AFAFalcons.com member "LRFHerk" for his opinion on AFA's matchup
with with Navy.
Overview: Two weeks after the then #20 Utah Utes, escaped Falcon stadium with a 30-23 victory, the Falcons will try to revive their offensive rhythm after their vaunted rushing attack produced only 53 yards against a fast and physical Ute defense. Against the Utes, the holes that Falcon QB Shea Smith had exploited with surgeon like precision in previous games were simply non-existent. The opportunistic Falcon defense kept Air Force in the game by producing two fumble recoveries, one of which was run back by DE Jake Paulson for a 25 yard score. Clearly, Air Force will have to generate a credible passing threat if they are to have continued success throughout this season. The Navy Midshipmen come to Colorado Springs bolstered by a very impressive 24-17 road win over #16 Wake Forest. Navy's defense outshined Air Force's defensive effort from the previous week by generating six turnovers in route to the upset. Unfortunately for the Middies, Navy lost their starting QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada to a re-aggravated hamstring injury. His prognosis seems doubtful for the match-up with the Falcons. Despite the loss of Kaipo, Air Force's defense will have to contend with his capable back-up Jarod Bryant and fullback Eric Kettani who rushed for 175 yards against the Demon Deacons. Air Force fans have been looking to this game since they watched their Falcons squander a fourth quarter lead last year at Annapolis which gave the Midshipmen their fifth straight Commander-in-Chief's trophy. Prior to the 5 game win streak by Navy, Air Force had won 13 of the previous 14 CIC trophies. With the departure of all-purpose star Reggie Campbell and Coach Paul Johnson from Navy, Falcon fans hope the youth movement at the Air Force Academy can return the trophy to the Springs.
When Air Force has the ball: The Utes stifled the Air Force ground game by stuffing eight men in the box and daring the Falcons to beat them through the air. Shea Smith made a few big passing plays with long throws to Kevin Fogler and a highlight reel grab from Josh Cousins. Cousins, a junior, saw increased playing time with the loss of senior receiver Spencer Armstrong to a broken leg suffered against the University of Houston. Cousins showed a great deal of talent, so look for him to become a vital outlet for Shea Smith while Fogler tries to stretch the field. The Falcon's passing game may be bolstered with the pending return of senior stand-out TE Travis Dekker. Dekker suffered a broken ankle late in the summer, but a return to the line-up against the Middies seems possible. If Air Force can establish a passing threat against a poor Navy secondary, it should open up some space for the spread option attack. If Shea Smith struggles with the passing game, the Falcons will be in trouble against the Navy run defense that allowed only 43 yards on 31 rushing attempts from Wake Forest. Prior to the start of the season, Troy Calhoun hinted that Shea Smith would share time with freshmen back-up QBs Asher Clark and Tim Jefferson. The duo played sparingly last game in the backfield, but Smith still took all the snaps. Coach Calhoun may increase the playing time of the athletic duo to bring more speed to the Air Force backfield. Though Air Force struggled last week to move the ball, the Navy defense faces the daunting task of facing a Troy Calhoun team that has had two weeks to prepare. Coach Calhoun has never been afraid to change things up when one method is not working, so expect some new wrinkles to the Air Force offense.
When Navy has the ball: Whether or not Kaipo-Noa plays, the game plan remains the same. Heavy doses of Eric Kettani and a precise option attack fueled by speedy tailback Shun White. The good news for the young Air Force defense is that Navy runs a very similar offense to Air Force, so the preparation will not be as much of a struggle as it is for other teams who are not used to the spread option. The other good news is that Air Force has been stout against the run this year. Expect junior SS Chris Thomas to be playing like a fifth linebacker. He could have a career day as he is probably the most talented defensive player on either team. Air Force's linebacking corps will face their toughest challenge of the year defending against Eric Kettani and Shun White, but they will get help stringing out the option from sophomore corner Reggie Rembert. Rembert stands only 5'7'' and tips the scales at 175 pounds, but he could prove to be the key to a successful Air Force defensive effort against Navy. Rembert will draw the duty of covering Navy's lone deep threat, 6'2'' Tyree Barnes, as well as helping to defend against White. Don't be fooled by his size, Reggie Rembert is the best athlete on this young Falcon team and his open field tackling abilities are second only to Chris Thomas. Furthermore, if the offense struggles, Reggie could see increased time on that side of the ball. If the defensive line of Air Force, led by Ryan Kemp and Jake Paulson, can continue to get the type of penetration they have all year, it could be a very long day for the Navy signal caller.
Outlook: Expect a defensive struggle in this one with the victor decided by special teams and turnovers. Air Force's defense has done a great job of creating turnovers this entire year, but Navy's effort against Wake Forest was the most dominant by either team. Shea Smith should get some more throwing opportunities but needs to do a better job of knowing when to throw it away as he has thrown 3 ints this year versus only two TDs on a mere 36 attempts. The special teams edge for Air Force has shrunk this year compared to previous years. Ryan Harrison has done an outstanding job connecting on 8 of 9 FGs, missing only once while playing in Dallas against Hurricane Ike. On the other side, the Navy kicking game, dismal in past years, is now a threat due to the capable leg of Matt Harmon. He has connected on 10 of 11 FGs this year, but only one from beyond 40 yards. These two teams look so even on paper it is tough to choose between them, but I give a slight edge to Air Force for home field advantage and playing after a bye week.
Air Force ends Navy's streak 20-17.