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It’s Navy Week!

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An attempt to preview the Falcons

This article will be difficult in a lot of ways. I have to throw out a lot of my previous predictions and analyses of the Falcon football team. There has been a tsunami of change since the end of spring ball, and it all started with the arrival of Covid-19 near the end of spring practice. Unlike the rest of the Mountain West, the Falcons were able to get most of their practice sessions in, and had identified some promising underclassmen to fill the spots of departing seniors. I provided my guess at the depth chart here.

The first big news that hit was the loss of good standing as a cadet by Donald Hammond. That news alone had a major effect on expectations for the Falcon team. An option team can’t lose a quarterback who is as good at distributing the ball as Donald Hammond, and not have it impact their performance, although anyone who saw Mike Schmidt come in against Hawaii when Hammond got injured last year might think otherwise. I do expect, however, that whoever might play at the position this year will be effective but not as consistently as Hammond was last year, if for no other reason than lack of experience.

The most recent breaking news was the revelation that as many as 40 Falcon players had taken a “turnback”, utilizing a method normally reserved for circumstances such as injuries, family issues, and religious missions to essentially take a redshirt year and return in the fall. This truly made it difficult to get a handle on what the Falcons would be capable of, and so I’ve delayed my commentary until now, as the Falcons have just released their depth chart for the opening game against Navy.

Offense

Fortunately for Falcon fans, the offense remains largely intact with the exception of Hammond. The offensive line is exceptional, anchored by two likely All-MW linemen Nolan Laufenberg and Parker Ferguson. Adam Jewell and Kyle Krepsz are both seniors who have started games in the past and know the Air Force system. Center Nicholas Noyen is short on starting experience but is a senior who has game experience and is ready for a starting role.

In the backfield, it is hard to find a better duo in the Mountain West than Kadin Remsberg and Timothy Jackson. If both remain healthy, the Falcons could have had the first pair of running backs in their history with over 1000 yards rushing, given a full season. The only factor holding them back from that accomplishment is their backups, Josh Stoner and Matt Murla, who are both very capable runners, and given the Air Force system, will get a good amount of playing time.

For receivers, Air Force will feature Ben Peterson at slot receiver, Kyle Patterson at tight end, and a surprise at wide out, Daniel Morris. The primary responsibility for Falcon receivers is the ability to block for the option offense, but the surprise ability to get behind the secondary coverage is crucial to keep the defense honest, and these receivers have no history of that ability. Ben Peterson has experience and will be more than adequate, and will be backed up by Brandon Lewis, who definitely has the ability to beat defenders. Morris is an unknown, but has some playing time and is a senior who will execute the offense. Jake Spiewak is the backup, and at 6’4” has the ability to climb the ladder for catches. The most intriguing receiver is Kyle Patterson, a 6’ 6” tight end who was recruited by Alabama, Arizona, Oregon State, and Washington. When the Falcons get a tight end with this kind of talent, they tend to use him in the passing attack more often, as they did with Garrett Griffin, who is now in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints.

At quarterback, Troy Calhoun has listed Warren Bryan and Haaziq Daniels as co-starters. My guess is that Bryan will start, but Calhoun likes to create competition where there is sometimes no real competition. Last year, Hammond and Isaiah Sanders were listed as co-starters but Hammond was clearly in the number one position. The effectiveness of the quarterback position remains to be seen.

Offense Starters

  • Left Tackle - Parker Ferguson, Sr
  • Left Guard - Nolan Laufenberg, Sr
  • Center - Nicholas Noyen, Sr
  • Right Guard - Kyle Krepsz, Sr
  • Right Tackle - Adam Jewell, Sr
  • Tight End - Kyle Patterson, So
  • Quarterback - Warren Bryan, Jr -or- Haaziq Daniels, So
  • Fullback - Timothy Jackson, Jr
  • Tailback - Kadin Remsberg, Sr
  • Slot - Ben Peterson, Sr
  • Wide Receiver - Daniel Morris, Sr

Defense

The losses to graduation and turnbacks on the defensive side are eye-watering. The most impactful turnback losses are Jordan Jackson, Demonte Meeks, Lakota Wills, Tre Bugg, James Jones, and Christopher Herrera. All three returning defensive players who earned all-MW honors last year opted out for this year. The losses are so deep that there are four freshmen who made the two deep depth chart, something I have never seen for the Falcons. The only way to put a positive spin on the situation is to say that the Falcon defense will be loaded with experience and talent next year when the turnbacks return. Expect growing pains, to say the least. As usual, Troy Calhoun has chosen players who have been in the system the longest as the starters.

