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Navy at Air Force Preview

The race for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy begins

NCAA Football: Air Force at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday, October 1, 2016

Kickoff Time: 3:30 PM Eastern/1:30 PM Mountain

Location: Colorado Springs, CO

Stadium: Falcon Stadium

TV: CBS Sports Network

Streaming: CBSSports.com

Series Record: Air Force leads 28-20

Last Meeting: 2015, Navy 33-11

Betting Line: Air Force -7

Over/Under: 48


The Army-Navy game is considered one of the greatest college rivalries. But the winner of the Air Force-Navy game has won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy every year since 1997 (‘96 was the last time Army won the most prized possession of service academy football).

While Army’s fast start to this year may suggest they could finally make another run for the trophy, no one in Annapolis or Colorado Springs is worried about that right now. The Falcons and the Mids are getting ready to square off.

The Falcons, who have won the trophy more than any other service academy, will be looking to reclaim the trophy for the 20th time this year, while the Midshipmen look to win the trophy for the 16th time and keep it in Annapolis for the second year in a row.

Both teams are 3-0 and have high hopes. Whose dreams for academy glory will fall short?

Preview

Watching the service academies play is a unique experience, with all three specializing in some variant of an option offense. Passes in this game will be a rarity, used only when absolutely necessary or when the coaches decide to throw a surprise in there.

Defending the option can be tricky, especially for teams that aren’t used to it. But these defenses practice against option attacks all the time, so if anyone knows how to defend against it, it’s these guys. Expect to see option football at it’s finest.

With spread and air raid offenses, you hear about QBs spreading the ball around in the passing game to different receivers. Here, the ball gets spread around in the run game. 6 Falcons and 5 Midshipmen already have at least 10 carries this season, and there are many other players with at least 1.

Quarterbacks are essentially running backs with decisions to make. Air Force quarterback Nate Romine is the third leading rusher for the Falcons, with 42 carries for 153 yards. Navy is playing with backup QB Will Worth after Tago Smith was injured in the season opener. Worth is the 2nd leading rusher for the Mids, with 53 carries for 179 yards. In the limited passing games, Romine has thrown 13/32 for 364 yards with 3 TDs. Worth has thrown 14/23 for 267 yards and 1 TD. Neither has thrown an interception yet this year. Romine’s 3 TDs to Worth’s 1 would suggest Air Force is the bigger air threat (who woulda thought), but Navy has attempted fewer passes than Air Force yet has actually recorded 1 more reception. So expect to see Air Force throw the ball a little more often than Navy, but expect Navy to be more accurate. Still, Navy needs to remain vigilant, as Air Force is more inclined to take shots downfield. Two Falcon receivers have 62 yard TDs.

NCAA Football: Air Force at Utah State
Air Force’s Hayes Linn attempts to intercept a pass against Utah State.
Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Other key players to watch for: Air Force’s leading rushers Jacobi Owens and D.J. Johnson. Expect Johnson to get more touches, but expect Owens to make the explosive plays. However, Navy’s leading rusher Chris High averages just better than a 1st down per carry. His long is a 70 yard touchdown.

When Navy does throw the ball, it will most likely be to Jamir Tillman. If Air Force can lock him down, Navy’s passing game will take a big hit. Air Force favors Jalen Robinette, but not as strongly as Navy favors Tillman. This means even if Navy blankets Robinette, there are others who can get open.

Offensively, Air Force has outgained Navy so far, but not by much. The key differences are in the defenses. Air Force averages 262.7 passing yards allowed. That’s not ideal, but against a Navy team that isn’t going to pass very often, that may not be a huge problem, especially if they lock down Worth’s favorite target. Air Force’s rushing defense, however, averages only 51.7 yards allowed. That’s ridiculous. I highly doubt the Navy offense, which averages over 300 rushing yards a game, will be held that low, but it definitely suggests running the ball against the Falcons will be difficult.

Prediction

Although hate is probably not the best word when describing this rivalry, you better believe this will be one spirited game. One could argue that winning this game (and beating Army) are more important to these two teams than even winning their conferences.

Three things here influence my prediction.

One, this game is in Falcon Stadium. It’s a higher altitude than most stadiums, and the air is thin. I’m sure Navy has ways to prepare for this, but Air Force will definitely have the home field advantage.

Two, the Air Force run defense. I by no means expect them to hold Navy under 100 yards. Probably not even 200. But the Falcon run defense is superior to the Mids’.

Three, Keenan Reynolds is gone.

Air Force has the better run defense. If they can lock down Tillman, that should hamper Navy’s passing game. Despite being an option team, Air Force has a few playmakers at receiver.

It’ll be tough and hard fought, but the Falcons will make a big play through the air and stuff the Navy running backs just enough to pull it out.

Air Force 30, Navy 24