Air Force Is Playing More Forcefully

The Air Force Falcons collapsed in the second half of the 2013 season, but before they did, they gave Navy a tough game in Annapolis on Oct. 5. That more rugged and formidable version of Air Force has been in evidence this season. Navy will have its hands full with the Falcons on Saturday. The Midshipmen have to demonstrate that being the better team in theory can become an actuality on the field.


AIR FORCE HASN’T FULLY ARRIVED, BUT THE FALCONS ARE CERTAINLY MOVING FORWARD

It’s a bit premature to say that Air Force is “back,” but the Falcons certainly aren’t languishing at the bottom of the Mountain West the way they did a season ago. That should be enough to get Navy’s full attention, as though the presence of a Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy game plus a highly frustrating losing streak wouldn’t be enough to snap the Midshipmen into shape.

Toss aside Navy’s own struggles for a moment. The Midshipmen are displeased with how they’ve started the season, but everything they want to do on an internal level must be accompanied by an appreciation of what Air Force has achieved this season.

Navy needs to realize that Air Force is not the 2-10 doormat that won only one FBS game a year ago. The Falcons thumped Boise State this past Saturday, taking a 28-0 lead before cruising to an easy 28-14 victory against an opponent one would not exactly call a pushover. Boise State has some significant flaws, but that’s a team with a strong defensive line. Air Force was simply able to play an essentially flawless game for 50 minutes before Boise State scored two meaningless garbage touchdowns as the fourth quarter moved along. Air Force’s defense was torn to shreds for much of the 2013 season. Very quickly, the Falcons have shown in the first month of the 2014 season that they’re going to be able to be much more formidable on that side of the ball. Air Force collected seven takeaways against Boise State, making the Mountain West’s foremost program look bad for four full quarters. That’s not an easy thing to do, or at least, it hasn’t been in recent years.

Navy’s offense has not been able to play seamlessly well on a prolonged basis in 2014. Mistakes and a general lack of big-play passing (the Rutgers game excepted) have put the Midshipmen in a 2-3 ditch. This game against Air Force might have seemed like a comparatively easier task at the beginning of the season, but it looks very threatening right now, no matter what Las Vegas or the sportsbooks might say about it. Air Force’s entire team might not be playing well enough to beat Navy right now, but its defense sure is, and that’s why Keenan Reynolds will need to bring his best stuff to Colorado Springs on Saturday afternoon.

It’s true that you’re not going to see Reynolds throw five interceptions in this game the way Boise State’s quarterbacks did this past weekend. Yet, Air Force bothered Boise enough to accumulate seven turnovers and pitch a shutout until garbage time, when a few cosmetic scores had no real impact on who won and lost that tilt. Navy didn’t even solve Air Force’s defense in the first three quarters of last year’s game, so the challenge for the Midshipmen is clear: announce their presence to the Falcons’ front seven, powering Air Force off the ball in an attempt to establish unmistakable control of this road game in the first half.

There is something to be said about Air Force’s 3-1 start: It could still be a mirage. The Falcons have played an FCS team (Nicholls State) and one of the worst FBS teams, a relative newbie in Georgia State. Boise State was the first quality scalp for the Falcons this season, and Boise State is horrible on the road. A lowly Connecticut team, playing at home, challenged the Broncos well into a game between the two schools a few weeks ago, staying fairly even with Boise until the 9:19 mark of the fourth quarter (when BSU finally took a two-possession lead, 31-21). If Air Force’s win over Boise State was more the result of the Broncos being bad as opposed to the Falcons being good (we’ll have to wait for the season to play itself out to arrive at a conclusion), the Midshipmen might still take the field as the superior team this Saturday.

Yet, that very statement underlines the true heart of the matter for Navy: The Midshipmen were supposed to be better than Rutgers, and they were supposed to be better than Western Kentucky. Yet, they weren’t. Navy cannot know for sure just how good Air Force has become in 2014, but the Midshipmen can’t deny that the Falcons are a lot better than they were a year ago. The Midshipmen also can’t ignore that any notions of being a favorite or an underdog haven’t meant a darn thing over the previous few weeks. Navy will just have to treat Air Force with enough respect to want to take hold of this game from the jump.

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