HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. AIR FORCE

Navy meets Air Force on Saturday in Annapolis. 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 host Air Force in the first leg of the race for the Commander-in Chief’s Trophy on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Mids look to revenge their most disappointing loss last year and reclaim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. Last fall Air Force quarterback Kale Pearson completed a touchdown pass to Garrett Brown with 35 seconds remaining as Air Force defeated Navy 30-21. The game was tied at halftime but the Falcons held Navy's rushing attack to just 36 rushing yards in the second half  Reynolds tried to rally the Mids late as he hit DeBrandon Sanders with  a 40-yard touchdown pass with 2:14 remaining in the game. Air Force recovered the on sides kick and drove for a touchdown for the win. Keenan Reynolds played this game with a knee brace which limited his performance. The winner of this game has won the last 18 Commander-in-Chief's Trophies.

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
AIR FORCE PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: AIR FORCE

REMARKS:  Keenan Reynolds completed three of his four passes for 40 passing yards and a touchdown last week. Reynolds has completed 10-of-17 passes (58.8%) for 148 passing yards and a touchdown this season.  Jamir Tillman has caught six of the passes for 97 yards, a 16.2 average and a touchdown. Reynolds threw a bullet 19-yard post pattern in the end zone to Tillman for a touchdown against UConn. Tillman made a great catch going up to get the ball.  Reynolds struggled in last year's game as the knee brace he was forced to wear at the time affected his throwing motion. Reynolds hit Debrandon Sanders for a 40-yard touchdown pass with 2:14 remaining in the game. Sanders broke a tackle and used his speed to score. Navy's offensive line was unable to pass protect against Air Force last year. Reynolds was sacked three times and under pressure all game.

Air Force defense is ranked is 33rd in the nation, allowing only just over 125 passing yards a game. Junior strong safety Weston Steelhammer is on the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List and Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch. He is a good player. Steelhammer has 17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, a sack, an interception and a pass break-up.  Steelhammer had six tackles an interception and sack against San Jose State. He was named Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week after that game. Junior Roland Ladipo has been impressive in his first season as a starter at cornerback. Ladipo leads the team in tackles with 21 overall and has a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. He leads the Falcons with four pass breakups and an interception. He had his first career pick in the season opening win over Morgan State, returning it 22 yards for the first touchdown of his career. Ladipo has led the Falcons in tackles the last two games. Air Force defensive end Alex Hansen has already posted three sacks and the Falcons have 11 sacks this year. Hansen has always played well against the Midshipmen. 

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
AIR FORCE  RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

REMARKS:  Navy enters the game ranked third in the nation in rushing as they are averaging 363 yards per game. Last week Reynolds ran 28 times for 142 yards and three touchdowns. Reynolds has scored 73 career rushing touchdowns. It’s the most in NCAA history by a quarterback and tied for the second most in NCAA history among all players for rushing touchdowns. Keenan trails record holder Montee Ball of Wisconsin by just four scores. Navy ran for 251 rushing yards, 4.6 per carry and two touchdowns last year against the Falcons. The Mids ran well early but had just 36 rushing yards in the second half. Reynolds played with a knee brace and ran for only 27 times and one touchdown on 21 carries. He lost a costly fumble on the mesh that set up an AF score. Fullback Chris Swain (307 yards, 6.1 avg., 2 TDs). Swain showed his speed and explosiveness in last year’s game against the Falcons when he scored on a 46-yard touchdown run.  

Air Force has defended Navy's spread option as well as any opponent over the years. Air Force runs well to the ball and will get off their blocks. The Air Force's 3-4 defense has played the run well this year. The Falcons held Michigan State's highly regarded offensive line to just 77 yards rushing and a 1.8 per-carry average. You can dismiss that the Falcons were selling out to stop the run but that was an impressive performance. The Falcons lead the Mountain West and are ranked 13th nationally in total defense with a 269.7 average Air Force senior Connor Healy and younger brother, junior Patrick, are the only pair of brother starting linebackers in the nation. Connor Healy is third on the team in tackles with 14 while Patrick has posted ten tackles.

AIR FORCE PASSING OFFENSE

VS.

NAVY PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

REMARKS: Air Force quarterback Karson Roberts has completed 6-of-9 passes (66.7%) for 149 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception against Michigan State two weeks ago. In 2013 Roberts completed 21-of-43 passes (51.2%) for 273 yards and three scores with two interceptions. The Falcons leading receiver is Garrett Brown who has six catches for 129 yards and is averaging 21.5 yards per carry. Junior wide receiver Jalen Robinette has the size and speed rarely seen in an Air Force receiver. Robinette has four receptions for 120 yards and averages 30.0 per catch and two touchdowns. The Falcons have not allowed a sack in three games.

