Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD TO HEAD: NAVY VS. MEMPHIS

The Navy Midshipmen travel to Memphis on Saturday to face the Tigers. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler compares the two teams in several critical team areas and makes a prediction on the game's final score.

The Navy Midshipmen travel to Tennessee to meet the undefeated 13th ranked Memphis Tigers in a battle of unbeaten American Athletic Conference teams. Last week Navy defeated the South Florida Bulls 29-17 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Memphis overcame a slow start against Tulane to score the final 41 points in rolling to a 41-13 victory. This is the biggest non service academy game for Navy in recent history. The explosive Tigers are averaging 47.9 points per game on the year which is the third-best scoring average in the country. Navy has not defeated a ranked opponent since Nov. 7, 2009, when the Mids upset No. 19 Notre Dame, 23-21, in South Bend. The Midshipmen have not defeated a top 15 team since Nov. 17, 1984 when the Mids shocked No. 2 South Carolina, 38-21. This is the first meeting between the two schools.

NAVY'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. MEMPHIS PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: EVEN

Keenan Reynolds has completed 26-of-51 passes (51.0%) for 431 passing yards with two touchdowns this year.  Reynolds hit on only 3-of-9 passes for just 16 passing yards last week against USF.  Reynolds favorite target is wide receiver Jamir Tillman who leads the Mids with 14 receptions for 190 yards, a 13.6 average and a touchdown. Tillman caught all of Reynolds’ completions last week. Fellow wide receiver Thomas Wilson (4 rec, 65 yds., 16.3, TD) is emerging as another option in the passing game. Navy's offensive line has the worst sack percentage allowed in the FBS. 

The Memphis passing defense has struggled this fall with its rebuilt secondary. The Tigers are ranked 123rd in the nation while allowing opponents an average of 315 passing yards per game. Linebacker Genard Avery leads the Memphis defense with 41 tackles, 6.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. Avery has to be accounted for on the blitz. Free safety Reggie Ball has 36 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The Tigers have produced 18 sacks this season and have four players with at least two sacks. Ball was the only returning starter from last season in the Memphis secondary.  

NAVY'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. MEMPHIS RUSHING DEFENSE

EDGE:  NAVY

Navy's spread option offense is ranked fourth in the nation in rushing. The Mids are averaging just over 319 rushing yards a game.  Navy ran for 428 rushing yards, a 6.2 average and three rushing touchdowns against USF. Navy set a school record with three 100 yard rushers in a single game last week. Keenan Reynolds ran 26 times for 117 yards and scored twice . Reynolds second touchdown was his 77th career rushing score, tying former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball (2009-12) for most rushing touchdowns in NCAA history. Keenan's 3,939 career rushing yards are the second most in school history trailing College Hall of Famer Napoleon McCallum by 240 yards. B-back Chris Swain has run for 582 yards, a 4.9 average and five touchdowns this season. Swain ran 23 times for a team leading 131 yards and a showed his combination of power and speed on his 24-yard touchdown run against USF. Slotback Dishan Romine had six rush attempts for 115 yards last game. Romine (218 yds., 10.9 avg.) was hit hard a few times and showed some toughness returning to the game. Romine demonstrated his speed with a 55-yard run.

Memphis's 4-3 defense is ranked 22nd in the nation against the run allowing just 118 rushing yards per game. Linebacker Wynton McManis has made 36 tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and a fumble recovery.  Mike linebackers Leonard Pegues and Shareef White split time and have posted 29 and 35 total tackles respectively. Big nose tackle Donald Pennington (6-2, 295) has 20 tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks and anchors the interior line. Linebacker Jackson Dillard has made 25 tackles, 4 1/2 for a loss and has an interception.

MEMPHIS PASSING OFFENSE VS. NAVY'S PASSING DEFENSE

EDGE: MEMPHIS

Memphis offense is one of the best in the country led by quarterback Paxton Lynch. The Heisman Trophy candidate runs the third most productive offense in football which is averaging 47.9 points per game. Lynch has completed 200-of-285 pass attempts (70.2%) for 2,709 passing yards throwing 18 touchdowns and only one interception. Lynch is 6-7" tall and very efficient. He is the best quarterback Navy will face this year. Last week Paxton Lynch threw for 343 yards and a touchdown and ran for 43 more against Tulane. Lynch has completed passes to 15 different receivers. His favorite target is Mose Frazier who leads the team with 46 catches for 565 yards, 12.3 average per catch, and three scores.  Anthony Miller has caught 33 passes for 574 yards and three touchdowns. Tevin Jones leads all the receivers with four touchdown catches on 16 receptions for 275 yards and a 17.2 average. Tight end Alan Cross (21 rec., 186 yds., 2 TDs)  is Memphis’ all-time leader in touchdown receptions by a tight end with 13.

Navy's secondary is ranked 57th in the nation as they are allowing 213 passing yards per game. Navy allowed USF's Flowers to complete 12-of-20 passes for 208 yards last game. Navy played their bend but don't break style well but did struggle against Flowers on third down at times. They need to play better this week if they hope to beat Memphis. Mid cornerbacks Brandon Clements (26 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 INTs, 3 PD) and senior Quincy Adams (40 tackles, 5 PD) will be tested this week against the Memphis talented receiving corps. Rover Daiquan Thomasson (17 tackle, PD) has struggled in coverage a bit since replacing the injured Kwazel Betrand. Thomasson was beat for two long passes against USF. Navy has posted 11 sacks this year and need to careful when rushing because Lynch is mobile and can scramble.

