Navy Midshipmen (1-2) vs. Air Force (2-3)
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
TV/Radio: CSTV; 980-AM, 1090-AM, 1430-AM.
Tickets: Sold out.
Last Meeting: Navy beat the Falcons, 24-21, last year.
Series: Air Force leads, 25-12.
Importance: This is a pivotal game in the race for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy, presented annually to the winner of football competition among Army, Air Force and Navy. The team with the best record in head-to-head games keeps the 21/2-foot-tall trophy. If Navy, holder of the trophy the past two years, beats Air Force on Saturday and Army on Dec. 3, it retains the trophy. If Air Force wins Saturday and beats Army on Nov. 5, it claims the trophy for the seventh time in nine years. If all three teams go 1-1, Navy keeps it for another year.
Outlook: Navy enters with confidence after a 28-21 victory at Duke on Saturday when senior quarterback Lamar Owens scored the game-winning touchdown on a two-yard run with 1 minute 18 seconds remaining. Owens, who missed parts of the second half of the first two games because of cramps, played the full game, completing four of nine passes for 87 yards with a touchdown and an interception and rushing for 106 yards on 13 carries.
Navy gained at least 30 yards on seven plays, including a 33-yard touchdown pass from Owens to freshman receiver Tyree Barnes, a 52-yard run by sophomore slotback Reggie Campbell to set up a touchdown run by freshman slotback Karlos Whittaker, a 47-yard scoring run by junior fullback Matt Hall and a 52-yard run by Owens to set up the game-winning touchdown.
"This is the kind of showing we can really build off of going into our game against Air Force," said Hall, who had eight carries for 66 yards against the Blue Devils. "We had so many guys on our team make some really big plays for us. We really needed to beat Duke just to get a win and get some confidence."
Air Force has lost three straight games, including a 41-23 loss at Colorado State on Thursday, when it gave up 551 yards of total offense. Air Force is making its first trip to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium since 1997; the teams played at FedEx Field in 1999, 2001 and 2003. Last year, Navy kicker Geoff Blumenfeld hit a 30-yard field goal with four seconds remaining for Navy's second straight win over Air Force. Air Force has not lost three straight to Navy since 1977-1979.
Air Force sophomore quarterback Shaun Carney has completed 41 of 72 passes for 666 yards, 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He has carried 82 times for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns. Junior fullback Jacobe Kendrick has 69 carries for 304 yards and 4 touchdowns. Freshman Chad Hall has 30 carries for 198 yards and 1 touchdown. Carney's favorite target is senior receiver Jason Brown, who has 22 catches for 432 yards and 2 touchdowns. The offense averages 421.8 yards.
Navy's triple-option offense averages 260.7 rushing and 144 passing yards per game, led by Owens (42 carries, 236 yards, 1 touchdown), Hall (31 carries, 146 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Whittaker (11 carries, 132 yards, 2 touchdowns). Owens has attempted just 38 passes this season, completing 21 for 377 yards and 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Struggling defenses could make for a high-scoring affair. Navy is giving up 28.3 points per game, and Air Force is allowing 30.8.
Against Duke, "we still did some things wrong, but we're getting better. That's the most important thing," said Navy junior linebacker Rob Caldwell. "We need to have our most improvement this week because we have Air Force coming up. That's probably the biggest game this year."
-- Jon Gallo