have been some embarrassing losses by teams in the conference. Air Force is still seen as the fourth best team in the Mountain division by many people in the media, and even though they represented themselves decently against Michigan State, a loss to Navy would give them no shot at being a rep for the playoff committee if they were able to capture the conference title.
2. Karson Roberts appeared to show glimpses against Michigan State, but what impact if any does losing Nate Romine have on the Air Force offense this season?
He came on well in the second half. There were obvious jitters early, as he missed some pitches to the left and misread some fullback dive veer plays. Roberts was always seen as the more typical Falcons quarterback, but Romine is a gifted thrower and that seemed to be the plus in his winning the starting job during spring ball. I think the Falcons will not feel the loss of Romine with Roberts running the option and getting the ball distributed to all the offensive play makers.
3. What kind of matchup problem does Jalen Robinette provide for Navy's secondary?
Air Force has been extremely patient with Robinette to the point where you think the Falcons have forgotten him in the game plan. But, he is such a good blocker that when defensive backs constantly prepare to be blocked over and over again, he will eventually just blow by them for a big play. Roberts hit him for a big touchdown versus Michigan State, and the coaching staff has a good feel for when to get the ball to him. There will come a game where the Falcons will have to open it up, and Robinette will have one of those games that shows everyone why he could play in any system.
4. Air Force's defense has played well so far this season. What has been the key to their success and who are a few names Navy fans will know by the end of Saturday on defense?
The defense has been the story of the season so far. They have been great against the run, holding Michigan State who had a huge size advantage, to 77 yards on the ground. Up front, Alex Hansen is the best player as a defensive end. Hansen gets after the quarterback and is great against the run. He teams up with nose guard David Harris and defense end Samuel Byers to give the Falcons a solid defensive line. The linebackers are active and quick, led by Dexter Walker and Connor Healy. D.J. Dunn and Grant Ross don't start, but they play a lot and have been very impressive causing havoc and limiting opponents offensively.
Weston Steelhammer is the leader of the defense as a safety, and he has helped the three new starters around him. Kalon Baker and Roland Ladipo have been solid at corner, and while Michigan State did a good job in those one on one match-ups two weeks ago, Baker and Ladipo made them earn those completions. The Falcons might be getting a welcome surprise this week, as Gavin McHenry returns after serving six months of conduct/aptitude probation as a cadet not in good standing. It is believed he will play this weekend and will help the Falcons secondary tremendously.
5. The weather forecast is not pretty for Saturday's game. It's looking like it will be rainy and windy depending on the track of Hurricane Joaquin. Which team would this impact more in your opinion?
I think it is an equal impact. I think both teams would be just fine running the ball 100% of the time.
I am gonna go homer here, but the experience of Keenan Reynolds playing in his sixth (just kidding, but it seems like that) Air Force-Navy game is a big concern. I think the Falcons will win a tight 27-24 game.