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Pregame notes and observations: Air Force at Navy

October 7, 2017 Updated: October 7, 2017 at 11:41 am
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Last-minute news before Air Force (1-3) faces Navy (4-0) at 1:30 p.m. (Mountain Time) in Annapolis on CBS Sports Network and 740 AM.

Look to the air?

So, two service academy teams are about to line up with their option offenses and run the ball for 60 minutes. Right?

That hasn’t been the case in recent years in this matchup.

Last year, Air Force threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns (one for 75 yards, the other for 62) in a victory over Navy. The Midshipmen, who fell behind 20-0, threw for 260 yards.

Of the game’s 137 offensive plays, 46 were passing attempts.

“I don’t know if it will always be that high,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “But they’re hard games to really predict.”

The year before that, the teams combined for just 22 passing attempts. But Air Force at that juncture was feeling out its passing game after a switch at quarterback to Karson Roberts, seen then as a run-first player.

In 2014, Air Force threw for four touchdown passes in a 30-21 victory.

Part of the reason for the Falcons’ success in the air in this matchup has been the presence of Jalen Robinette, who was a matchup nightmare for teams forced to go to single coverage because of the strength of Air Force’s running game.

The Falcons no longer have Robinette, but recent games have indicated they might have a reasonable facsimile in…

 

The abilities of Geraud Sanders

Sanders leads Air Force with seven catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns.

More than the numbers, it was the way he caught two passes at New Mexico that elicited thoughts of Robinette. The first was a touchdown catch in which he used his sizeable frame (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) to shield the safety and make the catch. The second was a catch on the sideline when he was again heavily defended but was able to elevate above a defender and make a grab.

“He absolutely has to get stronger and become more exact and more disciplined with his routes,” said Calhoun, who noted that junior Marcus Bennett has done “a heck of a job getting open and being able to get some separation.”

“I think sometimes a defender is closer to (Sanders) than he should be in terms of the amount of separation he should gain. If he’ll be more precise with his routes…”

Perfect routes or not, look for Sanders to be a difference-maker against Navy. And he’s also part of…

 

Air Force’s growing youth movement

Sanders, a sophomore, is the team’s leading receiver. Sophomore fullback Taven Birdow had 12 carries last week. Freshman defensive lineman Jordan Jackson was second with five tackles – all solo – at New Mexico.

All of the sudden, Air Force has grown much younger.

Among sophomores, safety James Jones IV has moved into a starting role, Mosese Fifita and Kyler Ehm have seen significant time at nose guard. Sophomore punter Charlie Scott continues to firm up his hold on that job.

Then there’s freshman Lakota Wills, who has moved into a starting role at outside linebacker. Part of this has been because the younger players have won the jobs and part has been a result of…

 

Mounting injuries for Air Force

Here the Falcons who won’t play today: Cody Moorhead (DT, knee), Garrett Kauppila (FS, collarbone) and Tyler Williams (WR, knee).

Fullback Parker Wilson will be a game-time decision.

But that’s not the extent of the injuries. Tailback Tim McVey didn’t practice on Monday (joining about one fourth of the team’s starters) and was walking in a protective boot at practice on Tuesday. It was notable how little he was limping. But still, he’s clearly hurt.

That brings to question who would be the primary No. 2 at tailback. Malik Miller has held that spot since fall camp, but will his fumble on a kickoff return last week jeopardize that? Benton Washington has been healthy and practicing. Is it time for him to carry for the first time since a promising start to his sophomore season? Or maybe they go with sophomore Nolan Eriksen.

The offensive line depth chart still lists the same starters, but we’ll see there. Center Alex Norton moved to guard mid-game at New Mexico last week, with Jordan Tyler moving in at center. This wasn’t an issue, as Tyler and quarterback Arion Worthman worked together on the second team for much of last season. But still, it was a change.

Speaking of changes, there’s one thing Air Force must address today…

 

Second-half swoons

No halftimes likely contributed to this over the past two weeks, but in losses at Michigan, against San Diego State and at New Mexico, the Falcons were outscored 93-39 in the second half.

“You’ve got to learn,” Calhoun said. “60 minutes. It’s not a 48-minute game. It’s a 60-minute game. And realizing the adjustments. You don’t just make one set of adjustments. It’s continual the way you’ve got to adjust and counter adjust and realizing the full duration of a game. We’ve got to do that. It’s part of growing. We’ve got to do it.”

The players, of course, are aware of this, too.

“Is there a pride factor? Absolutely,” outside linebacker Shaq Vereen said. “Keep working, keep grinding. We’re doing that every day.”

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