Air Force- Navy to Meet on 20th Anniversary of 9/11
First Leg of the Battle for the CiC Trophy
Falcon’s Land in Annapolis on 9/11
Air Force Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
The Navy- Air Force rivalry resumes early on the schedule in 2021, similar to most years. This seasons match-up will be a little different than those of more recent history though, being played on the 20th anniversary of the Terror Attacks on 9/11. The game was originally slated to be played in October, but later rescheduled to commemorate the anniversary of the events from 9/11.
These are two teams that require no additional motivation to bring the juice against one another, alternating wins each of the last eight times they’ve met. But maybe you consider last years 40-7 drubbing that Air Force handed the Mids before assuming no added motivation is necessary.
Location: Navy- Marine Corp Stadium: Annapolis, MD
2020 Record: 3-7
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo, 15th Year (101-67)
Series History: Air Force 31 Wins- Navy 22 Wins
The way Navy’s season began with a severe thumping at the hands of BYU proved to be a microcosm for their 2020 campaign. The Mids limped through the year to a 3-7 record, and with the exception of the Memphis and Army games, they weren’t really competitive in those losses.
The primary themes throughout the season were injuries, transfers and a carousel at quarterback. These could be described as key ingredients for a season to forget.
Injuries were especially devastating on defense, which surrendered 30 points per game. What became really concerning is the way opposing offenses were able to run the ball against Navy, who yielded over 200 yards per game on the ground. That was nearly 25 yards more than their offense could muster on the ground, which is unheard of from a Navy team. Sadly, the defense faired much better than their mates on the other side of the ball.
Offensively, the Mids were dreadful. It’s hard to expect any consistency from an offense when you rotate through four starters under center. This was validated as their offense was one of the most impotent in the country, mustering just over 16 points per game, good enough for 122nd in the country.
By seasons end, freshman Xavier Arline, the former lacrosse star, appeared to be the incumbent to start, closing out the year atop the depth chart in ‘America’s Game’ against Army.
— Navy Football (@NavyFB) May 4, 2021
Navy 2021 Outlook:
One thing the Mids were able to do in last years difficult season was distribute playing time to underclassmen which could prove invaluable for the long term. Part of that youth was obviously at quarterback, and while you may assume that Arline would take the reins under center in 2021, not quite.
As it stands, Arline is the co-starter along with fellow plebe Tai Lavatai. Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette does a great job covering Navy football and you can read more about the quarterback battle and other depth chart updates here.
Getting things ironed out at quarterback is obviously a priority, but its hardly the only area in need of attention. The lack of ability to run the ball consistently is a real issue, and that isn’t going to get any easier as Navy loses 2,600 yards and 34 touchdowns worth of production in their top two runners from last season, both fullbacks.
Jamale Corothers was recently dismissed from the Naval Academy and Nelson Smith has since graduated. The two full-backs have been at the core of the Navy run game and have to be replaced. And that isn’t going to be easy as there is a considerable drop off in production behind those two, with especially anemic output from their slotbacks.
It might not matter who is carrying the ball this season though if the offensive line isn’t able to clear some real estate. When the offensive line play is there, this is typically an offense that can dictate terms with the run game, and provide great relief to the defense as well.
Despite returning an All-American talent in Diego Fagot at linebacker, relief is something the defense could really use. They lost the quarterback of their secondary, Evan Fochtman to a career ending injury last season, so there is a serious void to be filled. Also in the secondary, the Mids saw Cameron Kinley at cornerback sign an NFL contract this month, so there are more questions than answers in the back end.
— Navy Football (@NavyFB) May 3, 2021
Fagot will bring some credibility to the linebacker corp, but this is a group that played a lot of different people due to injury and transfers, so figuring out who can complement their anchor in the middle is also paramount.
To say there is a lot yet to be sorted out in Annapolis would be putting it mildly. But Ken Niumatalolo has earned the benefit of the doubt, as rarely do we see back to back down seasons for the Midshipmen.
Final Thoughts and Prediction:
If you were to go position by position, Air Force looks to have an advantage by way of either returning production, or a known commodity compared to that of their foe at every spot. While I wouldn’t expect another down year, even absence from bowl season despite all of these factors, I don’t see Navy being able to match the Falcons.
Don’t expect another dismantling like we had last year. However, it is fair to anticipate a spirited contest that ultimately validates the optimism we should see around the Air Force program in 2021. At the end of the day, kicking may be the only area of advantage Navy has over the Falcons, and that isn’t going to translate to a W.
Air Force sings second.
Final Score Prediction: Air Force 31- Navy 14