This was Navy's fourth consecutive win over Air Force, but it was the first of those four that was dominated by the Midshipmen from beginning to end. When the offense struggled early, the defense was immovable. When the defense needed a break, the offense put together sustained drives.
That makes it two straight games that the Mids have played well on both sides of the ball. It's a great time to be peaking, because the two toughest games on the schedule come over the next three weeks. Here's the position breakdown for the Air Force game:
Let's get the obvious out of the way first; yes, Brian Hampton is still having his struggles in the passing game. Yes, he's still underthrowing his receivers. But if he keeps directing the option attack the way he has the last two weeks, none of that will matter. Hampton has shaken off his early season struggles to become the field general that the Navy ground game needs. He's making his reads and cutting upfield when he has the ball. With the Air Force defense determined to stop the big play from Reggie Campbell, Hampton used his powerful legs to churn out yards inside. Air Force defenders who attempted to arm-tackle him were blown by; Navy's second quarter, 14 play, 80 yard TD drive was sparked in large part by Hampton carries, including a 4th down conversion. Hampton finished with 105 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries.
The "minus" is for Matt Hall's fumble. That was the only miscue to be had for the fullbacks on Saturday afternoon. Adam Ballard had 27 carries for 137 yards and was named the game's MVP. It is an honor he deserves, as his 5 yards per carry led to a Navy time of possession advantage of nearly 10 minutes.
Reggie Campbell had 7 carries for 58 yards on an afternoon where Air Force was clearly looking to take away the speedy slotback's big-play ability. Nobody else really made much noise carrying the football, but the blocking was solid and there were few mistakes.
Offensive line: A
Adam Ballard was able to average 5 yards per carry because he usually wasn't touched until he was 3 yards downfield. The Navy offensive line very rarely outweighs the defensive lines they line up against, but that was the case Saturday afternoon. Navy took full advantage, pushing the Air Force line back and re-establishing the line of scrimmage 2-3 yards downfield. It has become apparent that opposing defenses are focusing on taking the big-play ability of Navy's slotbacks out of the game and forcing Navy to run between the tackles. Navy's offensive line has answered the call time and time again.
Defensive line: B+
It was a sort of Jekyll and Hyde game for the defensive line. There were stretches where they were able to make plays and shut the Air Force option down, and there were stretches where they disappeared. Unlike their Air Force counterparts, though, the Navy D-line did not allow the Air Force O-line to push them around. John Chan led the way once again with six tackles and a sack.
There just aren't enough good things that can be said about the Navy linebacking corps. Adam Ballard's biggest competition for game MVP honors was probably David Mahoney, who absolutely terrorized the Falcon offense to the tune of nine tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble. Rob Caldwell chipped in nine tackles and a forced fumble of his own, plus a brilliant sack on a delayed blitz. Tyler Tidwell made seven tackles and broke up two passes at the line of scrimmage. The defense held the Air Force option to 193 yards, in large part to the rangy play of the Navy linebackers.
It had to be a difficult game for the Navy secondary to prepare for. While the Air Force option attack would clearly be the focus of the defense, the safeties and corners had to be aware of Shaun Carney's ability to make plays in the passing game. Job one, though, would be run support, and the secondary was up to the challenge. On Air Force's first couple of drives, Navy's safeties sold out to stop the run, particularly on the outside. Freshman standout Jeromy Miles did a particularly good job of stringing out Air Force pitch plays to the sideline. Navy continued to focus on the run until Air Force adjusted in the second quarter, taking advantage of Navy's aggressive safeties with a couple of well-timed pass plays. After that, Navy was forced to respect the pass and play a more conservative defense. But not too conservative. Navy's cornerbacks played well in run support, led by Rashawn King with 6 tackles (including one for a loss). King had a pass interference penalty called against him, but redeemed himself by getting a great jump on the receiver's route and breaking up Carney's last-gasp 4th down pass attempt. Keenan Little had four tackles, a key 3rd down pass breakup, and returned a Shaun Carney fumble for a first-quarter touchdown. This is two straight weeks that the Navy secondary has played a fantastic game.
Special Teams: A-
This would have been an A+ if Navy had recovered the onside kick. Matt Harmon blasted kickoffs into the end zone, hit a field goal, and combined with Joey Bullen to convert each of Navy's extra point attempts. Veteto's punting was consistent and coverage on punts and kickoffs was sound.
Next week Navy faces Rutgers, who will be the best team on the schedule to date. It's a winnable game if the team continues to put together complete games like they have the last two weeks.