Three Things I’m Watching: Air Force at Navy

Work is preventing me from getting up to Annapolis for the game this weekend, but I’ll be alert and focused from my couch as Navy attempts to avenge last year’s 14-6 loss in Colorado Springs. This game is getting broken down from literally every angle you can think of, but here are three storylines I’m going to be keeping an eye on for Saturday.

Orange Zone Playcalling: Navy’s offensive struggles in the red zone during last year’s game have been well documented, as has the apparent turn-around through the early part of this year. But can you really call it a turnaround after just three games? Navy has been six for eight in the redzone this year in terms of coming away with touchdowns, but the offense has also scored seven touchdowns from outside the redzone. Given the familiarity of the Air Force defense with the option and the usually solid play of the Air Force cornerbacks in supporting the run while in the redzone, I’m curious to see if Niumatalolo and Jasper roll the dice in what I’m dubbing the “Orange Zone.” I’m talking about the area between the opponent’s 20 and 40 yard line, or as it’s better known, “field goal range.” Think about it; John Howell and Gee Gee Green have proved themselves as a big play slotbacks who can score when they get to the outside, while the Navy passing game – on somewhat questionable footing coming into the year – has already produced three receiving touchdowns. If Air Force is firing the corners and cheating a safety, I would not be surprised to see Navy’s offense become especially aggressive in trying to score while in my so-called “Orange Zone.”

Alexander Teich: I’ve been in my share of Navy press conferences after losses, but until the post-game press conference after the loss at South Carolina, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Navy player as mad about a game as Alexander Teich was. It’s one thing to be disappointed. It’s one thing to be heartbroken. But when your team captain is – and please excuse my somewhat vulgar nature here – straight-up pissed off, you can’t help but think to the next game and wonder how he’ll play. Teich is the kind of emotional leader who has always used that kind of fire to fuel his performance, and I’d expect nothing less in arguably the biggest game of the season. At the same time, Navy-Air Force games have hardly been conducive to breakout fullback play in the recent past. Last year Teich had just 38 yards against Air Force, and the year before that he and then-starter Vince Murray averaged just under 3.0 yards per carry between them on 29 combined carries. Actually, Navy has gone five seasons without a fullback or fullback tandem running for over 100 yards against Air Force (Adam Ballard had 134 yards in 2006), a stat that something tells me Teich knows all too well. He won’t need to rush for over 100 yards to make his presence felt, but he’s going to have to make an impact if Navy wants to come out on top. Whether it’s leading the way for Proctor and blowing up the ‘backer on a midline, or catching, turning, and getting upfield on a screen, Teich has the opportunity to live up to his captain status this Saturday, and prove that he was more than just a fuming player after the tough loss to the Gamecocks.

Defensive Substitutions: Bill Wagner posted an interesting tidbit on his blog about defensive end Wes Henderson getting the nod over Jamel Dobbs at defensive end for Saturday’s game. Henderson had a pretty rip-roaring game against USC two weeks ago when he recorded five stops, so much so that I honestly mistook him for Jabaree Tuani at times. Henderson getting the nod might just be a case of a great game rewarded and coach Pehrson going with the “hot hand,” but I think it also speaks to what has silently become a surprisingly deep Navy defense. With all three injured outside linebackers returning this week – and with Brye French having played well against South Carolina – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see Buddy Green rolling guys in and out on a regular basis Saturday to keep them fresh. On the other side of the coin, you’ve got to wonder if the Air Force defensive injuries will be felt hardest in the second half, when the attrition of a *hopefully* successful Navy run game could really take its toll.

Ok, that’s what I’m going to be checking out, in addition to the “usual” storylines of special teams, extracurricular activity, and amount of times coach gets caught on national television mouthing “SON OF BISCUIT.” Any particular storylines you’re checking out?

16 thoughts on “Three Things I’m Watching: Air Force at Navy

  1. Navy72


    I am on the same page as you about Teich. I recall the play in the ’09 game when a very questionable play by an AF player broke Teich’s ankle.

