Air Force scored the final 35 points in a rare blowout of Navy last year.
The Falcons return many key figures from that victory.
But there’s a sense from both sides that this year could be quite different as Air Force travels to Annapolis, Md., on Saturday.
“I think we’re a much better team,” Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
“I think we’re both very similar.”
Air Force blew out San Jose State on Friday night, washing away the taste from a loss at Boise State and entering preparations for Navy on a high note.
Through three games, Navy has outgained opponents by an average of 457-251 and outscored them by an average of 36.7-17.3. It leads the nation in rushing yards (344.7 per game) and its win total (2) through three games matches its victories from its final 11 games in 2018.
And, of course, it’s playing at home; where it has won five of the past six games in this matchup.
“Quality team, across the board,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said.
Navy has implemented run-and-shoot principles into its option-based offense and is out-passing Air Force 112.7 to 110.0 yards per game this season — a stark contrast to the Falcons’ 423-135 edge in passing yards over the past two meetings.
“They’re definitely doing different things offensively,” Air Force (3-1) safety Garrett Kauppila said. “They are definitely adapting to their opponent.”
Quarterback Malcolm Perry leads the Midshipmen (2-1) with 275 rushing yards and seven touchdowns along with 336 passing yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“The quickness and how elusive he is, and the experience that he has playing football, too,” Calhoun said of Perry, who ran for 127 yards and a touchdown when Air Force visited Navy in 2017. “This isn’t the first time we’ve faced him.”
Niumatalolo said last year’s 35-7 loss “was so long ago.”
That’s the approach Air Force is taking, too, to avoid too much confidence creeping into its preparation.
“Last year happened. It came and it went,” Kauppila said. “There’s definitely a level of, ‘We’ve been there before, we know what can happen.’ But obviously our team was different offensively and defensively, but so is theirs. It’s also at a different place, and each of us have our own successes at home. I think there’s of course confidence in our own ability, but I wouldn’t say it’s because last year went the way that it did.”
Air Force made several moves on the defensive line this past week, creating an opportunity for junior Michael Purcell to make his first start.
When tailback Josh Stoner broke into the clear on a 43-yard run for Air Force, his thought was, "I can't believe I'm in this position." No wonder, it had taken three years to get there.