Head-to-head: Navy vs. Troy

The Navy Midshipmen return home to Annapolis this weekend to face the Troy Trojans on Senior Day. Navy lost to Notre Dame last week in a 56-14 rout. Navy has suffered six straight losses in its worst stretch of football since 2002. Troy, similar to Navy, is also experiencing a down year. Troy moved from Division II to Division 1-AA to the FBS in just 13 years.

Entering this season the Trojans had won at least eight games five straight years while winning outright or sharing the Sun Belt conference title all five years. This season Troy, like Navy, has seen their eight game consecutive season streak end as they have struggled to a 2-5 record. This is the first meeting between the two schools.

Navy rushing offense
Troy rushing defense
Navy's spread option rushing attack has struggled the last three games. The Mids led the nation in rushing yards per game entering the Rutgers contest and now have dropped to fifth in the nation averaging average just over 309 rushing yards per game. Kriss Proctor (591 yards, 4.5 avg., 8 TDs in 2011) is practicing this week after missing the Notre Dame game with an elbow injury. Coach Ken Niumatalolo says it is questionable if Kriss will be able to start. If Proctor can't go it will be sophomore quarterback Trey Miller (38 att., 93 yards, 0 TDs) who made his first start last week. Miller struggled at times with his reads and was occasionally indecisive against the Irish but the reality is Notre Dame's defense just dominated the Mids upfront. In past seasons Navy's offensive line tended to improve as the season wore on, however, this year's group has regressed. B-back Alexander Teich (580 yards, 4.7 avg., 2 TDs) led the Mids with 62 rushing yards against the Irish last week. Slotback John Howell (300 yards, 11.5 per carry, 4 TDs) and Gee Gee Greene (289 yards, 7.8 avg., 1 TD) were non factors last game as Navy never was able to consistently block on the perimeter. Navy finally received some good news with the return of talented senior slotback Aaron Santiago (116 total yards, 3 combined TDs), who suffered a broken arm in week two against Western Kentucky. Navy will miss receiver Doug Furman blocking on the perimeter. Furman suffered a career ending knee injury against Notre Dame.

The Trojans, who use a base 4-3 defense, rank 81st in the nation in rush defense. FIU put up over 500 yards of offense against Troy's defense but only scored two touchdowns last week. Troy's two best defensive players are junior left defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, a First Team All-Sun Belt Conference selection in 2010, and junior Xavier Lamb who is an undersized middle linebacker. Last season Massaquoi made 76 tackles including an impressive 24 tackles for a loss. He has recorded 29 tackles with eight for a loss this year. Lamb had 13 tackles last week and has made 58 tackles this year. Strong safety Brendan Trawick is active in run support and currently leads the Trojans with 62 tackles.
Navy passing offense
Troy passing defense
Senior Kriss Proctor is questionable to return this week. This season Proctor has completed 38 of his 72 pass attempts (52.8%) for 557 yards with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Proctor lacks arm strength and it will be interesting to see how well he can throw the ball after injuring his left elbow. He has yet to attempt a pass this week. Sophomore Trey Miller has thrown the ball fairly well over the last two games since replacing Proctor. Miller has completed 12 of 27 passes (44.4%) for 205 yards and three touchdowns. Miller had his receivers drop two other touchdown passes and Bo Snelson dropped a long bomb that hit him in the hands. Miller has shown poise in the pocket. Brandon Turner (9 rec., 228 yrads, 25.3 avg. 3 TDs in 2011) has emerged as a threat in the passing game. Turner dropped a Miller pass on the first series of the third quarter against the Irish that should have been a 23-yard touchdown reception. Matt Aiken (11 rec., 180 yards, 16.4 avg., 2 TDs) leads the team in receptions. Gee Gee Greene caught his third touchdown pass this year against Notre Dame.

Troy, whose secondary has struggled the past two years, ranks105th in the nation in pass defense. Senior cornerback Jimmie Anderson (21 tackles, one interception in 2011) has missed the last two games with an appendix but is expected to start against Navy. Sophomore cornerback Chris Pickett has made 36 tackles and broke up two passes. Defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi is a very good pass rusher. This year he has posted 3 1/2 sacks and last season he was one of pass rushers in the nation when he recorded 13 1/2 sacks.
Troy rushing offense
Navy rushing defense
Troy rank 109th in the country in rushing offense averaging just 100 yards per game. The Trojans backfield averages 3.5 yards per carry. They use a one back set with running back Shawn Southward seeing most of the carries. Southward (291 yards, 4.4 avg., 3 TDs) is quick, small back. Chris Anderson (188 yards, 4.0 avg., 1 TD) spells Southward when he needs a break. D.J. Taylor, a 229 pound bruiser, is used in mostly in short yardage situations. Taylor has rushed for 238 yards, 5.5 avg., and four touchdowns.

