Can Air Force Sink Navy?
The first skirmish in the War for the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy
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Meet the Mid’s
Record vs. Air Force: 22 wins- 30 losses
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
Offensive Philosophy: Triple Option
Defensive Philosophy: 3-4
Mascot: Bill the Goat
Location: Annapolis, Maryland
2019 Record: 11-2
The Air Force vs. Navy Rivalry
The (athletic) primary goal for each of the Military Academies to start every season is identical: Win the Commander-In-Cheif’s trophy. Pretty simple, right? Maybe a little more so for Air Force and Navy, as history would indicate since they have owned the hardware 36 times between the two schools.
Since its inception 48 years ago, in 1972, the CIC Trophy has been awarded to either Army, Navy or Air Force 44 times (due to it being shared in four seasons due to three-way ties). While Air Force holds a majority of its time shared at 20, Navy isn’t far behind. In fact, the Falcons find themselves in rare territory watching America’s Game between Army and Navy at the end of the regular season decide the CIC victors each of the last three years.
With these two schools dominating the the shares of the CIC Trophy, as Army has only captured the flag two of the last 23 years, this game does not get the recognition it deserves. No, it doesn’t have the cachet or ring to it that ‘Army-Navy’ does, but Air Force- Navy does decide the countries top Military Academy football a vast majority of years. For perspective, Army has only factored in slightly less than 17% of the time as their share.
Either way, if Air Force wants to add to their mantle and further distance themselves from the Midshipmen, they will have to be prepared for a four quarter brawl in 2020. Otherwise, they will be in for a four year drought.
The Navy Offense
The Mid’s sported one of the countries most potent offenses in 2020, averaging 37 points per game, good enough for 12th in the nation. Last years team also featured one of the most electric players in the country, and Navy history in quarterback Malcolm Perry.
Thankfully for Air Force, Perry and his 2,000 rush yards are now in Miami after being drafted to the NFL this spring. And while his legs were highly problematic for the Falcons along with everyone else on the Navy schedule, it was his improvement passing that was a difference maker. Simply put, Perry tore the heart out of the Falcons with late game heroics, connecting on a long pass that eventually led to a Mid’s victory.
The 2020 Navy offense will not have one the most dynamic players to ever wear their Academy’s uniform under center though. At least, not yet proven. They do however transition to another Perry at quarterback most likely, in sophomore Perry Olsen. As a freshman, Olsen earned the backup role and received a lot of meaningful reps last year. So even though he’s never started a game, his experience in 2019, along with being a career triple option quarterback in high school are reasons for confidence if you hail from Annapolis.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo eluded to Olsen being the front-runner to the starting job out of the spring, but as most coaches do, he also lauded the depth pushing for the top spot. In the mix is senior Dalen Morris who wasn’t able to stay ahead of the freshman, Olsen last season. But as an upperclassmen, Morris has gotten three invaluable years worth of practice reps running the option.
In a similar mold to the aforementioned Malcolm Perry, a wildcard in the race could be Chance Warren. While I wouldn’t expect Warren to consume the starting quarterback spot by conventional measures, he’s acquitted himself as a sort of Swiss-army-knife for Navy, playing receiver, slot-back, returning kicks and even getting under center. Sound familiar?
Much like Air Force, who recently announced that their own stand-out quarterback, Donald Hammond III is no longer a cadet in good standing and therefore not eligible to represent the team; Navy too is working to figure things out under center, with no proven commodities.
Also like their rivals in Colorado, the Mid’s have an absolutely loaded backfield. You would think that losing 2,000 yards of production from a team couldn’t possibly leave that much in the tank coming back, right? Wrong. Navy is returning six of its top seven producers on the ground, and that includes a devastating fullback duo in Jamale Carothers and Nelson Smith, who bring 1,300 yards and 21 touchdowns worth of production between them, back from last years team.
While that tandem figures to be a menace between the tackles, there are some talented players flanking them at slot-back and receiver. C.J. Williams figures to take on an even bigger role this year as an all-purpose weapon. This team returns talent, depth and production at the skill positions which should help ease in a new starting quarterback.
Their ability to try and replicate last years success will fall heavily on the line. Again like the Falcons, Navy is returning two esteemed starters from last year, both of which are on the AAC’s pre-season 2nd Team All Conference list.
The Navy Defense and Special Teams
Although a majority of the spotlight was on the Malcolm Perry and the Navy offense last year, it was really the improvement on defense that helped them improve their win total by eight in 2019. After a dreadful campaign the year prior, the Mid’s featured a very stout defense that surrendered just 22 points per game. That was an 11 point improvement year over year, vaulting the team scoring defense from outside the top 100 in the country to 35th.
Navy has 10 cadets that were recognized by Athlon Sports as Preseason All-Conference players, and six of them were on the defensive side of the ball. The Mid’s were represented at each level of the defense, which should help carry optimism over from 2019’s campaign.
Of all the talent that does come back on the defensive side of the ball, it all starts with First Team All AAC linebacker, Diego Fagot. This is a cadet who earned a starting spot as a freshman and hasn’t looked back. As a sophomore, Fagot was a disruptive force clearing 100 tackles, 12 of which were for losses to go with his 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pick-six.
Joining Fagot on Preseason All-Conference list are D-Lineman J’arius Warren and Jackson Perkins, along with Michael McMorris, Evan Fochtman and Kevin Brennan from the secondary. Somehow Jake Springer and his 16 TFL’s and eight sacks couldn’t land him with his mates. He is another disruptive defender that the Falcons must account for.
Even though Navy will be breaking in a new punter this season, they return their full arsenal otherwise. The kick and punt return game should be solid with Williams and Warren presumed to continue those roles. While at kicker, they should be in good hands with Bijon Nichols returning after a very steady freshman year.
What To Expect
By most accounts, Navy is returning a lot more known commodities if you simply look at production. There are a lot of similarities between these two squads, but on paper Navy looks to be poised for another good season. If their quarterback play acclimates quickly, this could be a very dangerous team with all the pieces around them.
Air Force on the other hand is not completely bereaved of talent, but there are far more unknowns at this point, especially with the a massive chasm under center. Similar to Perry Olsen, or whomever the Mid’s feature, the Falcons quarterback will have weapons to work with. Whether it’s Warren Bryan, Chance Stevenson or any Falcons working their way up the depth chart, it’s going to be a matter of how quickly the new QB1 can mesh with the pieces around them.
Last year featured two teams that ultimately combined for 22 wins, punctuated with signature bowl victories over power five squads. Ironically in their head-to-head match though, both teams turned the ball over far more than normal, in what was uncharacteristically sloppy football. Albeit a thrilling game down to the end, this is not the kind of game that either team wants to recreate, especially Air Force.