(Note: This is the third segment of an e-mail correspondence between me and my friend Christian Swezey, who covers Navy football for The Washington Post. For our initial e-mails, scroll down to Parts 1 and 2.)
Jake Schaller wrote: Air Force has better athletes than it gets credit for, and Carson Bird is foremost among them. He is the player that truly personifies the difference between this year’s attacking defense and last year’s passive defense. He is aggressive and likes to go after receivers in press coverage – he is the strongest of the Falcons’ defensive backs.
Another one of the best athletes on the team is sophomore strong safety Chris Thomas. Expect him to play a major role in Saturday’s game as strong safeties always are key to shutting down triple-option attacks. He’s the perfect guy to creep into the box and make some plays against Navy. I wrote once before that if they forgot to pack his equipment, he’d probably go out on the field in shorts and a t-shirt. He’s tough, physical, loves to hit and has that knack for being around the ball.
As for the o-line, it was a big question mark coming into the season. It had been pretty good until last weekend against BYU. We’ll see.
Anyway, a reader asked me which team I think (and asked me to ask you which team you think) has the advantage in special teams, coaching and intangibles.
Here's how I see it ...
Special teams: Push. Ryan Harrison is the best kicker Air Force has had in years, and he could be the difference Saturday. But Navy's kicker has made some big-time field goals as well - last week against Duke and, most notably, against Air Force in '05. Air Force's coverage/return games have been better than last year so far, but its punting has been average.
Coaching: Push. You can't argue with what Paul Johnson has done at Navy - he's won four straight over Air Force and made the Midshipmen a fixture in bowl season.
Calhoun, meanwhile, already has worked wonders at Air Force. I think Fisher DeBerry is a coaching legend, but if the Falcons had last year's coaching staff this season, I think they're entering this game 1-3.
Intangibles: This is close, too, but how can you not go with Navy? Four straight victories, all by one score or less. If it gets close, Air Force will think it can win, Navy will know it can win.