MEMPHIS RUSHING OFFENSE VS. NAVY'S RUSHING DEFENSE
EDGE: MEMPHIS

Memphis is 31st in the nation in rushing. The Tigers are averaging 202 rushing yards a game. The Tigers rotate running backs. Doroland Dorceus (photo above) leads Memphis in rushing with 380 yards and seven touchdowns on 91 carries. Jarvis Cooper has rushed for 339 yards and five touchdowns on 75 carries, Jamarius Henderson has 277 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 44 carries. Sam Craft has run for

252 yards on 63 carries and five touchdowns. Quarterback Paxton Lynch is mobile and has run for 168 rushing yards and two scores. The Tigers returned four starters on an offensive line that led the AAC with 31 rushing touchdown last year.  Memphis has had just six turnovers, five fumbles lost and one interception, through eight games.

Navy is ranked 31st in the nation in run defense and are allowing 135 rushing yards a game. The Mids allowed USF only 62 rushing yards, just 2.6 yards per carry and one touchdown. The Mids defense did a great job against an South Florida offense that entered the game averaging 236 rushing yards per game. Will Anthony (35 tackles,  3 1/2 TF, 1 1/2 sacks , 2 FF, 2 FR) led the Mids with four tackles and recorded two quarterback hurries last week. He showed his athleticism making a great play chasing down talented tailback Marlon Mack from the backside in the second half. Mike linebacker Micah Thomas (46 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 1/2 sacks) leads the Mids in tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS

EDGE:  MEMPHIS

Memphis kicker Jake Elliott is 14-of-16 on field goals and perfect on extra-points. Memphis uses two punters. Spencer Smith is averaging 47.5 yards per punt on 25 punts with 11 punts of 50 yards or more and nine inside the 20. Nick Jacobs is used as the short-field punter. Jacobs has averaged 36.8 yards on 13 punts, with 10 downed inside the 20. Kick returner Jae'Lon Oglesby is averaging 24.2 yards per attempt. Memphis has gone 224 straight games without returning a kickoff for a touchdown. The streak is the longest in FBS football. Punt returner Roderick Proctor is averaging 9.0 yards on punt returns and had a 63-yard touchdown return this year. The Memphis kickoff return coverage unit are the top ranked team in the nation allowing just 14.07 yards per return. 

The Navy kicker Austin Grebe hit all three of his field goal attempts from 30, 26 and 28 yards against USF.  Grebe has hit 9-of-10 field goal attempts this fall. Grebe has 12 touchbacks on his 47 kickoffs. Alex Barta is averaging 41.3 yards per punt with five of his 18 punts being placed inside the 20-yard line. Barta has struggled over the last two weeks with some weak punts. Dishan Romine is averaging 26.0 yards on his kickoff returns. DeBrandon Sanders is averaging 6.8 on punt returns. Calvin Cass Jr., the other punt returner in Navy's two returner set up, has averaged 7.7 yards on his punt returns. Navy’s coverage teams allowed USF's Rodney Adams taking the opening kickoff back 97 yards for South Florida with no Mid being even close to tackling him. It was a rare breakdown for a good unit.

COACHING

EDGE: EVEN

Memphis head coach Justin Fuente has a (25-20) record in his fourth year but that doesn't tell his story. Memphis is undefeated and last year the Tigers won 10 games for the first time since 1938. He inherited a program which had won just five combined games in the three years prior to his arrival. Fuente was one of eight finalists for the 2014 Eddie Robinson Award. He was also named American Athletic Conference’s 2014 Coach of the Year. Fuente will probably land a major coaching job this off-season.

Head coach Ken Niumatalolo is in his eighth season as head coach at Navy and will coach his 100th game against Memphis. He has led the Mids to a 63-36 (.636) record. Niumatalolo is the program’s all-time winningest coach. Navy’s 6-1 record is the Mids’ best start under head coach Ken Niumatalolo and its best start overall since 2004. Navy is headed to a bowl game for the 12th time in the last 13 years.

INTANGIBLES

EDGE: NAVY

This is Navy biggest non service academy game in years. Memphis defense hasn't played an option team which is usually a big advantage for the Midshipmen offense. Memphis has won 15 consecutive games which is the third-longest streak in the country. This may be a trap game for Memphis with more highly hyped Houston and Temple next on the Tigers schedule. Memphis had slow starts against Tulane and Mississippi. If they do that against the Mids then the Navy running game can shorten the game. 

PREDICTION: Memphis, 42-31. This will likely be a game where Navy has to have its offense stay on schedule to win this one. Navy's defense will likely have trouble slowing down Lynch and the Tigers offense. I think Navy will run the ball. Teams, even talented ones, usually have to adapt to defending the option for the first time. Navy can win but this will likely be a Notre Dame type of game where if the offense is forced to punt more than twice they won't leave Memphis with a victory.


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