Navy's secondary enters the game ranked 72th in the nation in pass defense. Cornerback Brandon Clements (11 tackles, TFL, PD) played his best game last week against UConn. Clements made five tackles, had a tackle for a loss and broke up a pass.  Free safety Lorenzo Barbour (15 tackles, 2 PD) was not fooled by UConn's using a flea flicker on the second play of the game last week. He was fooled on UConn's slot receiver Tyraiq Beals 39-yard touchdown reception when he failed to provide deep help for striker linebacker Josiah Powell. Navy had five sacks last week and have a total of seven sacks so far this year.

AIR FORCE RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.

NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN

REMARKS: The Falcons enter the game ranked second n the nation in rushing at 367 yards per game. Junior fullback D.J. Johnson leads the Falcons in rushing with 210 yards and five touchdowns on 40 carries. Johnson and running mate Shane Davern lead the fullbacks, as the position has gone over 100 rushing yards in two of three games. Quarterback Karson Roberts has run 10 times for 44 rushing yards and no touchdowns since replacing injured starter Nate Romine. Roberts has experience running the offense two years ago but he's not as athletic as Romine. Jacobi Owens 103 rushing yards, a 5.7average. Air Force has moved away from the flexbone and uses more multiple formations and sets. Garrett Brown (125 yards, 15.6 avg., TD) provides a home run threat and speed on the perimeter. 

Navy ranks 38th in the country in stopping the run. They are allowing 128 rushing yards per game. The Mid run defense allowed UConn just 106 rushing yards, 3.4 yards a carry and no touchdowns last week. Micah Thomas (25 tackles, 2 TFL, Sack) led the Mids with 10 tackles, two tackles for a loss and recorded a sack last week. Thomas showed his speed running down Newsome for a 3-yard loss inside the twenty yard line on third down. Inside linebacker Daniel Gonzales (18 tackles, 1.5 TFL) made six tackles including one bone crushing hit last week. The Mids did a good job against the Falcons running game last year until they wore down in the second half. They allowed 198 rushing yards, 4.1 yards a carry and kept them out of the end zone. Navy couldn't get stops at the end as they were worn down by being on the field much of the second half.  Defensive end Will Anthony (15 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 1/2 sacks) had a huge game last year and the Falcons had trouble handling him.

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE: AIR FORCE

REMARKS: Drew Oehrle has a very strong leg hitting one of his two attempts this season. His only miss was from 55-yards out. He has 15 touchbacks on 17 kickoffs. Brett Dunn is averaging 41.1 yards per punt. Garrett Brown is ranked third nationally in punt returns with a 25.2 average. The speedy Brown had a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown against Morgan State. The Falcons have only returned four kickoffs so far this year for just an11.8 average. Air Force has historically excelled on special teams. They have blocked two kicks this season. The Falcons have blocked 28 kicks since 2007 under head coach Troy Calhoun. Senior Alex Hansen has blocked two kicks this year.

Navy’s kicker Austin Grebe continues his perfect streak as he has hit all his field goal attempts the last two years. Grebe has eight touchbacks in 22 kickoffs. Punter Alex Barta is averaging 49.5 per punt. Toneo Gulley had a nice 33-yard kickoff return but fumbled his other try after he was hit . He recovered it. DeBrandon Sanders has averaged 8.2 yards per punt return. Navy's coverage teams have been outstanding the last few years.

COACHING

EDGE: NAVY

REMARKS: Troy Calhoun record is 61-45 after eight seasons with the Falcons. He is 3-5 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. Calhoun's teams are known for their physical, chippy and aggressive play. His offense features multiple formations and looks. Calhoun has led Air Force to bowl appearances during seven of his eight seasons leading the team

Ken Niumatalolo has a 60-35 (.632) record in his eight season as Navy head coach. The Mids enter Saturday’s contest having won seven straight games and nine of their last 10 dating back to last year. Niumatalolo is the all-time winningest Navy coach in career wins. He is also the fastest in school history to reach 50 wins. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was limited by Keenan Reynolds injuries last year. The Falcons played man up on the slotbacks with safeties. Usually Navy makes big plays against that look. Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson's defense really turned on the pressure with five sacks last week against UConn. It was the most sacks in a game by Navy since 2006. .

INTANGIBLES

EDGE: NAVY

REMARKS:  Air Force leads the overall series, 28-19 but Navy is 9-8 in Annapolis. Navy is looking for payback after last year’s loss.  Navy has won nine of the last 12 games in the series. Navy has won 22 of the last 25 service academy games since the 2002 Army-Navy game. The Falcons enter this game confident after their victory last year.

PREDICTION: Navy, 24-20. Both teams enter the game playing at a high level. Navy is the better offensive team and this year. They have a healthy motivated Keenan Reynolds at quarterback. This should be a good game and I expect the Mids to get some payback at home.


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