Three Things I’m Watching: Air Force at Navy

Work is preventing me from getting up to Annapolis for the game this weekend, but I’ll be alert and focused from my couch as Navy attempts to avenge last year’s 14-6 loss in Colorado Springs. This game is getting broken down from literally every angle you can think of, but here are three storylines I’m going to be keeping an eye on for Saturday.

Orange Zone Playcalling: Navy’s offensive struggles in the red zone during last year’s game have been well documented, as has the apparent turn-around through the early part of this year. But can you really call it a turnaround after just three games? Navy has been six for eight in the redzone this year in terms of coming away with touchdowns, but the offense has also scored seven touchdowns from outside the redzone. Given the familiarity of the Air Force defense with the option and the usually solid play of the Air Force cornerbacks in supporting the run while in the redzone, I’m curious to see if Niumatalolo and Jasper roll the dice in what I’m dubbing the “Orange Zone.” I’m talking about the area between the opponent’s 20 and 40 yard line, or as it’s better known, “field goal range.” Think about it; John Howell and Gee Gee Green have proved themselves as a big play slotbacks who can score when they get to the outside, while the Navy passing game - on somewhat questionable footing coming into the year – has already produced three receiving touchdowns. If Air Force is firing the corners and cheating a safety, I would not be surprised to see Navy’s offense become especially aggressive in trying to score while in my so-called “Orange Zone.”

Alexander Teich: I’ve been in my share of Navy press conferences after losses, but until the post-game press conference after the loss at South Carolina, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Navy player as mad about a game as Alexander Teich was. It’s one thing to be disappointed. It’s one thing to be heartbroken. But when your team captain is – and please excuse my somewhat vulgar nature here – straight-up pissed off, you can’t help but think to the next game and wonder how he’ll play. Teich is the kind of emotional leader who has always used that kind of fire to fuel his performance, and I’d expect nothing less in arguably the biggest game of the season. At the same time, Navy-Air Force games have hardly been conducive to breakout fullback play in the recent past. Last year Teich had just 38 yards against Air Force, and the year before that he and then-starter Vince Murray averaged just under 3.0 yards per carry between them on 29 combined carries. Actually, Navy has gone five seasons without a fullback or fullback tandem running for over 100 yards against Air Force (Adam Ballard had 134 yards in 2006), a stat that something tells me Teich knows all too well. He won’t need to rush for over 100 yards to make his presence felt, but he’s going to have to make an impact if Navy wants to come out on top. Whether it’s leading the way for Proctor and blowing up the ‘backer on a midline, or catching, turning, and getting upfield on a screen, Teich has the opportunity to live up to his captain status this Saturday, and prove that he was more than just a fuming player after the tough loss to the Gamecocks.

Defensive Substitutions: Bill Wagner posted an interesting tidbit on his blog about defensive end Wes Henderson getting the nod over Jamel Dobbs at defensive end for Saturday’s game. Henderson had a pretty rip-roaring game against USC two weeks ago when he recorded five stops, so much so that I honestly mistook him for Jabaree Tuani at times. Henderson getting the nod might just be a case of a great game rewarded and coach Pehrson going with the “hot hand,” but I think it also speaks to what has silently become a surprisingly deep Navy defense. With all three injured outside linebackers returning this week - and with Brye French having played well against South Carolina – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see Buddy Green rolling guys in and out on a regular basis Saturday to keep them fresh. On the other side of the coin, you’ve got to wonder if the Air Force defensive injuries will be felt hardest in the second half, when the attrition of a *hopefully* successful Navy run game could really take its toll.

Ok, that’s what I’m going to be checking out, in addition to the “usual” storylines of special teams, extracurricular activity, and amount of times coach gets caught on national television mouthing “SON OF BISCUIT.” Any particular storylines you’re checking out?

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