Navy is ranked 98th in the country in rush defense allowing over 196 rushing yards per game. Navy's defense used a 4-3 look for the first time since 2002 last week and it didn't work. The Irish averaged 5.2 yards per carry and rushed for seven touchdowns. It was the most rushing touchdowns scored by the Irish in 19 years. Looking at the tape there is not much to say. Week after week, Navy is out manned upfront and knocked off the ball. In addition the team is plagued by poor tackling. Chris Ferguson was run over by Notre Dame running back Gray on the opening drive. On Woods' one yard touchdown run just before the end of the first half, the hole was filled but Woods slipped through for a score after he wasn't not properly wrapped up. Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green gets Matt Brewer back this week and returns to the 3-4. Troy's running statistics aren't very impressive but I no longer take any solace in those figures. Navy has faced teams with similar weak team rushing numbers this year like Rutgers and East Carolina entering the game only to allow one hundred yard rushers in each game.
Troy passing offense
Navy passing defense
Troy quarterback Corey Robinson last year was named Sun Belt Freshman of the Year and New Orleans Bowl Most Valuable Player. Robinson threw for over 3,700 passing yards and 28 touchdowns in 2010. Robinson is currently in a slump. After starting his career with at least one passing touchdown in each of his first 16 games, Corey Robinson has failed to throw a touchdown in three of Troy's last four games. This season Robinson has completed 188 of 310 passes for 1982 yards (60.6%) with 9 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Troy's pass-happy offense feature nine receivers with at least 10 receptions. One of the major reasons for Troy's disappointing season was the loss of almost the entire receiving corps from last season. Troy graduated star Jerrel Jernigan and two other seniors and then lost two other receivers due to academic problems. This year's leading wide receiver is Eric Thomas (35 rec., 451 yards, 12.9 avg., 5 TDs). Thomas is the most productive of the group. Corey Johnson is a possession receiver with 28 receptions for 208 yards. Jaquon Robinson caught 16 passes for 201 yards and scored two touchdowns. Navy has to be careful of super-fast freshman Chandler Worthy who has just started to see more playing time and has a 75-yard touchdown reception.

The Mids rank 111th in the nation in pass defense. Navy's struggling secondary is also battling injuries with cornerback David Wright (21 tackles, 1 pass defenses) out and his replacement Jonathan Wev hurt. Freshman Parrish Gaines is the current starter at cornerback and even though he has ability, he's currently not ready. David Sperry (43 tackles, 1 INT) has struggled in man coverage. Another plebe free safety Chris Ferguson made nine tackles against the Irish and nearly intercepted a pass. The Mids have struggled against spread passing teams that employ bubble screens and switch routes the way Troy uses them.
Special Teams
Troy kicker Michael Taylor has hit 6 of 10 field goal attempts this year. Taylor missed a key extra point after Troy's second touchdown and FIU was able to tie the game late and send it to overtime. Taylor then missed a 43-yard field goal on Troy's first overtime possession, setting up FIU's win. Bearded punter Will Goggans has averaged 41.6 yards per attempt. Justin Albert has averaged just 5.1 per punt return. Corey Johnson (20.8 avg.) is an average kickoff return man. Freshman Chandler Worthy (22.4) is very fast and has the speed to break a long kickoff returns.

Navy has lost three games this season because of special teams mistakes. Kicker Jon Teague's struggles continued last week when he badly missed a field goal on the opening drive. Plebe punter Pablo Beltran has averaged 37.2 yards per punt. Kick returner Marcus Thomas lost his job with a brutal game against Notre Dame. Darius Staten (4 KR, 89 yards) replaced Thomas against the Irish after Thomas was benched. Navy continues to struggle on kickoff coverage allowing an average of 26.1 yards on kickoff returns. Punt return coverage has been good with the Mids allowing a season long return of just eight yards. On punt returns sure handed Matt Aiken (6.5 avg.) hasn't seen many opportunities with the Navy defense unable to stop anyone.
Troy head coach Larry Blakeney is one of the most underappreciated coaches in the country. Blakenly has coached at Troy for 21 years producing an impressive 153-87-1 career record. He has guided the Trojans to 14 winning seasons including six seasons with 10 or more wins. Blakeney began his career in the Trojans' final two seasons in Division II, and then led Troy to seven Division I-AA playoff appearances in eight seasons. In 2001, led Troy through a transition season, moving to Division I-A, finishing with a 7-4 record. He had won or tied for the Sun Belt conference title the last five years before this year's struggles.

Head coach Ken Niumatalolo has seen his team lose six straight games. Last week's meltdown in South Bend was surprising in how uncompetitive the team was against a Notre Dame team they had defeated three of the previous four years. Buddy Green's defense is struggling with injuries and inexperience. It hasn't helped that the tackling has been miserable and no one is making any plays.
Both teams are having surprisingly poor seasons after consistently reaching at least eight wins the last few years. Navy has won eight straight games on Senior Day. The Mids' last Senior Day loss was in 2002 when they lost 38-0 to Connecticut. The Trojans present the type of spread offense that the Mids have proven unable to stop the last year and a half.  

PREDICTION: Navy, 38-31. Unless the Mids are in a complete free fall after last week, they should be able to muster up enough offense to hold Troy off at home.

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