The Navy Midshipmen host the SMU Mustangs this Saturday at Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium. The Mids enter the game off their huge 45-20 upset win over the No. 13 ranked Memphis Tigers. The win ended the Tigers' bid for a perfect season and dropped them from the top of the West Division. SMU lost a high scoring 60-40 shootout with the 22nd ranked Temple Owls. Navy leads the series 9-7. The Midshipmen are 8-1 against the Mustangs since 1995 when the Navy triple option era began. The winner of the game receives the Gansz Trophy which was created to honor former Navy player Frank Gansz who coached at both schools.
NAVY'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. SMU'S PASSING DEFENSE
Keenan Reynolds completed 3-of-5 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown in the win against Memphis. Reynolds hit DeBrandon Sanders, who was wide open on a wheel route, for a 75-yard touchdown pass with 6:43 left in the third quarter that gave the Midshipmen the lead for good at 24-17. Sanders has averaged forty yards on his four receptions. Reynolds has completed 29-of-56 passes (51.8%) for 516 yards and three touchdowns this season. Wide receiver Jamir Tillman has caught 15 passes for 195 yards, a 13.0 average and a touchdown. Wide receiver Thomas Wilson (4 rec, 65 yds., 16.3, TD) dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone last week.
SMU's passing defense is ranked is 105rd in the nation and is allowing only just over 266 passing yards a game. Free Safety Darrion Richardson leads the Mustangs with 50 tackles, an interception and five pass defensed. Cornerback David Johnson is a senior transfer from Missouri who has picked off a pass and has broken up six passes. The secondary took a hit when cornerback Horace Richardson suffered a season ending injury. Defensive end Justin Lawler provides the pass rush and leads SMU with five sacks.
NAVY'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS. SMU'S RUSHING DEFENSE
Navy enters the game ranked third in the nation in rushing as they are averaging 326 yards per game. Last week the Mids ran for 374 rushing yards, a 5.7 average and five rushing touchdowns against Memphis. Navy B-back Chris Swain ran 18 times for a team leading 108 yards and a career high three touchdown game against Memphis. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds leads the Mids with 791 rushing yards, a 4.7 rushing average and has scored 13 rushing touchdowns. Reynolds remains tied with former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball (2009-12) for most rushing touchdowns in NCAA history. DeBrandon Sanders leads the slotbacks with 256 rushing yards and an 8.5 average per carry.
SMU's new 4-2-5 defense is ranked 121st in the nation versus the run. The defensive line is led up front by senior defensive tackle Zack Wood. He has 26 tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for a loss and 2 1/2 sacks. Wood had seven tackles, 2 1/2 for a loss and 1 1/2 sacks against Temple last week. Linebacker Jonathan Yenga has 43 tackles this year. SMU has been shuffling linebackers trying to find the right combination. Defensive end Andrew McCleneghen has 27 tackles, five tackles for a loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
SMU'S RUSHING OFFENSE VS.NAVY'S RUSHING DEFENSE
The Mustangs enter the game ranked 77th in the nation in rushing at 163 yards per game. Quarterback Matt Davis leads SMU with 552 rushing yards, a 3.8 average and eight scores. Davis had 102 rushing yards and a score against Temple last week. Davis has led his team in rushing in 12 of the last 15 games. The Mustangs use a one-back attack. Freshman running back Xavier Jones has 478 rushing yards, a 4.1 average and seven touchdowns. Jones ran for 67 yards and two touchdowns last week against Temple. SMU Senior center Taylor Lasecki is on the Watch Lists for both the Rimington Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award. This is the third straight year he has been on the Rimington watch list.
Navy ranks 30th in the country in stopping the run. They are allowing 135.5 yards per game. The Mid run defense allowed Memphis only 133 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. The Mids defense did a great job against an offense that entered averaging 202 rushing yards a game. Mike linebacker Micah Thomas (52 tackles, 3 1/2 TFL, 1 1/2 Sacks) filled the inside running gaps all day against Memphis. Defensive end Will Anthony (39 tackles, 4 1/2 TFL, 2 1/2 sacks, 2 FF) has been dominate up front this season at the point of attack.
