HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. AIR FORCE

Navy meets rival Air Force on Saturday in Colorado Springs. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

The Navy Midshipmen travel out West to face the Air Force Falcons in Colorado Springs. Its the first leg in the annual battle for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy. Navy enters the game with a rather disappointing 2-3 record and have a two-game losing streak. The Falcons are flying high at 3-1 off their impressive home win over Boise State. Last year the Midshipmen overcame a halftime deficit to defeat Air Force 28-10 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The winner of this game has won the last 17 Commander-in-Chief's Trophies.

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
AIR FORCE PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Navy enters the game ranked first in the nation in rushing after running for 412 rushing yards, 7.9 per carry and four touchdowns against Western Kentucky. Reynolds ran for 121 and two touchdowns on 21 carries last week but lost a costly fumble on the mesh that set up a short field for WKU's first score. Navy produced 273 rushing yards and scored four rushing touchdowns against Air Force last year. Keenan Reynolds rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns in what was Navy's largest margin of victory over the Falcons since 1978. Demond Brown took pitch 38-yards for his first career touchdown in last year's victory over Air Force. B-back Noah Copeland (345 yards., 8.4 avg., TD) broke off a 41-yard touchdown run last week.

Air Force has defended Navy's spread option as well as any opponent over the years. Air Force's 3-4 defense has played the run well after struggling in 2012 on defense. The Falcons are ranked an impressive seventh in the nation and are allowing just over 82 rushing yards per game. The Falcons leading tacklers are their inside linebackers. Senior linebacker Jordan Pierce leads Air Force with 30 tackles, six tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a blocked kick and a pass broken up. Last week he matched his season high of 10 tackles versus Boise State while adding a tackle for loss and his second interception of the season. Pierce returned it 56 yards to set up a score. His fellow inside linebacker Connor Healy has made 26 tackles, a fumble recovery and forced a fumble. Defensive end Alex Hanson (36 tackles in 2013) posted a season high six tackles last fall against the Midshipmen.

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
AIR FORCE RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Keenan Reynolds had the worst passing game of his career last week. He was totally out of synch with his receivers all day. Reynolds completed only 3-of-14 passes for 55 yards with an interception. Western Kentucky stacked the box and dared Navy to throw. Reynolds had opportunities to complete long passes but he was repeatedly off the mark. Navy got the ball back with 1:36 remaining, but Keenan was picked off on fourth down by Wonderul Terry who returned the interception 43-yards for a not so wonderful touchdown. On the season Reynolds has completed just 21 of 48 passes (43.8%) for 336 passing yards while throwing a touchdown pass and an interception. Wide receiver Jamir Tillman leads the team with ten catches for 198 yards and a touchdown. Navy ranks dead last in the country in sack percentage allowed. Last year it seemed the Mids planned to challenge the Falcons by passing the ball more than usual. Air Force however was able to generate pass rush pressure. Navy allowed two sacks and Reynolds had to pull the ball down and scramble a few times.

The Air Force secondary is ranked 120th in the nation in pass defense. They are coming off a huge effort against Boise State where they forced five interceptions. Sophomore strong safety Weston Steelhammer led the way with three interceptions in the game. Steelhammer also leads the team with three sacks as the Falcons have been a lot more aggressive using the blitz this season to help their secondary. They have recorded eleven sacks so far this year. Navy can probably have success throwing against the Air Force cornerbacks but the key question is whether they will be able to pass protect.

AIR FORCE PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson has completed 37-of-64 passes (57.8%) for 517 passing yards and three touchdowns. He has thrown the ball for over 200 passing yards twice in four games. His best performance was against Georgia State when he completed 12-of-15 passes for 224 yards and two scores. The Falcons leading receiver is Junior Garrett Brown who has 16 catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Brown is a dual threat who has run for 134 rushing yards, a 6.7 average and a score. Sophomore wide receiver Jalen Robinette has the size and speed rarely seen in an Air Force receiver. Robinette has 12 receptions for 238 yards and averages 19.8 per catch. The Falcons do a much better job protecting their quarterback than the Mids. They are ranked 26th in the nation in sack percentage.

Navy's secondary enters the game ranked 75th in the nation in pass defense. Chris Johnson (38 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 PD, FR, FF) made two interceptions to end two consecutive fourth quarter Air Force drives last year which secured the win. Free safety Parrish Gaines (18 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 INT, PD) earned First-Team FBS All-Independent honors last fall. Kwazel Bertrand (34 tackles, 2 PD) made a huge tackle stopping AF fullback Broam Hart on fourth-and- 2 for no gain early in the third quarter in last year's game.

