Navy Opponent Preview: Memphis

On the first Saturday in November Navy faces arguably its toughest challenge in its first year in the AAC. The Mids have to travel to Memphis to take on a Tigers team which is the favorite to win the West Division of the AAC. If Navy can beat Memphis, however, the Mids will more than likely have a legitimate shot at winning their division in their first year of conference affiliation.

2014 Record: 10-3 (7-1 The American. Won the AAC) – Beat BYU 55-48 in the Miami Beach Bowl.

Series Record: This is another opponent which Navy has yet to meet on the football field. This is a little more surprising than new schools like USF, however, as Memphis has been playing football since 1912.

Last Meeting: See above.

Head Coach: Justin Fuente is entering his fourth season as the Tigers head coach with a 17-20 (.459) win/loss record. Fuente struggled for his first two years at Memphis, posting losing records, before turning the school around in 2014 on their way to a 10-3 record and a bowl game victory. Fuente previously coached at Illinois State and TCU.

Spring News: Memphis had a solid spring as the program tries to build on a record breaking season despite losing a number of key parts from that team. One thing to note from the spring was that the defense has been playing faster than in the past, penetrating into the backfield and making plays which in real games would be big sacks or tackles for a loss. The defense also caused two fumbles in the spring game, although whether this says more about the offense or the defense will be interesting to see going forward.

Projected Strengths: When Fuente took charge at Memphis he surprised many by naming 6’7” freshman Paxton Lynch (photo above) as his starting quarterback. Lynch struggled mightily as a freshman, but Fuente never wavered or lost his faith in his player. That faith was repaid last fall when, as a sophomore, Lynch threw for over 3,000 yards with 22 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. There is a feeling Lynch has only scratched the surface of his potential, a truly terrifying thought for the other teams in the AAC.

Memphis returns one of the best place kickers in the country in Jake Elliot. He is the reigning AAC Special Teams Player of the Year and he made a number of clutch kicks for the Tigers last fall. None of those kicks was bigger than his 54-yarder which tied the Miami Beach Bowl against BYU in the first overtime of the Tigers’ eventual win. If Memphis needs a field goal to win the game, they will be more than confident in the range and accuracy of Elliot.

Projected Weaknesses: The defense could be the Achilles Heel of Memphis on 2015 as the unit lost eight starters to graduation. Though these losses will undoubtedly hurt, it is the loss of defensive coordinator Barry Odom which will hit the Tigers the hardest. Odom is seen as a rising star in coaching circles and he left Memphis to take on the same position at Missouri. Linebackers coach Galen Scott will fill the void at DC, but it is hard to see him having the same success immediately.

If the defense does let Memphis down, especially at the beginning of 2015, it will not just be on the shoulders of Scott. The Tigers lost an absurd eight starters from the unit last year, meaning there are holes all over the field. Memphis must replace all their linebackers, three defensive backs and two players on the defensive line. This includes Tank Jakes who was the co-Defensive Player of the Year in the AAC and defensive end Martin Ifedi who finished up his eligibility as the school’s career sacks leader.

Prediction: The offense here will not be in question. Lynch is a superstar in the making and he will likely have to pass a lot just to keep the Tigers in games. The defense is basically being rebuilt and has lost at least two players who are going to be playing on Sundays for the foreseeable future. This is another team which will have no experience of playing option teams and their ability to stop Navy in a pass heavy conference (and thus pass happy defensive training) will be interesting. Navy should not fear Memphis and there is every reason to believe the Mids can win this game.

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