South Alabama And The Tricky Takeaway Test

The South Alabama Jaguars stand in the way of a winning regular season for Navy. The Midshipmen, given another bye week, have to realize what might await them if their opponent from the Sun Belt Conference doesn't give up the football on Friday afternoon.


SOUTH ALABAMA AND THE PROBLEM OF VOLATILITY

The South Alabama Jaguars represent an opponent which does not look fierce on paper, but could certainly pose problems for Navy if Friday afternoon’s game acquires a particular shape and texture.

One thing Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo might tell his team is that two years ago, the Midshipmen traveled to the state of Alabama to take on another Sun Belt program, the Troy Trojans. Navy watched Troy quarterback Corey Robinson complete 25 of 28 passes en route to a 41-31 ambush of the Midshipmen. Troy entered that game 4-5 and a less-than-convincing foe, but the Trojans looked like a very different team after the game. Navy doesn’t want such a scenario to recur on another visit to Alabama and the Sun Belt.

How can Navy ensure that it will win this game? The obvious answer is a positive turnover differential, but of course, doesn’t that apply to any game? It does, but this is especially the case in light of what South Alabama did this past weekend against South Carolina, in a game Niumatalolo and his staff eagerly watched.

Last Saturday, South Alabama and South Carolina traded turnovers on six straight possessions. That’s right – the Jaguars and Gamecocks both committed turnovers on three consecutive possessions. South Alabama’s inability to do anything with South Carolina’s repeated failures is what doomed the Jaguars on the road. Naturally, if Navy can then pounce on any mistakes South Alabama makes, the Midshipmen can take complete control of this contest. This point needs no amplification.

Where this game gets tricky, though, is that USA (what an acronym for a Sun Belt school, right?) is going to take the field on Friday with a very specific intention: avoid turnovers. You can be assured that South Alabama’s offense has valued ball security more than anything else over the past few days. If the Jaguars make the right adjustments, they will severely reduce their rough edges. Navy might not be able to take the ball away from USA.

What happens then? That’s the tricky takeaway test found in this clash.

Can Navy’s defense stop South Alabama without having to get turnovers? Can the Midshipmen stand tall in the red zone and shut down the home-run pass? Can Navy generate three-and-outs to force South Alabama’s defense to stay on the field a lot longer than it would like to against an Annapolis offense which has found itself the past few games?

If Navy wins the turnover battle – especially by a differential of two or more – you know how this game will end. What if the Midshipmen can’t get takeaways, though? That’s when this game could become a little uncomfortable for Navy. The defense will need to show that it can stop South Alabama independent of any lapses the Jaguars might suffer. Navy’s offense, for its part, needs to be ready to drive 80 yards instead of benefiting from the short fields the Jaguars gave South Carolina on Nov. 22.

The focus of the Navy football team the past few weeks has rightly rested on the offense, which has indeed managed to look like a fully functioning force once again. Now the spotlight shifts to the defense, which can make this trip to Alabama a lot better than the Trojan ambush of 2012.

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