HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. SOUTH ALABAMA

Navy meets South Alabama on Friday in Mobile, Ala. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical areas. He also makes a prediction on the game's final score.

Navy Midshipmen will travel to Mobile, Ala., to play the South Alabama Jaguars this Friday afternoon. Last Saturday the Jaguars dropped a 37-12 decision to South Carolina. The Mids were off last week following their impressive 52-19 victory over Georgia Southern. A victory on Friday night will make the Mids bowl eligible for the eleventh time in the last twelve years. Navy beat South Alabama 42-14 last year in Annapolis.
NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
South Alabama PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: Keenan Reynolds has completed 42-of-92 passes (45.6%) for 707 passing yards with five passing touchdowns and three interceptions. He threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jamir Tillman in the GSU game. It was a bullet pass in the back of the end zone through a very tight window and was a nice catch by Tillman. Jamir leads the Mids with 18 receptions for 338 yards, an 18.8 average and two scores. Last year Reynolds completed 10-of-17 passes for 168 passing yards and threw one touchdown against South Alabama. The Mids had excellent success throwing the ball against South Alabama last year.

The South Alabama passing defense ranks 42nd the nation. They are allowing opponents an average of 214 passing yards per game. Entering the season it was believed the Jaguars' cornerbacks tandem duo of Qudarius Ford (76 tackles, 2 interceptions in 2013) and Montell Garner were the best in the Sun Belt conference. It didn't work out for Ford who has battled with injuries all season and missed the last three games. Garner has lived up to his press clippings with 51 tackles, two picks and eight passes defensed. South Alabama's front line can create pressure. Defensive end Theo Rich has seven sacks and senior nose tackle Jesse Kelly has posted five sacks. Overall the Jaguars do not rush the passer as well as they did last year but they have recorded 24 sacks this fall.

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
South Alabama RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for a career-high 277 yards and six touchdowns last time out to lead Navy to a win over Georgia Southern on Senior Day. Reynolds has nine rushing touchdowns over the last three games since returning from his injury and removing the knee brace. The Mids’ fullbacks have run for a combined 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 7.3 yards per carry this season. B-back Noah Copeland (747 rushing yards, 8.5 avg., 3 TDs) left the last game after having his bell rung. Geoffrey Whiteside (299 yards, 8.8 avg, 3 TDs) leads the slotbacks in rushing. The offensive line has played extremely well the last four games as Navy has scored 24 touchdowns during that span. The Mids ran for 351 rushing yards, a 6.9 average and scored four rushing scores last year against South Alabama.

South Alabama's 4-2-5 defense is ranked 76th in the nation in run defense. Senior free safety Terrell Brigham is an active, physical player who likes to fly around and will hit anything that moves in his path. Brigham leads South Alabama with 91 tackles, has two fumble recoveries and seven pass breakups. Mike linebacker Davin has 65 tackles despite missing two games with injuries. The Sam linebacker Maleki Harris (67 tackles, 6 TFL, INT) made eight tackles against South Carolina and forced his fourth fumble this season. South Alabama's defense is allowing 24.4 points per game.

South Alabama PASSING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: It is unclear who will start at quarterback for South Alabama this Friday. Brandon Bridge started the first eight games but was sidelined for two games with an ankle injury. Bridge was completely ineffective when he came off the bench against South Carolina. He was just 2-of-11 passing and lost the ball when sacked. On the season the Bridge has completed 121 of his 242 pass attempts (50.0%) for 1,476 passing yards with ten touchdowns and four interceptions. Hunter Vaughn has started the last two games against Texas State and South Carolina at quarterback but has been a turnover machine. He threw four picks last week. Vaughn has completed 36 of his 56 passes (64.3%) for 337 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions. Wide receiver ShaVarez Smith leads the team with 44 catches for 634 yards, 14.4 average and six touchdowns. Smith is a big play threat with 12 career touchdowns. Senior tight end Wes Saxton (17 rec., 143 yards, 8.4 avg.) has seen his production drop from last season. Saxton led the South Alabama offense with 50 catches for 635 yards and 12.7 average in 2013. Wide receiver Jeremé Jones has posted 29 receptions for 272 yards, a 9.4 average and a score. Former Alabama transfer Danny Woodside has made 19 catches for 211 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Navy's pass defense is ranked 74th in the nation and they are allowing 231 passing yards per game. The Mids are allowing a high percentage of passes to be completed against them but they are generally solid at limiting the yards after the catch. Cornerback Quincy Adams (57 tackles, INT) picked off a pass last game against Georgia Southern. Adams leads the Mids with seven passes knocked down. Senior free safety Parrish Gaines (32 tackles, 3 INT) has started 41 straight games. Senior defensive end Paul Quessenberry (26 tackles, 6 1/2 TFL, 1 1/2 sacks) played one of his best games of his career last fall against the Jaguars.

