HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. CONNECTICUT

Navy meets Connecticut on Saturday in East Harford. 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 (2-0) takes to the road and travels to East Hartford, Conn., on Saturday to take on the UConn Huskies in an American Athletic Conference game. The Huskies are off to a 2-1 start for the first time since 2012. UConn beat Army and Villanova and lost a defensive struggle to the No. 22 ranked Missouri Tigers 9-6 last week. The Midshipmen rolled over East Carolina 45-21 in their first American Athletic Conference league game last Saturday. The Mids have won six consecutive games.  

NAVY PASSING OFFENSE

VS.

CONNECTICUT PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: CONNECTICUT

Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has completed 7-of-13 passes (53.8%) for 108 yards this season. Keenan has thrown the ball well and had a few balls dropped on him this year. Wide receiver Jamir Tillman leads the Mids with five receptions for 78 yards. Jamir is the son of a former NFL player and at 6-4", 206 pounds offers nice size with above average speed.  Tillman led the Mids with 20 receptions for 386 receiving yards, a 19.3 average and three touchdowns last fall. Slotback DeBrandon Sanders made a nice catch on a beautiful 23-yard throw through a small window by Reynolds against East Carolina. Navy's offensive line has done a nice job in pass protection allowing just one sack in two games. 

The UConn secondary has allowed opponents a 56.9% completion percentage and just two passing touchdowns in three games. Senior safety Andrew Adams (17 tackles, 2 INTs, 3 PD) has been the best player in the secondary this year. His third quarter interception in the opener allowed UConn to comeback and beat Villanova. The Huskies have shown a much improved pass rush posting five sacks this season. Defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi has been impressive with 10 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks and a forced fumble despite missing parts of two games for fighting.  Sophomore defensive end Luke Carrezola has played well off the edge with 12 tackles with four tackles for a loss, a sack, two quarterback pressures, a forced fumble and recovered a fumble. He can really come off the edge.    

NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE

VS.

CONNECTICUT RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: NAVY

The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing averaging 393 yards per game. Last week Navy rushed for 415 yards, scored six touchdowns and averaged 5.5 per carry. Keenan Reynolds had a huge game with 24 carries for 142 rushing yards and five scores. ECU had held seven of its previous 15 opponents to less than 100 rushing yards but once again had no answers for the Navy running game. In Reynolds first league game his five rushing touchdowns set the all-time American Athletic Conference record.  Last week the fullback dive worked all game as Chris Swain pounded his way to 123 yards and a score on a career high 29 carries. Quentin Ezell (9 att., 45 yards) provides quality play when he spells Swain. Explosive slotbacks DeBrandon Sander and Dishan Romine are big play threats in the open field.

The UConn 4-3 defense was solid against the run last year when they ranked 49th in total defense.  This year the Huskies are allowing just 13.7 points per game and only 126 yards per game on the ground. The linebacker position is the strength of this defensive unit. UConn middle linebacker Junior Joseph leads the Huskies with 23 tackles this year. Huskies senior linebackers Marquise Vann (105 tackles, 7 1/2 TFL, 1/2 sack in 2014) and Graham Stewart (94 tackles, 10 1/2 TFL, 2 sacks in 2014) have been productive players.  UConn's active, short, quick defensive tackle Julian Campenni (35 tackles, 51/2 TFL, 2 Sacks in 2014) made a key fourth-and-1 tackle to stop a promising Villanova drive in the opener. Defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi is a monster in the middle that is very strong at the point of attack.

CONNECTICUT PASSING OFFENSE

VS.

NAVY PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Bryant Shirreffs, a transfer from NC State, is the new UConn quarterback. He has started all three games and played fairly well.  Shirreffs is a dink and dunk passer. He has completed 48-of-71 pass attempts (67.6%) for 628 yards with two touchdowns against an interception. His lone interception came off a deflection. Wide receiver Noel Thomas (26 rec., 305 yards, 4 TDs in 2014) has emerged as his favorite target with 14 receptions for 208 yards and is averaging 14.9 yards per reception. Tight end Tommy Myers (3 rec. for 97 yards, TD) had a 69-yard catch in the third quarter against Villanova to set up a touchdown.  The Huskies offensive line has struggled in pass protection the last two years. They have allowed seven sacks already this year.

