It’s fitting that Navy and Air Force share the field Saturday, the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The on-field focus will be heavily keyed on the run when these two military academies line up in Annapolis, Md. The teams combined for 707 rushing yards compared to 111 yards passing in their respective season-opening matchups.
The presumptive ground-heavy game plan is reflected in the opening total of 40.5, a number shared among a number of online sportsbooks.
Air Force is the solid betting favorite, priced between -5.5 and -6 as of Thursday.
Navy Midshipmen Overview (0-1, 0-1 ATS)
There aren’t many positives that can be taken away from a 49-7 thumping at the hands of Marshall in the season’s opening week. However, head coach Ken Niumatalolo may at least take solace in an improved showing from his team’s ground game. After averaging a paltry — by Navy standards — 177.6 rushing yards in 2020, they ran for 337.
Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, there are additional issues that need to be addressed heading into Saturday’s rivalry showdown.
Chief among them is the quarterback rotation. Niumatalolo went into the Marshall game planning on utilizing multiple players under center, and that’s what he did.
But the old football adage goes, “If you have two quarterbacks, you have zero quarterbacks,” and not one of Maasai Maynor, Xavier Arline, or Tai Lavatai set himself apart. Lavatai started but was replaced by Arline in the first half after Marshall jumped out to a 21-0 lead. Lavatai re-entered early in the third quarter before leaving once again due to a leg injury. It’s not clear how serious the injury is or what Navy is planning at quarterback this week.
Another area the Midshipmen need to fix in short order is third-down and red-zone conversion. They converted 38% (8 of 21) of their third downs and struggled to finish drives last week.
Niumatalolo after Navy’s loss to Marshall: “We’ve got to finish drives. With a team like that, they’re so potent on offense that we have to be able to finish those drives and stay close. Felt like we moved the ball, but it doesn’t matter moving the ball. Just killed ourselves. Killed ourselves in the red zone.”
Air Force Falcons Overview (1-0, 0-1 ATS)
The Falcons opened their 2021 campaign with a convincing 35-14 victory over Lafayette but failed to cover the massive 40.5-point spread. This week’s spread suggests a more closely contested affair.
Navy improved defensively as last season progressed. However, they’re fresh off serving up 49 points and 464 yards to Marshall. That yardage total comes with an important caveat: 363 came through the air. Navy and Air Force combined won’t sniff that number.
Each team featuring such a run-focused offensive scheme is among the most fascinating elements of Saturday’s matchup. Air Force chewed through Lafayette for 370 rushing yards last week and dominated Navy in 2020 — as 7-point underdogs. They took that matchup 40-7 behind 369 rushing yards.
There may be similarities to how these teams move the ball, but their situation under center couldn’t be more different. Navy enters their Week 2 tilt with questions at quarterback, but Air Force has no such uncertainty. Junior quarterback Haaziq Daniels totaled 122 yards and three touchdowns last week. He racked up 137 total yards and a touchdown in last season’s meeting with the Midshipmen.
- Open — Air Force -6, O/U 40.5
- BetMGM, FanDuel, DraftKings — Air Force -5.5
- Caesars — Navy +6
- Moneyline — Navy +210 (FanDuel), Air Force -220 (Caesars)
Considering the magnitude of this event, bettors wouldn’t be shamed for taking the “throw the numbers out of the window” approach. There are instances when cliches are appropriate, and this is a case that qualifies. How is one to quantify the emotion of suiting up for and sharing the field with a rival military academy? This Saturday in particular.
As far as what can be quantified, the spread moved off of 6 and settled at 5.5 at a number of shops. Those who want Navy and the points can still get +6 from Caesars as of Thursday afternoon.
The total opened at 40.5 and has remained steady across most books. Air Force hung 40 on Navy in 2020 and the two combined to nip the OVER (46.5). The Falcons appear to have picked up where that meeting ended, but the Midshipmen need to find their groove offensively. Last week’s loss marked their fourth straight game scoring seven or fewer points.