On Saturday the Air Force Falcons travel to Annapolis to take on the Navy Midshipmen in the first leg of the CIC Trophy race. In the first few weeks of the season, most AAE contributors try to watch each service academy in action regardless of our own military or academy affiliations. While watching the Navy-Memphis game unravel Justin and I came to the conclusion that Navy’s story against the Tigers paralleled that of the Falcons’ trip to Boise State one week earlier. The games felt eerily similar as both Air Force and Navy squandered opportunities to defeat division favorites.
This isn’t to say that Memphis = Boise State. In fact, Scott was pretty quick to shoot that theory down in our recent podcast. To be honest, I don’t think the teams are too far off this year as both are being mentioned in the way-too-early G5 NY6 representative talk. The Mountain West and the American Athletic Conferences tend to field the most competitive non-P5 teams and Boise is favored to win the Mountain West - Mountain Division and Memphis is the favorite to win the AAC - West Division. The Coaches Poll has Boise ranked 15th in the country while Memphis sits at 23rd, both representing ranked division foes that are not typical for Navy or Air Force this early in the season. Heck, we could even go as far as to point out that both Memphis and Boise State decided to break out their blackout uniforms to take on their service academy rivals in back to back weeks.
Ahh, weeknight football. While it may be a treat for the fans it isn’t usually something players and programs seem to care for - especially for the road teams as the host is usually a sizable favorite in these matchups. Boise State was an eight-point favorite while Vegas liked Memphis by 10.5. While no one was guaranteeing an outright upset in favor of the Falcons or Midshipmen, many football fans liked both to cover. Air Force was coming off of a big win over Colorado the week before and Navy always plays Memphis close and actually defeated the Tigers in 2018, and were coming off a dominant victory as well, albeit against ECU. Air Force and Navy fans alike were bullish on the opportunity to cover the spread with the possibility of pulling off the upset, but having to play on the road against division favorites on a weeknight is a challenge no matter what.
The First Half
In the first half, Air Force managed to compete with Boise State and looked to, in the very least, be well on their way to covering the spread. The Falcons, led by a strong defensive performance, took a 10-10 tie into the locker room and there were plenty of signs of optimism at the break. It was evident that this is a Falcons team that could not only compete with the Broncos but looked at times like the more complete team throughout the first half on the road on a Friday night on the blue turf.
Navy managed to put together a superb first half and led the AAC West favorite Memphis Tigers 20-14 at the break and Navy fans were also feeling pretty good about their chances after the first two-quarters of play. Navy’s offense had done a great job establishing both the run and pass and the defense was all over the field, confusing the Tigers, making big plays, and causing turnovers.
Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III started the second half on the sidelines due to an ankle injury that forced second-string QB Isaiah Sanders into action. While Hammond returned from his injury late in the third quarter, his explosiveness and production never quite looked the same in the contest as it was clear that his ankle was bothering him.
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry also suffered an injury of his own, his coming late in the second quarter which forced freshman Perry Olsen to finish Navy’s final first-half drive that resulted in no points. While Perry returned to the field in the third quarter, he also didn’t look the same throwing the ball nor looked willing to endure the same beating he took in the first half.
Both Air Force and Navy couldn’t produce offensively after the injuries even when their starting quarterbacks returned ultimately impacting both teams’ second-half performances.
The Second Half
As we just mentioned, it was a tale of two halves for both teams. After swapping punts to start the half (for both games actually), Air Force drove down the field and got a field goal to actually take the lead 13-10, but that would be short-lived as Hank Bachmeier found John Bates for a TD and then followed that up with two more touchdown drives sprinkled around a turnover on downs and interception for Air Force. A late touchdown pass from Hammond to Geraud Sanders closed the final score to 30-19, but it still wasn’t enough to really make it close in the fourth quarter or cover the spread.
For Navy, it was once again, eerily similar. A couple of punt swaps followed by touchdowns on three consecutive drives by the Memphis Tigers with a Midshipmen field goal thrown in for good measure, bringing the final score to 35-23. The offense just could not muster anything after the break with injuries to Perry, Nelson Smith, and Keoni-Kordell Makekau and the defense eventually could not contain Brady White and the Memphis offense forever.
If you listen to our podcast (which you definitely should), Justin threw this comparison at Scott this week with no heads up or warning. Scott’s immediate reaction was that he didn’t believe Memphis and Boise State were the same level of opponent this year, and therefore the games weren’t that comparable. We pointed out that this is a Boise State team that had a P5 win in a comeback against a Florida State squad that is abysmal, squeaked out a win against Marshall at home, and then drubbed an FCS opponent before taking on the Falcons. We believe the jury is still out on the Broncos in 2019.
Similarly, Memphis took out a P5 opponent in Ole Miss, then an FCS opponent, before drubbing South Alabama prior to facing Navy. Both of these teams are predicted to win their respective divisions within their conferences. Both of these teams are now ranked. And both of these teams will more than likely be favored in their remaining contests if things continue on the same trajectory.
Air Force and Navy got each of these division favorites on the road on a weeknight on prime time television. Both teams broke out their blackest of black uniforms for the occasion.
Both the Falcons and the Mids looked very strong in the first half, showing that they not only could compete but perhaps had the better teams when firing on all cylinders. Both teams then suffered injuries to their starting quarterbacks and flamed out in the second half, ending up with an 11 point loss for Air Force and a 12 point loss for Navy.
All of this is to say that depending on whether or not you think Boise or Memphis is significantly better than the other, you might think Air Force or Navy has a big advantage this weekend when the two meet. But given the similar outcomes, and not just the outcomes, but the way in which these games played out, we believe it is safe to say that if both of these teams are clicking, then you will be in for quite a treat this Saturday as the CIC competition gets underway for the first time this season in Annapolis.