Navy (2-3) at Air Force (3-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 4, 3:30 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Falcon Stadium (46,692) -- United States Air Force Academy, Colorado. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: Navy 0-2, Air Force 2-0. Away Record: Navy 2-0, Air Force 1-1. Neutral Record: Navy 0-1, Air Force 0-0. Conference Record: Navy 0-0, Air Force 1-1. Series Record: Air Force leads, 27-19.
GAME NOTES: Coming off one of the most monumental wins in program history, the Air Force Falcons now turn their attention towards fighting for the Commander- in-Chief's Trophy as they host the Navy Midshipmen on Saturday afternoon.
Having defeated both Nicholls State and Georgia State as expected, the Falcons began their Mountain West Conference schedule with a setback to Wyoming in week two by a score of 17-13. Last weekend's battle with Boise State at home figured to be another tough fight, particularly since BSU won last year's meeting (42-20) and had yet to fall to the Falcons.
Thanks to a staunch defense that came up with a staggering five interceptions and seven takeaways overall, Air Force somehow pulled off the 28-14 victory, the worst loss for the Broncos since they joined the MWC in 2011. The last time AF forced seven turnovers was against Wyoming more than two decades ago.
As for the Midshipmen, they have now fallen below .500 on the season, losing back-to-back efforts after winning two in a row versus Temple and Texas State. The most recent defeat came at the hands of Western Kentucky last Saturday in Annapolis by a score of 36-27.
The Commander-in-Chief's Trophy is presented to one of the three service academies in the FBS (Army), as each team plays the other at one point during the season. Air Force has won the CIC Trophy 18 times, Navy 14, the Midshipmen winning each of the last two years.
The series is led by the Falcons by a count of 27-19, with Air Force putting up a mark of 15-7 at home over the years. However, Navy has taken two straight and nine of the last 11, winning four of five at Air Force during that stretch. Last season, the Midshipmen captured a 28-10 victory in Annapolis.
As is often the case, the Midshipmen relied heavily on their running attack to try and keep up with Western Kentucky in Annapolis last weekend. Despite converting only 2-of-11 on third down, Navy was able to maintain possession for more than half the game, thanks in large part to Keenan Reynolds who ran for a team-best 121 yards and two touchdowns. The quarterback had his troubles in the pocket however, as he converted just three of his 14 pass attempts for a mere 55 yards, was sacked four times and intercepted once. The pick came in the final seconds of the fourth quarter and was returned for a touchdown, preventing the Midshipmen from coming back from a two-point deficit in the final minutes.
The pass defense for the Midshipmen was certainly questionable against WKU as the Hilltoppers produced 387 yards and a pair of scores, even as Daniel Gonzales led the way with 13 tackles and an interception that he returned 37 yards. A lack of pressure at the line of scrimmage resulted in no sacks and only two tackles for loss, one each by Brendon Clements and Parrish Gaines.
Failing to collapse the pocket and send the opposing quarterback scrambling is nothing new for the Midshipmen as they have just a single sack through five games, compared to 12 quarterback takedowns for the competition.
Reynolds may be the one who is supposed to be putting the ball in the air for Navy, but as everyone knows this is an offense that runs almost exclusively on the run, and that's where the signal caller has shown immense ability. Reynolds leads the nation's top running team (358.4 ypg) with 361 yards and seven of its 15 TDs. However, there have been three TDs scored by way of the pass already this year, so Navy is no one-trick pony.
Against a team that had dominated the MWC since joining only a few years back, the Falcons were all over the Broncos last Saturday, scoring the first 28 points of the game before giving BSU a slight chance at a comeback. Quarterback Kale Pearson threw for one touchdown and ran for another as he led the way on the ground with 127 yards on 20 attempts. Jacobi Owens added another 108 yards and a score as the unit generated 287 yards, compared to just 97 rushing yards for the visitors.
As well as the offense performed, it was the defense that stole the show for the Falcons, particularly defensive back Weston Steelhammer who tied a Mountain West and Air Force single-game record with three interceptions. For Steelhammer, who also had two tackles for loss and a sack, the effort was more than enough to earn him MWC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Also in the running for weekly accolades was Jordan Pierce who led the Falcons with 10 tackles, logged one TFL, an interception returned for 56 yards and a blocked kick.
Through four games, Air Force is seventh in the country in run defense with just 82.3 ypg allowed, but some of that has to do with the fact that so often the secondary for the Falcons is left vulnerable, although last week's performance should make opponents think twice about testing the defensive backs, now that Air Force is tied for 16th in the country with plus-1.0 turnovers per contest.
Just like Navy, the Falcons are also a team that thrives on running the football, ranking fifth in the country at the moment with 323.0 ypg on the ground. Owens leads the charge with 134.6 ypg and four TDs, placing him among the elite runners in the FBS in terms of average per contest.
It wouldn't be surprising to see the Falcons take a step back this weekend after their huge upset win against Boise State. Keeping that in mind, this is a matchup that could easily come down to the final possession given how much each side tries to control the tempo by running the ball. Unfortunately for Air Force, Reynolds might be a little better at handling the pressure at this point in his career.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Navy 27, Air Force 23
10/01 10:55:16 ET