HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. WESTERN KENTUCKY

Navy hosts Western Kentucky on Saturday in Annapolis. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

The Navy Midshipmen face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this Saturday. It is a battle of two polar opposites. Navy's No. 2 ranked running game will face off against Western Kentucky’s' No. 2 ranked passing attack. Navy leads the series 2-1 but lost 19-7 last year. Navy was unable to generate any offense after starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds was knocked out of the game last fall.

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
WESTERN KENTUCKY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Keenan Reynolds has completed 18 of 34 passes (52.9%) for 281 passing yards and a touchdown pass. Reynolds arm strength, mobility and accuracy offer the Mids a legitimate passing threat like last week when he threw for 231 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers. Jamir Tillman has emerged as Navy's new big play wide receiver. Tillman lead the Mids with nine receptions for 186 yards, a 20.7 average and a touchdown. Tillman had a 53- yard reception on the second play of the third quarter against Rutgers which set up a 35-yard field goal by Nick Sloan. Wide receiver Brandon Dudeck had three receptions for 45-yards against Rutgers. He has caught a touchdown pass in two consecutive games. The Mids offensive line had trouble picking up WKU's delayed blitzes last year.

The rebuilt WKU secondary has struggled this season. It is ranked 123rd against the pass and is allowing 329 passing yards a game this season. The Hilltoppers did return senior Cam Thomas (41 tackles, 5 interceptions in 2013) who was a first-team all-league pick in the Sun Belt conference last year. Thomas has started 25 straight games. He has posted 15 tackles and two passed defensed this year. Ricardo Singh struggles at times in pass coverage but is active with 21 tackles. Pass rush specialist Tanner Reeves can come off the edge and leads the Hilltoppers with three sacks.

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
WESTERN KENTUCKY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Navy enters the game ranked second in the nation in rushing yards. The Mids are averaging 345 rushing yards a game. Last year Navy led the nation with 50 rushing touchdowns. The Mids struggled on the ground against Rutgers tough defense as Navy ran for just 171 rushing yards, 4.0 per carry and two touchdowns. The Scarlet Knights have now held Navy below it rushing average the last six times they played. The Mids were led by slotback Geoffrey Whiteside with 51 yards on six carries. Last year Navy ran for just 107 rushing yards, a 3.2 average and scored a touchdown against Western Kentucky. Navy hopes that DeBrandon Sanders (81 yards, 7.9 avg, 2 TDs) and Demond Brown ( 47 yards, 7.8 Avg.) are healthy enough to return to the lineup. The Hilltoppers 4-3 defense enters the game ranked 86th in the nation against the run this year. They are allowing over 179 rushing yards per game. Keenan Reynolds ran six times for 23 yards last fall before leaving the game after being shaken up. The Hilltoppers used an aggressive five man front last year and the Navy offensive line struggled to block anyone after the opening touchdown drive last year. Defensive end Gavin Rocker (37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss in 2013) returns from last year defensive line but has three new starters with him. Linebacker Nick Holt is the son of the defensive coordinator and he leads the team in tackles. Holt has made 33 tackles, with 4.5 yards for a loss and has a sack.



WESTERN KENTUCKY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: WESTERN KENTUCKY
REMARKS: Western Kentucky's senior quarterback Brandon Doughty is having a breakthrough season. He has completed 117 of his 170 pass attempts (.688) for 1,459 yards with 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Doughty leads the nation in passing yards per game at 486.3 yards per game and total offense per game if 480.7 yards. Doughty (2,857 yards, 14 touchdowns in 2013) completed 26-of-31 for 198 passing yards and an interception against Navy last year. Doughty’s favorite target is Jared Dangerfield who has 20 catches for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Taywan Taylor has 17 catches for 205 yards and one touchdown Willie Mcneal (46 receptions for 599 yards and 5 tds in 2013) is a good possession receiver who has scored two touchdowns this year. Seven different WKU receivers have scored touchdowns.