    I remember Brady Hoke (now head coach Michigan, of course) telling a reporter he specifically sought out Teich out after the San Diego State Univ. bowl game to tell him how much he admires his hard-nosed play. Hoke impresses me as someone who doesn’t dispense compliments lightly.

    I have a hunch that Teich is going into this game with a nasty “No prisoners, No mercy” edge. He walks the walk and talks the talk. He’s like Pospisil – agile, mobile, hostile- and an emotional leader.

    Emotion. Revenge. Rivalry game. Great stuff.

    Don’t mean to get carried away. I JUST HATE LOSING TO THE ZOOMIES.

  2. pipehunter

    Thanks, Adam. Well done. A couple of comments:
    1. Give some credit to an OL that has been getting it done so far, and blocking kudos to A’s and WR’s.
    2. Both captains have been superb on and off the field, in and out of the locker room.
    3. Henderson deserves the start. I really like the two of them, with Tuani on the other side.

  3. 81Zoltan

    AFA ,,, #1 rushing team in USA (however, includes two cupcakes)
    Navy . #4

    Both teams/coaches understand and excel in the option and should get honorary doctorates in the triple option. AFA “may” have cornerback talent to shutdown the pitch option. Navy defense causing good number of fumbles and unexpected mettle.

    Both teams in bottom ten in passing yds/games (however, why pass when run works?) (Navy actually very high in pass efficiency, just not total yardage. Navy has burned CB who have eyes in the backfield.)

    Last year,,,two powerful offenses total 20 points.

    Game will hinge on special teams and turnovers.


  4. Adam Nettina

    I don’t know how similar they are in terms of offense. Air Force runs more zone stuff. Coach said it himself in an interview the other day. I don’t have the X’s and O’s kind of of knowledge Mike has, so maybe he could expand on that point?

  5. DaveC67

    Coach Ken, a the football luncheon onTuesday said i twill come down to “taking care of teh football” and the “special teams play.”

    Can’t wait….

  6. EightyFiver

    The Hennessey tackle belongs on TBD’s Great Moments in AF History montage.

    Agree with Pipe–Navy has terrific captains.

    Henderson’s performance against SC was terrific. To get the start over Dobbs says a lot about what the coaches are seeing.

    Anyone remember a time when Navy was this strong at both ends of the D line?

    Is it Saturday yet?

  7. hardcore24

    Adam, You hit on some pretty good points. In addition to the always vital “turnover margin” factor, I think that a key to the Navy Defense being able to contain this multi-faced AFA Offense is maintaining sound assignment football, and not giving up the big play. –> Typically a Buddy Green coached squad strength.

    Go Navy!!!

  8. DJ

    Last 3 (maybe 4) games have been tight and decided by mistakes or lack thereof.

    2010: Navy has a punt blocked deep in own territory leading to a TD, and misses a 21 yd FG
    2009: Air Force misses a 31 yd FG in OT (Navy also threw a pick 6)
    2008: Air Force has two punts blocked for TD’s
    2007: Air Force struggles in the red zone with two empty possessions

    This is a game where punts, field goals, penalties, and field position are key. Beltran will be huge as he will be holding and punting. Navy has done a great job thus far at hanging onto the ball, avoiding 3 and outs, and converting on third down. They keep it up they win.

  9. christianswezey

    Interesting and very good stat on the Navy fullbacks not reaching nor combining for 100 yards vs Air Force since 2006. I remember well the 2006 game. Navy won without getting out of second gear. It was very basic stuff up the middle from Ballard and QB Brian Hampton.

    In 2003, FB Kyle Eckel (176 yards) was the difference but it was far from basic; as Birddog told me when we dissected the game film at my house a couple years ago, Navy broke out a lot of option plays in ’03. It was brilliant.

    Even in 2007, the decisive run — the 78-yarder from Kaipo — came because the AF outside backer bit hard on the fullback to leave the outside open.

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