And so it begins…
The annual competition for the Commander-in-Chiefs trophy kicks off in Annapolis on Saturday as the Midshipmen of Navy play host to the Falcons of Air Force. Competition among the service academies is always fierce and unpredictable, and we would expect that to be the case this Saturday as well. Navy and Air Force both know each other’s offenses well, and both are better prepared to defend the triple option than most other teams that either of them play during the year.
GoBlackKnights takes a statistically-based look at the two teams to provide our fans with an idea of what they can expect to see on Saturday.
Season Records to Date
For those who don’t look much further than the win-loss record of teams, Navy appears to be a clear favorite, entering the game with a 4-0 record compared to the Falcons’ record of 1-4.
When one takes a look beyond the Ws and Ls, however, two of those Air Force losses came against Top 20 teams, Michigan and San Diego State. The Falcons had an impressive outing against the #7 ranked Wolverines, holding them to 29 points, while scoring 16 on a tough Michigan defense that has been holding opponents to an average of 13.5 points per game. Michigan has not displayed a lot of scoring power on offense, ranked 58th in the FBS with an average of 31.5 points; so AFA scored a few more points than average against Michigan and gave up a couple less points as well.
The other Top 20 team that AFA faced was San Diego State, a team that has won 7 straight games against the Falcons. The Aztecs had to play the game in weather that no one from San Diego ever sees without leaving home, and that game offered limited insight into the relative capabilities of either team.
The lone AFA win was against a hapless VMI team in their opening game at home, and the Falcons fattened their stats on both offense and defense against a below average FCS opponent; so the most meaningful test for Air Force came against New Mexico, and the Falcons did not look good good against the Lobos.
One could argue that Navy has not been fully tested this season, and that their first four opponents were among the least challenging they’ll face this year. Of their four opponents, only Tulane has had much success defending against Navy’s offense; so the 21 points they allowed the Navy offense is a good predictor of the production we might expect to see from the Mids on Saturday. The margin of victory was a terrible snap by Tulane that resulted in a safety for Navy.
Florida Atlantic played Navy once before in 2012 and has never played another triple option team. Cincinnati faced Army’s triple option back in 1998, but otherwise, this was Cincinnati’s first look at a triple option offense as well. Tulsa is in the same division as Navy in the American Conference; so they’ve played Navy 3 times, but Tulso is one of those AAC teams that doesn’t pay as much interest in defense as they do the offense, and their offense this year has been considerably below normal. Tulsa lives and dies by the passing game, and their’s is not very good this season.
Navy gets the nod on season records, but the disparity is not as great as the records alone would suggest. Air Force is better than their 1-4 record and Navy is not quite as good as their 4-0 record suggests.
Navy holds an edge in most statistical indicators on Offense, but just as we said with records, we must take into account the opponents each has faced. Navy has executed their offense well in their 4 games, while Air Force struggled a bit against Michigan, SDSU and UNM.
Scoring: Navy has averaged 34.5 points per game compared to AFA’s 34.3 (a virtual dead heat). The 62 points AFA scored against VMI pads their average a bit.
Total Offense: Navy has averaged 496.3 yards compared to AFA’s 386, a significant difference
Rushing Offense: Navy leads the FBS with an average of 400 yards per game, while AFA is currently ranked 10th with an average of 274.8. Based on past experience we would expect both teams to be held significantly below their season averages in this game.
Passing Offense: Air Force has a slight edge over Navy with 111.3 yards per game compared to Navy’s 96.3. Air Force also holds a slight advantage in completion percentage, while Navy has a better Efficiency Rating and Average Yards per Completion. Since both teams are likely to be forced to go to their passing games, this aspect ot the offense could be more important than it usually is for either team.
Last year’s contest was won by the Air Force defense, but they lost most of that crew to graduation. Navy had a horrible defense last year, but appears to have improved significantly. We were impressed with the Air Force defense against Michigan, but not at all impressed with their show against New Mexico. Navy has gone away from their bend don’t break philosophy, and they are improved but still not stalwart by any standard.
Scoring Defense: Navy has surrendered an average of 23.3 points while Air Force has given up an average of 28.3. The AFA average was helped considerably by the shutout of VMI and the weather that held down the scoring versus SDSU.
Total Defense: Air Force holds a slight edge, having surrendered 332.5 yards per game compared to Navy’s 342.5. Since opponents get to choose how they gain their yardage, this is a better indicator than either Rushing or Passing Defense.
Rushing Defense: Navy has the edge in this area, giving up an average of 172.0 yards rushing compared to the average of 198.8 yards rushing by AFA opponents, but keep in mind that both SDSU and UNM are running teams, while Tulsa and Cincinnati are more pass oriented.
Passing Defense: Air Force ranks third in the country in Passing Yards Allowed with an opponent average of just 133.8 yards per game compared to Navy’s opponents’ 213.3. Air Force also has the better Passing Efficiency Defense with a rating of 136.2 compared to Navy’s 142.2.
Special Teams Comparisons
If the game comes down to kicking field goals, Air Force appears to have a distinct advantage this year. The AFA place kicker Streble was named All-MWC last year and has converted 4 of his 5 attempts this season. Navy’s place kicker, Moehring has had problems this season with just one conversion in 4 attempts. The rest of the special teams statistics are pretty close.
Home Field Advantage
Both Air Force and Navy have outstanding records at home, but it is Navy’s turn to host the Falcons, and they are likely to benefit from playing in their friendly home environment. Sparks tend to fly when the Midshipmen play the Falcons and the rabid fans may egg them on; so look for a few more penalties than you usually see from these two teams.
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