Head-to-head: Navy vs. Air Force

Navy and Air Force meet this Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Last year the Falcons defeated the Mids 14-6 in Colorado Springs to end its seven game losing streak against Navy. Navy enters the game fresh off a bye week after a tremendous effort against number No. 10 ranked South Carolina on the road.

South Carolina picked off Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor's final fourth down pass with one minute to go in the game to hold off the Mids, 24-21. Air Force enters the game off a 63-24 rout of FCS Tennessee State. The Falcons posted a school record 792 yards of total offense against the badly outclassed Tigers. The Navy-Air Force winner has won the last 14 Commander-in-Chief's Trophies.

Air Force
Navy rushing offense
Air Force rushing defense
Navy enters the game ranked fourth in the nation in rushing averaging over 358 yards per game on the ground. Kriss Proctor leads the team in rushing this season (267 yards, 4.9 per carry and 4 TDs). The Navy-Air Force battles have seen the Falcons often take away the slotbacks. Former Navy head coach Paul Johnson compared these battles between the tackles to "playing in a phone booth." If that holds true Kriss Proctor and fullback Alexander Teich (260 yards, 5.9 per carry and 1 TD) will be relied upon to carry the offense. Last year Teich's longest run against Air Force was just eight yards. Slotback Gee Gee Greene (505 yards, 5TDs in 2010) is currently averaging 10.5 yards a carry. John Howell (158 yards, 17.6 per carry!, 3 TDs) has emerged as a homerun threat since replacing Aaron Santiago in the starting lineup. Blocking on the perimeter by wide receivers Doug Furman and Brandon Turner will be a key to this game. The past three years the Mids have struggled getting the slotbacks involved as Navy's wide receivers struggled to block the Falcon cornerbacks.

Air Force has defended Navy's spread option as well as any other opponent. The last three years have been trench wars inside that would make the Army jealous. The Falcons have been able to limit Navy's slotbacks in the most recent three games. This year Air Force has struggled against the run as their defensive line has been devastated by injuries. The Falcons are ranked 97th in the nation and are allowing 192 yards per game. Nick DeJulio is filling in for injured nose guard Ryan Gardner who is expected to be out for the season. Senior defensive end Zach Payne (55 tackles 2010) injured his knee and is expected to miss the rest of the year. While the defensive line is battling injuries, Air Force has a group of talented linebackers ready to play. Last year's leading tackler, Jordan Waiwaiole (96 tackles), anchors the inside linebacker spot in the Falcons 3-4 defense. Next to him is this year's leading tackler on the front seven, Brady Amack, who has made 20 tackles. Senior Pat Hennessey (60 tackles in 2010) is currently doubtful with a broken thumb. He is being replaced by sophomore outside linebacker Jamil Cooks. Cooks played mostly special teams as a freshman and made his presence felt in the series last year when he jumped over Navy blockers to block an extra point and a punt.  
Navy passing offense
Air Force passing defense
While Navy was expected to return to its purist triple option roots with Kriss Proctor at quarterback, his passing has been much better than expected. No one is making comparisons of Proctor to Steve Young but he's been effective. Proctor has completed 12-of-23 passes for 207 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Against South Carolina Proctor completed 5-of-9 passes for 61 yards with an interception on Navy's final offensive play of the game. Proctor completed his first pass on Navy's second touchdown drive. It was a nice throw to senior Bruce Andrews on a third down pass for an eight yard gain. It was the first career catch for Andrews who was the star of this summer's training camp. Following a delay of the game penalty that left the Mids deep in their own territory, Proctor, on third down and long, rolled out and hit Bo Snelson for a 33-yard gain that led to a touchdown. Wide receivers Matt Aiken (3 catches, 65 yards and 1 TD this year) and Brandon Turner (3 catches, 56 yards and 1 TD this year) are tied for the team lead in catches.

To add to Air Forces injury woes starting cornerback Chris Miller will miss Saturday's game with a leg injury he sustained last week against Tennessee Tech. He will be replaced by sophomore Steffon Batts. The other three starters in Air Force's defensive secondary are familiar faces to the Mids. Senior safety Jon Davis (93 tackles, 3 INTs in 2010) was named All-Mountain West Honorable Mention last year. He currently leads the team with 22 tackles. Senior cornerback Anthony Wright, Jr. (50 tackles, 11 career INTs.) is an All-Mountain West conference performer who seems to have been playing for eight years. Sophomore safety Anthony Wooding, Jr. (30 tackles in 2010) and junior cornerback Brian Lindsay (32 tackles in 2010) are also key members of the secondary for Air Force.  
Air Force rushing offense
Navy rushing defense
Air Force football is ranked number one in the nation averaging over 411 rushing yards per game. Last season's leading rusher is senior running back Asher Clark (182 carries, 1,032 yards, 5 TDs). This year Clark once again leads the Falcons rushing (291 yards, 8.8 avg. per carry, 1 TD). Clark became the Air Force all-time leader among running backs in rushing yards against Tennessee State. Two juniors share the starting the fullback role, Wes Cobb (88 yards) and Mike DeWitt (154 yards). Senior quarterback Tim Jefferson (150 yards, 2 TDs) has distributed the ball well with four players currently over 100 yards rushing. Ball security has been a problem for the Falcons with nine fumbles and five being lost.

