We are now a third of the way through our breakdown of Navy's football opponents for the 2013 campaign. Next up on the schedule is the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series against Air Force.
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 5; 11:30 am. EST
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, Md.)
LAST SEASON: 6-7 (5-3 MWC, 4th place in Mountain West; Lost 33-14 to Rice in the Armed Forces Bowl)
CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not Ranked
SERIES HISTORY: Air Force leads, 18-27. (Last meeting: Navy 28, Air Force 21, in game five last season)
OFFENSE: Let's look at the Falcons strengths first. For a team bringing back just nine starters the Air Force offensive line is experienced and deep. The Falcons (like Navy) seem to have been in the top five teams in the nation in rushing since the category was invented, and with all the question marks over the skill positions this unit will have to perform at a high level once again. Of the 17 seniors on the roster just about half (eight) are offensive linemen, and each of those eight has seen game time before. If experience counts for anything this unit will be very good.
The problem for the Falcons is that they may have to be better than good, especially early in the season. Air Force lost its top four rushers from a year ago and they are also trying to find a new quarterback to step into the void left by Connor Dietz. The obvious replacement for Dietz is junior Kale Pearson who saw action in ten games last fall. Pearson however did little to separate himself this spring and may find himself under pressure from the taller and stouter sophomore Jaleel Awini if the Falcons falter out of the gate.
Conclusion: For an offense so focused on the run it is worth noting that the best all around player on the Falcons attacking unit is actually listed as a wide receiver. Ty MacArthur is a livewire and a threat to score on every touch so expect to see Air Force scheme multiple ways for him to get the ball. No one else out there should threaten the Mids so seeing coverage shifted toward MacArthur's location would be no surprise. This is the battle to watch on the Navy defensive side of the ball.
DEFENSE: After a weaker than average defensive season in 2012 the Falcons are expected to be better this fall. The secondary has the potential to be one of the best in the league, and the defense as a whole is loaded with youth and athleticism. The front seven especially has a boom or bust look to it as Air Force looks to embed a host of new starters into their scheme, but if this unit can hold up better against the run than previous iterations then Air Force will have a chance to compete in most of their games.
As mentioned this defense will be led by the secondary. Three starters return from a year ago, each of whom has a shot at All-Conference honors by the end of the season. Seniors Chris Miller (56 tackles) and Steffon Batts (77 tackles, 2 interceptions) at cornerback and junior Christian Spears (91 tackles) at safety combine to form an outstanding back end if the boys up front can hold up their end of the bargain. The biggest concern is at linebacker where the Falcons are having to replace all four starters in their 3-4 base defense.
Conclusion: How the linebacking position works out will in many ways define the Falcon's season. Though there are plenty of athletic linebackers on the roster the total lack of experience (just three combined starts) could kill Air Force during the first half of the year. If that turns out to be the case then Navy, and the triple option attack which specifically picks on linebackers missing reads, will get the Falcons at just the right time.
Other Factors: Though the Falcons are currently without a starting kicker, the odds are that whoever wins the job should do better than last year. Parker Herrington had a miserable season which saw him go just 4-of-10 on field goal attempts and a horrible 1-of-6 from 30 yards or longer.
Conclusion: With Army having issues replacing graduated starters of their own there is a strong feeling that the winner of this one will go on to take the CIC Trophy. Certainly the victor will be in pole position for that honor, and with all the changes in personnel on the Air Force team, Navy has to be happy with where this game falls on the schedule. Keenan Reynolds will have the Mids rolling through the early part of the season and his ability to make the correct read on the option plays will prove to be the Falcons undoing.
Preseason Preview: Navy vs. Air Force
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