Navy's secondary is ranked 42nd in the nation. The Mids secondary struggled in pass coverage and run support against Rutgers last week. RU's Gary Nova completed 11-of -14 passes for 151 yards. RU's offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen didn't ask Nova to do much since his plan was to run the ball straight at Navy. Safety Kwazel Bertrand (25 tackles) led the team in tackles with ten last week. Bertrand saved a touchdown with a shoe string tackle. Bertrand is still learning how to play safety and needs to stop biting so hard on play action. Linebacker Chris Johnson was everywhere last year against Western Kentucky as he made eight tackles. Johnson stopped WKU's second drive himself when he made two tackles after short receptions to force a punt.

WESTERN KENTUCKY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: WESTERN KENTUCKY
REMARKS: Running back Leon Allen leads the Western Kentucky rushing attack with 345 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 81 carries. The Hilltoppers are ranked 21st in the country in rushing yards per game with 115-yards a game. Allen is no slouch but the Mids are glad that WKU's super star Antonio Andrews, who ran for 182 yards and two touchdowns in last year's game, has graduated. The Hilltoppers return two starting offensive linemen from 2013. Quarterback Brandon Doughty is a pocket passer and doesn't pose much of a running threat.

Navy ranks 102nd in the country in stopping the run. They are allowing 211 rushing yards per game. The run defense had a rough game last week. The Mids allowed Rutgers 284 rushing yards, 16 rushing first downs, 5.1 yards a carry and four touchdowns. Navy's front seven was stuck on RU's blocks all game long. The Mids lost inside linebacker James Britton ( 24 tackles, Int) for the year last week after he broke his foot. The Mids had previously lost Don Pearson, the expected starter out of spring camp, who left the program. Sophomore linebacker Daniel Gonzales (19 tackles) needs to pickup the slack. Gonzales was the he NAPS defensive MVP at Mike linebacker in 2012. Gonzalez is a very instinctive and aware inside linebacker.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: WESTERN KENTUCKY
REMARKS: WKU's junior kicker Garrett Schwettman has hit seven-of-nine field goal attempts this year. He is almost automatic inside the forty yard line but doesn't have a very strong leg. Joseph Occhipinti is averaging 39.3 on nine punts. Kylon Tower handles both the kickoff and punt returns. Willie McNeal has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in his career. WKU coverage teams are athletic and usually do a good job covering kicks.

Navy's kicker Nick Sloan has hit three of six field goals this year. Sloan has hit one of two field goal attempts in three straight games. The kickoff coverage has been outstanding this year. Punter Pablo Beltran is having a great senior season. He's averaged 44.7 yards on his 11 punts. Beltran blasted one punt 62 yards against Rutgers. Kick returner Demond Brown and punt returner DeBrandon Sanders should both be back this week after sitting out with injuries.

COACHING
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Jeff Brohm is in his first season as the head football coach at Western Kentucky University after spending one season as the Hilltoppers’ assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. He is a 11-year collegiate coaching veteran with experience in the Big 10, Big East, Conference USA and Sun Belt conferences, Brohm's high-scoring offense broke 18 single-season school records including total offense, individual passing yards and individual rushing yards in his first season as the Hilltoppers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at WKU in 2013.

Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to a 51-32 record. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper couldn't find any answers for WKU's multiple fronts last year. The Hilltoppers simply dominated Navy up front. Jasper probably should have run it from the six yard line last week against Rutgers rather than attempting four straight passes on the last series. Buddy Green was able to get his unit to make one late defensive stand last week..

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: The Hilltoppers outgained Navy 417-183 in total offense last year. Navy was unable to generate any offensive drives after starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds was knocked out of the game. There is a revenge motive in this one. The Navy bench was furious at the headhunting tactics of Western Kentucky last year which knocked Reynolds out of the game and ended the career of senior offensive lineman Graham Vickers. Navy has won two of the three games played in the series

PREDICTION: Navy 35, Western Kentucky 28. This should be a wide open game matching one of the best passing attack against one of the best rushing attacks. Navy's defense is better than Western Kentucky's rebuilding unit so far this season. I like Navy at home in a payback game.

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Also see: Three Keys Navy vs Western Kentucky

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