October 5, 2019 Air Force at Navy
The first Battle in the War for the Commander in Chief’s Trophy
There is a great irony that the rival Military Academies of the Sky and Sea share so many similarities. Whether its the challenges a Cadet-Athlete face, recruiting limitations, team philosophies or the unparalleled commitment beyond the gridiron; there are a litany of things these schools can relate to with one another.
The most pressing of which from a football perspective would be that both teams find themselves looking up at Army as they try to reclaim the Commander in Chief’s Trophy, on the heels of a second straight season of dominance by the Cadets from West Point.
Both teams are also trying to right their respective vessels after disappointing 2018 campaigns. If you are just looking at last season, Navy is nautical miles behind Air Force it would appear in that regard. But then again, this is Academy football so a lot can change in a year.
Meet the Mid’s
Record vs. Air Force: 21 wins- 30 losses
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
Offensive Philosophy: Triple Option
Defensive Philosophy: 3-4
Mascot: Bill the Goat
Location: Annapolis, Maryland
2018 Record: 3-10
In the most recent chronicle of these two Service Academies rivalry, Air Force dominated the Midshipmen in 2018, by a score of 35-7. While the Falcon’s owned just a 7 point lead at halftime, the second half was one of complete domination.
In spite of racking up 35 points in a game that showcased two time-consuming ball control offenses, it was on the defensive side of the ball that the Falcons really separated themselves. Navy ended up with the 5th ranked rushing offense in 2018, averaging just over 275 yards per game. Against Air Force, the Mid’s were only able to muster 129 yards on the ground.
The other area of their game, which Navy struggled to pose any kind of threat all season was the passing game. The Falcon defensive struggles against the pass were well documented last year, but Navy was never able to exploit them with an anemic performance failing surpass 50 yards through the air.
In some regards, the Naval Academies game against Air Force was a microcosm of their 2018 season; Complete absence of a passing threat, and a defense that consistently struggled.
The optimist might say the Mid’s overall record is misleading, seeing as they lost four games by a touchdown or less; two of which were lost on converted two-point conversions. But don’t try to sell that rationale to an Air Force team that could have won 10 games in 2018 by that same virtue of losses by a single score.
If Navy wants to overtake Army, and by that Air Force to climb back atop the mountain of Military Academies, they have to see marked improvement on multiple fronts. While last year was one to forget, Ken Niumatalolo and staff are no strangers to success. In fact, it’s the high bar which they have set that makes last season at Navy really stand out. That is a testament to what they have been able to accomplish in Annapolis.
Who to Watch
The Air Force defense need look no further than directly under center to identify their greatest threat from the Midshipmen. That would be the locale of quarterback Malcolm Perry.
Malcolm Perry is a dynamic athlete. He has been utilized all over the field because of his speed and versatility; at quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and kick returner. While he is coming off of back to back seasons which he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing, last season was a slight digression.
The biggest drop in production came in his yards-per-carry average and touchdowns. 2018 saw Perry’s average yards per rush drop from over eight yards each carry, to slightly above six. His touchdown production on the ground dipped by four, dropping to seven last year.
A lot of Perry’s drop in production could be attributed to an uncharacteristic season which Navy’s offensive line was not able to consistently establish itself as it has in past. But predominantly this seemed to be a product of moving a significant share of his repetitions under center at quarterback where defenses were better able to dictate terms.
Most recently, Navy has listed Perry back under center at quarterback in camp this season. Regardless of where he lines up, he must be accounted for. While he has not historically posed much of a threat as a passer, Perry can be electric running the ball. If he is able to improve as a passer to bring more balance to their offense, it will go a very long way in what could be a serious turnaround for the Mid’s.
Sinking the Mid’s
The bitter taste of last years drubbing at the hands of Air Force will provide plenty of motivation for Navy this season. The problem is, they are going to be playing an equally motivated Falcon team, and presumably a more talented team across the field.
Roster turnover is a common thread at the Military schools. This can be good at times when you are transitioning from a sub-par season, such as Navy experienced last year. But it doesn’t guarantee the product on the field will be improved with the new personnel.
In 2019 a healthy Malcolm Perry will make Navy’s offense a nuisance for anyone they play. But defensively, there looks to be a lot of holes. And even with all the talent Perry possesses as a runner, that still leaves a lot of questions around their ability to move the ball through the air yet.
With the absence of any threat through the air, it could make things difficult on the Navy offense to get any traction against an Air Force defense selling out against the run. And that doesn’t address the concern around a lack of confidence in the Mid’s ability to contain the Falcon offense.
Air Force sings second.
Air Force 30 – Navy 14