Navy's pass defense was ranked 32nd in the nation in passing yards allowed per game last fall. The Midshipmen secondary is allowing 226 passing yards per game so far this year. East Carolina QB

Blake Kemp completed 36-of-49 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns last week. The Mids sacked him twice and intercepted a pass. Defensive end Will Anthony (10 tackles, 1/1/2 TFL, sack, 2 PD, FR in 2015) made two huge plays on consecutive series in the third quarter when Navy was up two scores against ECU. Will stuffed Kemp on a fourth and one QB sneak to turn the ball back to the offense on downs. The next series Anthony recovered a fumble on the Pirates' 17-yard line on a sack by Amos Mason (7 tackles, sack, PD FF).Will Anthony also had a sack to force a long missed field goal. Cornerback Brandon Clements (6 tackles in 2015) has had a rough start to the season. He was suspended for part of the opener and was twice outleaped and beat for two touchdown passes at the goal line.

CONNECTICUT RUSHING OFFENSE

VS.

NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE: NAVY

The Connecticut Huskies struggled running the ball last year and not much has changed. Ron Johnson has carried the ball 55 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson led UConn with 429 yards with just 3.8 yards per carry and scored three touchdowns in 2014. Johnson is a physical runner who lack speed and run skills. Sophomore Arkeel Newsome (5-7", 182) showed off his speed when he scored on a 22-yard screen pass against the Wildcats in the opener. The speedy scat back has run for 84 yards, a team leading 4.7 average and a score. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs is very fast but he is mobile enough to run for a first down if you ignore him.

Navy's rushing defense was ranked 48th in the nation and allowed 139 yards per game. Last week the Mids defense was rock solid at the point of attack and made ECU one dimensional. ECU ran for only 80 net yards on 21 carries and no scores. New inside linebacker Micah Thomas leads the Mids with 15 tackles, Thomas is a big talented direct admit linebacker the Mids landed because the Arkansas State new head coaching gave his scholarship away. Inside linebacker Daniel Gonzales made 86 tackles with three interceptions in 2014 at Mike linebacker and was moved one spot over this spring. Gonzalez was ejected on a targeting foul last week late in the first half and missed the entire second half against ECU. He will start this week.  

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE:  NAVY

UConn's kicker Bobby Puyol has hit all three of his field goal attempts. He did have an extra point attempt blocked in the opener. Last year Puyol hit on 9-of-14 field goals and missed three of his 22 extra point attempts. Punter Justin Wain is averaging 37.60 yards this season. Brian Lemelle handles both kickoff and punt returns. Speedy Arkeel Newsome averaged 20.3 per kickoff return in 2014.

Navy punter Austin Grebe continued his perfect mark as he hit his only attempt from 25 yards last week. Grebe has seven touch backs in 17 kickoffs. Versus ECU punter Alex Barta’s only punt was a nice 42-yard directional effort at the one yard line that hit the pylon and ended up a touchback. Barta deserved better. New kick returner Dishan Romine flashed his speed on a 37- yard kickoff return. DeBrandon Sanders has returned three punts for 38 yards.  Navy's coverage teams have been outstanding the last few years. 

COACHING

EDGE: NAVY

UConn head coach Bob Diaco is in his second year as the Huskies head coach after a (2-10) initial campaign. Diaco served on the Notre Dame coaching staff as the defensive coordinator for the past four years. He was the 2012 winner of the Frank Broyles Award given to the top assistant college football coach in the country. Diaco served as an assistant at Virginia , Cincinnati ,Western Illinois, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection at Iowa as a linebacker. Diaco had a few rough games at defensive coordinator against Navy's option attack. His defense held Army's struggling option attack to 180 rushing yards and just nine first downs.

Navy's Ken Niumatalolo (59\-35, .628%) passed George Welch as Navy's winningest head coach with his victory over Army last year. He has succeeded after following a great coach, in his mentor Paul Johnson, and has established his own legacy. Niumatalolo is the fastest in school history to reach 50 wins.  Ivin Jasper, Navy's offensive coordinator, had his scheme once again dominate ECU. Dale Pehrson is filling in well at defensive coordinator for Buddy Green who took a leave this season. I like how he has dialed up the blitz.

INTANGIBLES

EDGE: NAVY

Navy is looking for its first 3-0 start since 2006. Navy’s six-game winning streak is tied for the fifth longest in the country. The Mids lead the series 6-1. UConn's Bob Diaco has experience against the option. UConn enters the game feeling good about itself after shutting down a Top 25 ranked Missouri team. 

PREDICTION

Navy 31, Connecticut 14. Navy isn't Army and will run the ball against UConn. the Huskies are one dimensional and will struggle to run the ball. They have a crop of young and athletic receivers but they aren't an explosive offensive team. UConn has a solid defense but lacks the firepower to beat the Mids.

 

 


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