AIR FORCE RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: The Falcons enter the game ranked fifth in the nation in rushing at 323 yards per game. Jacobi Owens leads the team with 539-rushing yards, a six yard average and four scores. Air Force has moved away from the flexbone and uses more multiple formations and sets. Quarterback Kale Pearson has run 48 times for 200 rushing yards, a 4.2 average and three touchdowns. The Air Force staff runs less option plays because they want to avoid their quarterbacks taking so many hits. Pearson was injured in the opening game last year and missed the rest of the reason. Devin Rushing (148 yards, 6.4 avg., TD) provides most of the speed on the perimeter. Fullback Broam Hart ran for 469 yards and six touchdowns last year. He's been battling injuries (93 yards, 3.7 avg., TD) and has lost most of his carries to the more talented Owens. Senior center Michael Husar, Jr., is the best player on what has been a productive offensive line.

Navy ranks 101st in the country in stopping the run. They are allowing 201 rushing yards per game. The Mid run defense allowed WKU 164 rushing yards, 4.8 yards a carry and a touchdown last week. Tailback Leon Allen ran for 102 rushing yards. Obi Uzoma (22 tackles, TFL, QH) is the new starting raider linebacker to help the Mids hold up better against the run. Sophomore inside linebacker Daniel Gonzales (32 tackles) had a key interception last week. He was a tackling machine when he was named NAPS defensive MVP in 2012. The Mids allowed 231 rushing yards, 4.1 yards a carry but just one rushing touchdown to the Falcons last year.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: AIR FORCE
REMARKS: Will Conant has a very strong leg and handles both the kicking and punting duties for the Falcons. Conant has hit all 14 PATs and six-of-seven field goals this year. He has hit four field goals over fifty yards during his career. Conant is averaging 45.0 yards per punt with eight inside the 20 and four punts over fifty yards. Drew Oehrle has 12 touchbacks on his 24 kickoffs. Jalen Robinette averages four yards per punt return and Jon Lee averages 20.6 on kickoff returns. Air Force has historically excelled on special teams. They have blocked two kicks this season. The Falcons have blocked 25 kicks since 2007 under head coach Troy Calhoun.

Navy’s punter Pablo Beltran was one of Navy's best players on field against Western Kentucky. He placed three punts inside the 20-yard line and the one that was ruled a touchback actually looked like it was downed at the 1-yard line. On the season he is averaging 44.8 yards per punt, with six inside the 20-yard line and five boomed over fifty yards. Kicker Nick Sloan missed a chip shot against WKU and is really struggling. Sloan has hit only three of seven field goal attempts this year. Calvin Cass Jr. and Demond Brown will return kickoffs with the injury sidelining Ryan Williams-Jenkins. Parrish Gaines doesn't offer much of a return threat as a punt returner but he has reliable hands. Navy's coverage teams are outstanding.

COACHING
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Troy Calhoun record is 55-43 after seven plus seasons with the Falcons. He is 2-5 vs. Navy. Calhoun is the only coach in the 100-plus year history of service academy football to lead teams to at least seven wins and a bowl game in each of his first five seasons. He has been honored as the Mountain West Coach of the Year and was once a finalist for national coach of the year. He's done a good job in rebuilding his team after last year's 2-10 disaster. Calhoun's teams are known for their physical, chippy and aggressive play. His offense features multiple formations and looks.

Ken Niumatalolo has a 51-33 (.607) record in his seventh season as Navy head coach. He is second all-time at Navy in career wins. He is also the fastest in school history to reach 50 wins. Continuity is a key reason for his success. Navy has lost just three coaches in the seven years Ken Niumatalolo has been the head coach. Navy has the most coaches in the country that have been at the same school for ten years or more. Last year Ken Niumatalolo's staff halftime adjustments against Air Force all worked and allowed the Mids to take control of the game. It was Navy's largest margin of victory over Air Force since 1978.

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Air Force leads the overall series, 27-19. The Falcons enter this game confident off their impressive home victory over Boise State. Navy has won nine of the last 11 games in the series. Navy expects to win all their games against fellow service academies. The Mids have established themselves as the dominant service academy program. Navy has won 21 of the last 23 games since the 2002 Army-Navy game.

PREDICTION: NAVY 28, AIR FORCE 20. Navy hasn't played a complete game so far this year. They are coming off two tough losses but I believe they are the more talented team and have played a tougher schedule. The Midshipmen are still the best service academy team and I expect them to prove it in Colorado Springs.

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