South Alabama RUSHING OFFENSE
VS.
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: South Alabama runs a passing spread offense with three receivers, a tight end and a running back. Their running game is ranked 55th in the country and is producing over 177 rushing yards per contest. They use a running back by committee approach. Junior running back Kendall Houston (5-10, 220) leads the Jaguars in rushing with 579 yards, a 5.1 average and a score. Junior running back Jay Jones has run for 393 yards with three touchdowns. Quarterback Brandon Bridge has run for 249 yards and three touchdowns on 80 carries. Xavier Johnson (68-383, 1 TD) has been very productive as a change of pace back. South Alabama has an experienced offensive line. The offensive tackles Cody May and senior Ucambre Williams are among the best in the Sun Belt Conference.

Navy is ranked 94h in the nation on run defense. Navy is allowing 196 rushing yards per game. The Mids did a good job against the Georgia Southern's top ranked rushing attack in the first half despite allowing a lot of rushing yards. They allowed 375 rushing yards and three scores overall but 127 of those yards and a score came on the Eagles last two possessions against Navy's backups. Senior inside linebacker Jordan Drake has made 36 consecutive starts. Drake had one of his best games in leading Navy with 12 tackles against Georgia Southern. Drake currently leads Navy with 72 tackles. The Mids allowed the Jaguars just 120 rushing yards, 3.3 yards a carry and no rushing touchdowns last fall. Chris Johnson had a huge game against South Alabama last year. Johnson was in on nine tackles and broke up a pass. Johnson missed the GSU game with an ankle injury.

SPECIAL TEAMS
EDGE: EVEN
REMARKS: South Alabama's kicker Aleem Sunanon has made 13-of-16 field goals and is very reliable. Punter Brandon McGee is having a good season with a 41.0 average, 16 fair catches and 23 punts placed inside the 20-yard line. T.J. Glover is averaging 22.8 on kickoff returns and 2.7 on six punt returns. South Alabama is the best in the country in kickoff return defense allowing just 14.8 yards per kickoff return.

Navy kicker Austin Grebe has hit all four of his field goal attempts since he was named kicker. Senior punter Pablo Beltran is averaging 44.4 yards per punt on 30 punts this year. He has had eight punts fair caught, 14 have been downed inside the 20 and he has had eight punts of 50 yards or more. Demond Brown is averaging 19.3 on kick returns. DeBrandon Sanders is averaging 4.8 yards per punt return. Navy's coverage teams have been excellent.

COACHING
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: Joey Jones is 37-26 in his sixth season as founding coach of the program. His career record is 40-33. Jones built the Jaguars football program from scratch in 2007. In 2009 they actually played military academy prep teams like USMAPS. The 2012 season was their first year on the FBS level. Jones has been with South Alabama for five years building the program from humble beginnings. Jones was one of the finest receivers in Alabama history. He has done a nice job with the Jaguars building the program from the ground up. The Jaguars have posted a 12-11 record the last two years.

Navy's head coach Ken Niumatalolo has led the Midshipmen to a 54-35 (.607) record. He is second all-time at Navy in career coaching wins. With a victory Friday he can tie George Welsh for the Navy career lead. Niumatalolo was the fastest coach in school history to reach 50 wins. The team is playing its best football right now. Last game the GSU's defense didn't account for the quarterback and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper hammered them unmercifully with Reynolds. Buddy Green defense scheme did a great job in limiting the GSU attack when the game was still in doubt

INTANGIBLES
EDGE: NAVY
REMARKS: South Alabama has won their last three home games. They have built a solid program and play much better at home. This is the Jaguars home finale and they have the emotion of Senior Day in front of a packed house in their favor. Navy enters the game confident and playing their best football. The Mids won going away against Georgia Southern which defeated South Alabama 28-6 on this same field in September. The Mids will be motivated since a victory will make Navy bowl eligible. Navy is 8-2 all-time against teams from the Sun Belt Conference.

PREDICTION: Navy 45, South Alabama 21. Keenan Reynolds and the Navy offense is clicking on all cylinders and playing at such a high level right now. South Alabama plays hard and is well coached. They force turnovers and have good athletes on both sides of the ball. The Mids should be able to move the ball like they did successfully last season in beating the Jaguars 42-14. South Alabama has quarterback issues and I don't think they will be able to keep pace.

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