There can’t be a bigger day for service academy football than Army-Navy day. But tomorrow might come close.
Air Force visits Army on Saturday morning and could walk out of West Point as the rightful owner of the Commander in Chief’s Trophy. A few hours later, Navy and Notre Dame square off at FedEx Field outside Washington, D.C., in a prime-time chapter of their long-standing rivalry.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the opening act in Saturday’s doubleheader, including players to watch, key matchups and the occasional parachute team lip-syncing to Taylor Swift:
What: Air Force (5-2, 2-2 Mountain West Conference) at Army (2-5)
When: 11:30 a.m.
Wait, when?: That’s 9:30 a.m. in Colorado Springs, 5:30 a.m. for those stationed in Hawaii. The Army athletics department has you covered, though — check out these brunch-time tailgate ideas. Does anything scream “football” quite like pumpkin spice baked french toast casserole?
TV: CBS, the first game of a tripleheader that includes Florida-Georgia and Notre Dame-Navy.
Gambling is illegal in most states: Air Force is a three-point favorite.
Key stat: Army is 2-0 this season when fullback Larry Dixon gets 20 or more carries. The senior captain has 683 yards rushing this season, and most of them haven’t come easy — forget the sweeps and pitches, just up the gut, shoulders lowered. It’ll take a team effort for the Air Force defense to drag down Dixon while keeping an eye on the rest of Army’s rush options (primarily quarterback Angel Santiago and running backs Raymond Maples and Tony Giovannelli), but inside linebackers Jordan Pierce and Connor Healey will see the most action.
Air attack?: Air Force ranks 117th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing, averaging just 152 yards per game. Sounds bad, but Army’s 125th, dead last, with less than 77 yards per game. While the Falcons have their own bruising fullbacks to lead the way in Shayne Davern and D.J. Johnson, the difference could be senior quarterback Kale Pearson’s big-play potential — two of his five completions in the Falcons’ win over New Mexico went for 50 yards or more. Army’s Santiago hasn’t completed a pass longer than 40 yards all season.
Takeaway machine: Air Force safety Weston Steelhammer had three interceptions in the Falcons’ win over Boise State and has also recorded three sacks, a fumble recovery and a safety this season. Army’s turned the ball over 10 times this year, but history is on the Black Knights’ side: They forced five turnovers against Air Force the last time the Falcons visited West Point, on the way to a 41-21 win.
YouTube rout: Either team could win the turnover battle, but when it comes to spirit spots this time around, Air Force has the clear edge. Here’s one put together by the Wings of Blue and Wings of Green parachute outfits — come for the jumps, stay for the breakdancing:
Taylor Swift not your speed? How about a five-minute rap from an Air Force cadet that references Heath Ledger, Olivia Wilde and the cinema classic “Space Jam”?
Speaking of cinema, check out this pro-Air Force re-creation of the dinner table scene in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”:
Hot links: A game preview from Army football guru Sal Interdonato here. … Air Force players and coaches on the Army ground game here. … One more spirit spot, this one a knock-off of the “21 Jump Street” movie, here.