Navy ranks 101st in the country in stopping the run after giving up 246 yards to South Carolina's superstar running back Marcus Lattimore. Inside linebacker Matt Brewer made 9 tackles and forced another fumble against South Carolina Wes Henderson (5 tackles) made a huge tackle dropping Lattimore for a loss on fourth down and two yards to give Navy the ball back late in the fourth quarter and a chance to win the game. Navy expects to have injured outside linebackers Jarred Shannon , Keegan Wetzel and Mason Graham to be available to play against Air Force. Navy co-captain Jabaree Tuani has dominated at the point of attack.  
Air Force passing offense
Navy passing defense
Tim Jefferson had a terrific passing day against Tennessee Tech completing 11-of-13 passes for 178 yards with three touchdowns passes. So far this year Jefferson has completed 4.9% of his passes for 357 yards and has thrown four touchdown passes. Jefferson became the all-time leader for wins among Air Force starting quarterbacks last week. At wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka (4 catches, 18.5 per catch, 1 TD), Mikel Hunter (4 catches, 29.8 per catch, 2 TDs) and Zach Kauth (8 catches, 11.4 per catch, 1 TD) has a number of speedy targets. Preseason All-Mountain West offensive guard A.J. Wallerstein (6-4, 285 pounds) is the best of an experienced group of lineman.

Navy's new secondary has played well this year. The Mids are ranked 16th in the nation in pass defense allowing only an average of 167 yards per game. Navy has done a nice job generating some pressure especially from Tuani and Jamal Dobbs. Cornerback David Sperry has made 13 tackles and intercepted a pass this year. Matt Warrick (8 tackles, 1 pass defensed) hit Garcia on the opening drive of the second half forcing his pass to float which was intercepted by Navy rover Kwesi Mitchell (4 tackles, 1 INT). Against South Carolina, Navy was able to generate some pressure on Garcia with Bryce French and Tra'ves Bush recording sacks. The tackling by the cornerbacks has been better than last year's efforts.  
Special Teams
Air Force has historically been very good on special teams and this year looks to be no exception. New kicker Parker Herrington has hit 3-of-4 field goal attempts. Punter David Baska has averaged 44.7 yards on his seven punts. Jon Davis and Mikel Hunter have both returned punts and as a team the Falcons are averaging 12.5 yards per punt return. Air Force is averaging 24 yards per kickoff return.

After the Mids special teams coverage units struggled in the rain against WKU they played extremely well against South Carolina. The kickoff coverage allowed only17.7 yards on three returns. Pablo Beltran had one directional punt that sliced too much and only traveled 29 yards. Jon Teague's kickoffs were excellent. Marcus Thomas once again did a solid job on kickoff returns. Plebe Chris Ferguson had a huge hit on the opening kickoff return of the second half forcing a fumble which was recovered by South Carolina. Jon Teague has missed three extra points but he's connected on both field goal attempts this season.  
Troy Calhoun is the only coach in service academy football to lead his teams to at least eight wins and a bowl game in each of his first four seasons. Last season he became the only coach in Air Force history to win at least eight games four straight years. Calhoun has dramatically changed the culture at Air Force from the last few years under Fisher DeBerry era (2004-2006, 13-21 .382). Calhoun's teams are physical, chippy and aggressive.

Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo always has seemed to have his team well prepared for big games. Niumatalolo has defined the key to the success for a Navy season is winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Niumatalolo is 5-1 against the other service academies as a head coach.
The Mids are 16-1 in their last 17 games against the other service academies. This Navy team is playing well and wants the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy back. With the noon kickoff this game will be essentially at 10 AM for the Falcons players.  

PREDICTION: Navy, 27-20. Air Force's injuries and their run defense statistics suggest Navy's offense could have a big day. However, even with the injuries Air Force knows how to defend the option and will keep it a close game that is a little higher scoring than the last few years. Commander-in-Chief's Trophy returns to Annapolis.

See what Navy fans are saying about this upcoming game in the GoMids.com GoMidshipmen FORUM.

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