In front of a national TV audience and one of the largest crowds in Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium history, the Air Force Falcons overcame early game jitters to come away with their first victory in Annapolis since 2011.
The effort was led by a swarming defense that gave up only 68 yards, their lowest total since 1956. The only score for the Midshipmen came at the beginning of the second quarter after an 12 yard punt that gave Navy a starting field position at the AF 38 yard line. Navy quarterback Xavier Arline followed up with a 26 yard run to the 11 yard line (which accounted for more than a third of Navy’s yardage). The Falcon defense stiffened and Navy had to settle for the field goal.
Air Force got on the board for the first time right at the end of the first half under similar circumstances. A short 19 yard punt by Navy gave the ball to the Falcons at the Navy 42 yard line. Eight running plays later Brad Roberts found a path into the end zone to put the Falcons on top for good.
The Falcons were much more settled in the second half, the defense gave up virtually nothing until the game was settled and Falcons were just defending against big plays, and the offensive line finally began opening some holes for Brad Davis who ran 17 times for 70 yards in the second half.
The long list of superlatives for the defense includes the play of the two inside linebackers, Demonte Meeks and TD Blackmon, who finished with 9 and 11 tackles respectively. The defense as a whole spent a lot of time in the Navy backfield finishing with 5 sacks, 9 TFLs, and 6 QB hurries. The effort was good enough to put the finishing touches on Navy Offensive Coordinator Ivan Jasper’s long tenure, as the Midshipmen announced his firing today.
However, there were some issue on the offense and on the special teams that the Falcons need to work on as they move forward in the schedule.
First of all, the offensive line did not produce the kind of holes that Daniels and the running backs have become used to. Starting center Ben Mercer was out due to injury, and that resulted in two sophomores, Thor Paglialong and Everett Smalley as starters. This is an all new line and any playing time any of them had last year was not in front of many fans. Going into their first CIC game in front of a large hostile crowd on national TV must have been a little nerve racking. QB Daniels admitted to being a little jittery in a post game interview. It was obvious in early play that the team was tight and it took a while to loosen up.
The familiarity of Navy with the option offense is another factor in evaluating the offensive line. Last year in Falcon Stadium the Falcons pushed Navy around for 369 rushing yards, but two years ago the Falcons only managed 108 rushing yards in Annapolis, and it is fairly normal for rushing yardage to be less against Army and Navy than for other teams.
As I said earlier, the blocking improved as the game went along, but it is something to watch for moving forward. The Falcons might need better blocking this week, as a vastly improved Utah State team comes to town.
The other part of the offense that was problematic is the receiving corps. In my preview, I was gushing about the quality of the Falcon receivers, and their ability to haul in passes. Well today, I have some egg on my face because that was not the case yesterday. In the first instance, tight end Kyle Patterson had a pass go right between his hands as he reached high to get it. It would have been a very nice reception, but it didn’t happen. David Cormier also dropped two passes from Daniels that were not that difficult. Catch those three passes and remove the pass that Daniels threw away after scrambling, and Daniels would have been 6 for 9. Hopefully, we can chalk it up to jitters and they can prove me right as the season goes on.
One big positive for the offense thus far is how well it’s been avoiding turnovers. One reason Brad Roberts gets the ball so much (29 carries in this game) is his spotless record of holding on to the ball. Daniels showed a little more maturity in this game by throwing the ball away when there was good coverage. Not turning the ball over makes up for a lot of other issues.
Up until the first game against Lafayette, Calhoun had listed Brice Honaker and Tevye Schuettpelz-Rohl as the placekickers on his depth chart. Surprisingly, just before the first game, we found out that freshman Matthew Dapore would be the placekicker for kickoffs, field goals, and extra points. Schuettpelz-Rohl started out as the kicker last year and had a great game against Navy, making 4 of 4 field goals attempted. He then struggled quite a bit after that, and in the last game of the year against Army, he missed 2 critical field goal attempts.
A change was necessary, and Dapore won the competition. He looked good on kickoffs but hit the goal post on a extra point, and the questions remained. In this game against Navy, the special teams struggled quite a bit, with a short punt and a missed field goal. But the problem on both kicks was not really the kicker, it was the snap. The snapper is the same one from last year, and I don’t remember any big problems last year. So we are left with a lot of questions, and we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
My prediction for this game was 28-21 victory by the Falcons, so I was right on the Falcons covering the spread, but I missed on the over/under. I think I must be a slow learner on the over/under since service academy games hit the under about 80% of the time, and I keep guessing the over.
Come back on Thursday when I preview the Air Force-Utah State matchup.