Academy Preview: Reclaiming What's Been Lost
RECLAIMING WHAT'S BEEN LOST:
NAVY AND AIR FORCE ENCOUNTER INTERSECTIONS OF CHALENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
Reclaiming what's been lost – that's the theme this week for both Navy and Air Force, while Army takes the week off.
As mentioned a few days ago, the part of Navy's loss to Toledo that was hard to take was not so much the ultimate outcome, but the fact that Navy wasn't able to play as well on offense against Duke. If the Midshipmen can execute on offense the way they did against Toledo, they should be able to beat the Pittsburgh Panthers this upcoming weekend in Annapolis. Pittsburgh has been playing some indifferent, mediocre football in recent weeks. The Panthers listlessly skated by Old Dominion at home. Earlier in October, they managed just nine points in a loss to Virginia Tech. On the day of their best offensive performance of the season – a 58-point outing against Duke – the Panthers conceded 55 points.
Pittsburgh's record is 4-2, and yes, the Panthers probably didn't invest too much emotion or energy in their game over Old Dominion. Head coach Paul Chryst was likely preparing at least a little bit for Navy. Yet, the Panthers' lack of consistency on offense makes them vulnerable against Navy… if the Men of Ken Niumatalolo can do what they did against Toledo.
There's a neat and obvious tension point at work here in Pittsburgh-Navy. The Panthers and Midshipmen both played Duke this season. Pittsburgh's offense maxed out against the Blue Devils, while Navy – adjusting for the fact that Keenan Reynolds was injured against Western Kentucky – served up its worst offensive showing of the season in Durham, N.C. Navy won't get a second chance to beat Duke, but it will now get another shot at an ACC foe. If the Midshipmen can take care of Pittsburgh – ideally by flourishing on offense – the sting of the Duke loss will diminish considerably. Moreover, the uncertainties that have emerged regarding Navy's bowl hopes will be wiped away. It's time for Reynolds and the rest of coordinator Ivin Jasper's offense to stack together two straight quality performances.
For Air Force, much of what's been lost in the first half of the season can now be regained in the second half. Yes, it's not likely that the Falcons will gain a bowl bid, but they can at least give themselves a chance by taking down the toughest of their five remaining opponents, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. What's fascinating about this game is that it could be a battle of backup quarterbacks. Air Force, though, might have better options than Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish don't know if starting quarterback Tommy Rees will be able to play, due to a neck injury suffered last Saturday against USC. Rees, if he does manage to take the field, might not be effective at all, and with backup Andrew Hendrix under center, Air Force has a realistic shot at containing Notre Dame's offense. The Falcons' offense hasn't thrived in recent weeks, but with the benefit of a bye week, both Karson Roberts – on the mend from an injury – and Nate Romine should be prepared to play.
It's true that Notre Dame is a heavy favorite in Las Vegas, but if the Irish's offense struggles in the first half, Air Force – given an extra nine days to prepare – could catch Brian Kelly's team off guard. Notre Dame hasn't had extra time in which to get ready for the triple option, so if Roberts or Romine can produce a letter-perfect first quarter, this game could take a turn in Air Force's direction. Victory isn't likely, but it's a lot more possible than many experts might think.
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