SMU'S PASSING OFFENSE VS. NAVY'S PASSING DEFENSE
SMU's quarterback Matt Davis has completed 17-of-29 passes for 167 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception against Temple last week. Davis has completed 154-of-272 passes (56.6%) for 1,946 yards with 15 scores with five interceptions. The Mustangs use three wide receivers and a tight end. Freshman Courtland Sutton has 40 catches for 748 yards, a 18.7 average and nine touchdowns. Tight end Jeremiah Gaines has 15 receptions for 244 yards, a 16.3 average and four touchdowns. SMU spreads the ball around with eight players having double digit receptions. The Mustang offensive line struggles in pass protection and has allowed 35 sacks.
Navy's secondary enters the game ranked 68th in the nation in pass defense. Navy allowed highly regarded NFL quarterback prospect Paxton Lynch to complete 26 of 42 for 305 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception. He entered the game with only one interception all season. After the opening series the Mids defense seemed to help take the up tempo Memphis offense out of its rhythm. The Tigers had entered the game with the third most productive offense in football which was averaging 47.9 points per game. Linebacker Daniel Gonzales ( 48 TT, 2 1/2 TFL, INT) picked off a pass to set up Austin Grebe's field goal as time expired in the first half. Cornerback Quincy Adams had a busy night battling the talented Tiger receiving corps. Adams made four tackles, broke up a pass, forced a fumble, made a fumble recovery and recovered the key forced fumble.
SMU's Chad Hedlund has hit on 8-of-10 field goal attempts. Hedlund has a very strong leg with 35 touchbacks on 49 kickoffs. Punter Josh Williams is averaging 40.6 yards per punt. Kick return Braeden West is averaging 24.5 yards per returns and had an 80-yard kick return touchdown last week against Temple. Darius Joseph is averaging 3.8 on punt return. SMU is below average covering kicks.
Navy’s kicker Austin Grebe hit a clutch 44 yard field goal with no time left in the first half last week against Memphis. Grebe has 13 touchbacks on 54 kickoffs. Punter Alex Barta is averaging 42.0 per punt. Barta placed two punts inside the twenty yard line last week. DeBrandon Sanders has a 6.8 average per punt return while dual punt returner Calvin Cass has average 7.7 per punt return. Speedy Dishan Romine is averaging 25.3 per return. The Mids coverage units have allowed two long returns.
Chad Morris is in his first season at the SMU helm. Morris had spent five seasons as a collegiate offensive coordinator at Tulsa (2010) and Clemson (2011-14). Prior to his stint in the college ranks, Morris was a high school coach for 16 seasons, posting a 169-38 record.
Ken Niumatalolo has a 60-35 (.632) record in his eight season as Navy head coach. The Mids enter Saturday’s contest having won seven straight games and nine of their last 10 dating back to last year. Niumatalolo is the all-time winningest Navy coach in career wins. He is also the fastest in school history to reach 50 wins. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was limited by Keenan Reynolds injuries last year. The Falcons played man up on the slotbacks with safeties. Usually Navy makes big plays against that look. Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson's defense really turned on the pressure with five sacks last week against UConn. It was the most sacks in a game by Navy since 2006. .
SMU is probably a little better than their record. The combined record of their opponents is 55-24 this year. SMU's offense is clicking the last two weeks averaging 35.5 points per game the last two games. They put up 40 points last week against a tough Temple defense. Navy has to avoid a letdown coming off the huge victory over Memphis. Navy has won 12 of the last 14 games. Navy has beat SMU in 7-of-the last 8 games since the beginning of the triple option in 1995.
PREDICTION: Navy, 41-24. Navy is a lot better team and should roll at home. Keenan Reynolds should be able to set the all-time rushing record at home.