Case in point, Air Force's continue reliance on turnovers in helping to preserve – and in some cases inflate – wins. While last weekend's 26-14 win over San Diego State doesn't look terribly impressive given San Diego State's continued troubles, the win looks even less impressive when you consider the Falcons held a +6 turnover margin in the game, and did not manage an offensive touchdown. With statistics like those, it's no wonder some of the whispers out the MWC are already proclaiming the Falcons to be more ‘lucky' than ‘good.'
‘Lucky' or not, Air Force still presents problems for this year's Navy team, and unlike some of Navy's other opponents in 2009, the Falcons are an extremely well coached football team. The X and O chess match between Ken Niumatalolo and Troy Calhoun will be fascinating to watch, but ultimately football games are won by the players on each team. Here are three key personnel matchups that will likely decide the first leg in the CINC Trophy race.
Tew has been the workhorse for the Air Force offense thus far this year, carrying the ball at least 16 times per game over the past three contests, including 23 carries against San Diego State last week. At 6-foot, 210-pounds he's not the masher that some of Fisher DeBerry's fullbacks were throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, and is more akin to Navy fullback Alex Teich when it comes to his running style. Tew is likely to be a focal point of Air Force's attack against Navy this week, especially with the health of senior tailback Asher Clarke and sophomore quarterback Tim Jefferson still in question. Even if these players do go for the Falcons, there is no telling if they'll be 100%, a point which could lead Calhoun to favor Tew in the inside running game. Navy, meanwhile, is coming off of arguably their worst performance on defense against the run all year, allowing a previously inept Western Kentucky offense to rush for 4.8 yards per carry. It will be essential come Saturday that Navy nose guards Chase Burge and Jordan Stephens be able to take on the inside of Air Force's line and stop Tew, who is shifty enough between the tackles to cause havoc if he can get to the second level. Remember, recent Navy-Air Force games have been won or lost "in the trenches," with the inside running game and the play of the fullback playing key roles in deciding the outcome. With the health of Tim Jefferson and the effectiveness of Connor Dietz both in question, the job of carving up Navy's defense will likely fall to Tew.
Perhaps the most important personnel matchup in this game, the play of both Dobbs and Rembert – who each have a case as the best player on their respective team – won't just be confined to the option, but also in the passing game. Dobbs has shown a real ability to aggressively take on defensive backs and defenders as a runner, a skill which gives him an edge over Rembert, who while not lacking in courage is lacking in size. Yet Dobbs' arm strength and accuracy gives Navy's offense another dimension, making Rembert's ability to man-up on either Greg Jones or Mike Schupp all the more important for the Falcons. Dobbs will need to be careful not to test Rembert too many times however, as the 5-foot-7 defender has the ability to change games on defense. Last week he earned Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week honors after intercepting two passes, forcing a fumble, and returning another fumble 47 yards for a touchdown. With big-play ability like that, Dobbs and the Mids may be best to avoid putting the ball in Rembert's direction altogether.
Navy MLB Tyler Simmons vs. Air Force QB Tim Jefferson/Connor Dietz
It's the question on everyone's mind going into the game; will Air Force starter Tim Jefferson make the start after sitting out last weekend's game due to injury, or will backup Connor Dietz get the nod? The Midshipmen are preparing for Jefferson, who unlike Dietz brings both familiarity and athleticism to the position. It was fairly apparent last weekend that the Falcons played conservatively on offense with Dietz calling the shots at quarterback, and against a Navy defense which specializes in playing the option that kind of game plane may not suffice. Whichever quarterback gets the call, the job of stopping him will fall largely to one of Navy's inside linebackers. Keep an eye out for Tyler Simmons in the game, as the junior could see significant playing time alongside Ross Pospisil after fellow inside ‘backer Tony Haberer struggled against Western Kentucky. Simmons brings great size and speed to the position, and has shown a real propensity for making plays against Navy's option in practice situations in the past. Not only will he likely play a big role in having to stop Air Force fullback Jared Tew, but he'll be instrumental if the Mids want to contain the Falcon quarterback.