The Air Force Falcons and Navy Midshipmen will meet earlier than usual in 2021, with the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series specifically scheduled for Sept. 11. Air Force dominated the Midshipmen in 2020, winning 40-7 in Colorado Springs as part of a 3-3 season that also included a 2-2 record in Mountain West Conference play. The Falcons also got off to a great start this season by beating FCS Lafayette 35-14. Navy, which finished 3-7 overall and 3-4 in AAC action, lost its opener 49-7 to Marshall.
Air Force at Navy
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Air Force -5.5
When Air Force Has the Ball
Brad Roberts led the Falcons with 461 rushing yards and five touchdowns on a team-high 64 carries last season, and he continued his heavy workload with 111 yards on 25 attempts in the opener. Quarterback Haaziq Daniels, the second-leading rusher in Air Force’s option offense last season, carried 19 times for 72 yards. Daniels doesn’t need to pass often and only threw five times against Lafayette. He completed three for 50 yards.
The surprise of the day was Micah Davis, who needed just four carries to gain 101 yards and score twice. Davis also caught two passes for 27 yards. Omar Fattah, Elijah Robinson, and receiver Brandon Lewis combined for nine rushing attempts and 39 yards but will all likely see more touches this week. Receiver David Cormier made his long-awaited debut and hauled in one pass for 23 yards.
When Navy Has the Ball
Inconsistency at quarterback was a big reason why Navy struggled in 2020, and the position is still in flux. Tai Lavatai, Xavier Arline, and Maasai Maynor all played against Marshall. Arline and Lavatai each ran 16 times, though Arline showed more promise with 76 yards and the team’s only touchdown, while Lavatai was limited to 18 yards on 1.1 yards per carry. Lavatai and Maynor each attempted six passes. The pair combined to complete only three, and Lavatai was intercepted once. Slotback Tyger Goslin, a former quarterback, also threw an interception on his only attempt. Arline was 2-for-3 for 26 yards, and, as the most promising runner and passer of the day, should get the starting nod against the Falcons.
The Midshipmen ran for 337 yards against Marshall and averaged a respectable 4.43 yards per attempt. James Harris II led the way with 80 yards on 11 carries, and Isaac Ruoss added 63 yards on 15 attempts. Goslin and Mychal Cooper each caught two passes for 27 and 30 yards, respectively. But Navy was a miserable 1-for-5 in the red zone. The Midshipmen must capitalize on scoring opportunities against Air Force, because if recent history is any indication, there may not be many.
These programs know each other well, and both defenses are well versed in their opponents’ option attacks. The Falcons held Navy in check last year as the Midshipmen managed a season-low 90 rushing yards in the blowout loss. That unit didn’t feature a handful of Air Force starters who took a turnback semester from the Academy and did not play the fall season. In other words, the Falcons could be in an even better position with defensive lineman Jordan Jackson, linebacker Demonte Meeks, and defensive backs James Jones IV and Tre Bugg III back in action.
The Navy defense is experienced, and linebacker Diego Fagot is one of the most productive linebackers in the country, but the Midshipmen allowed 40 points to Air Force last season and surrendered 42 last week. While that’s an unlikely bar for the Falcons to reach two years in a row — especially considering the Midshipmen have won four in a row at home in the series — Air Force is the better team and should come away with a victory.
Prediction: Air Force 31, Navy 17
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