Defense Starters

  • Defensive End - Michael Pursell, Sr
  • Nose Guard - Joey Woodring, Sr
  • Defensive Tackle - Kaleb Nunez, Sr
  • Outside Linebacker - Grant Donaldson, Sr
  • Inside Linebacker - Will Trawick, Sr
  • Inside Linebacker - Noah Bush, Jr
  • Outside Linebacker - Parker Noren, Sr
  • Cornerback - Elisha Palm, Sr
  • Cornerback - David Eure, Jr
  • Strong Safety - Corvan Taylor, Jr
  • Free Safety - Ethan Erickson, Jr

Special Teams

Brice Honaker will take over as the kicker. He has a strong leg and last year frequently stepped in for kickoff duties, accumulating 7 touchbacks in 25 kicks. His accuracy on field goals in game situations is unknown. Joe Carlson will take over punting duties after just one kick last year for 38 yards. The punt returner will be Ben Peterson, who performed those duties last year and rarely attempts a return. The surprise is that Kadin Remsberg will take over kickoff returns in an attempt to provide some excitement to that position. The special teams unit is well coached and almost always provides a positive impact.

The Opponent

Navy has two games under their belt, and Coach Niumatalolo should probably eat his words about having to face a fresh Air Force team. His team was awful in their first game against BYU. No tackling, no offense, an inexperienced quarterback, 580 yards allowed against 149 yards gained, certainly one of the worst performances I’ve seen from a Niumatalolo coached Navy team. The Midshipman followed that up with a similar performance in the first half against Tulane, falling behind Tulane 24-0 at the end of the half. ESPN’s FPI at that point had Tulane with a 99.4% chance of winning. The Midshipmen finally put things together and came back for the incredible 27-24 win with a field goal at the end of the game. Coach N. truly shines in these situations, as he has done this to the Falcons several times.

It has to be troubling to Navy entering this game having given up 285 yards per game. Last year, the Falcons were only able to gain 154 yards against a good Navy defense. We should expect more yards than that this year despite the fact that service academy teams normally struggle against each other due to the defenses’ familiarity with the option attack. The blockers will have to pay attention to Diego Fagot, one of the better inside linebackers in the AAC who picked up 12 tackles against the Falcons last year.

When Navy has the ball, fullback Jamale Carothers has been the primary running threat with 34 carries for 155 yards. So far senior quarterback Dalen Morris has not shown a good ability to run the ball, having carried the ball 20 times for only 25 yards. That is quite a fall off from Malcolm Perry last year who gained over 2000 yards. Morris did show a good arm against Tulane, completing a couple of long passes in the second half comeback. In particular, the Falcons need to watch out for receiver Mychal Cooper, who is an excellent deep threat, and torched the Falcons last year.

Prediction

Vegas betting odds show Navy as a 6.5 point favorite. Looking at the inexperience of the defensive side of the ball for the Falcons, I can’t disagree with that assessment, but this is a CIC trophy matchup, and it’s usually a good bet that the matchup will be close. The game is at Falcon Stadium, where the Falcons have won this matchup for the last three games straight, and 4 out of the last 5. The Falcons have had plenty of practice with the extended preseason, and the new starters have had a lot of reps at their positions. I’m sure they are excited to be taking the field after all this time and after the uncertainty of even having a football season. They will also be wearing the latest version of the Air Power Legacy Series uniforms, honoring the legendary Tuskegee airmen of World War II, and they are 9-0 when wearing the legacy uniforms. I’ll say Air Force beats the spread, but it pains me to say Navy wins by a score of 31-28. Hopefully, I have to eat my words.