The Navy Midshipmen (1-0)will meet the Connecticut Huskies (1-0) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Field this Saturday. This is the AAC opener for both teams and with each coming off of opening day wins confidence will be high in each camp that the respective team can move to 2-0. Here is a look at the head to head.
NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
CONNECTICUT PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: This is the main matchup of the four that we will see the least of as Ken Niumatalolo isn't going to let Navy lose with turnovers in the passing game. It is interesting that after coming into the game for Tago Smith, Will Worth was able to hit all three of his passes last Saturday for 78 yards and a touchdown. While expecting Worth to be perfect through the air would be foolhardy, Connecticut was hardly imposing in the defensive passing game when allowing 269 yards through the air to (FCS) Maine on opening day. If Worth has a match up he likes Navy may put the ball in the air a little more than expected.
NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
CONNECTICUT RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The option got rolling against Fordham and didn't let up even when starting quarterback Tago Smith left the game. The star was fullback Chris High, who stepped into the huge void left by former fullback Chris Swain and rattled off a 176 yards and two touchdowns effort at 17.6 yards per carry. The Mids racked up 427 yards on the ground, using every element of the triple-option to pound and gash Fordham. UConn only allowed 40 yards on the ground to Maine, but the Navy rushing offense is a different monster and the Huskies linebackers are not used to making the right reads to stop it.
CONNECTICUT PASSING OFFENSE
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The Navy passing defense expected to be tested by Kevin Anderson of Fordham and that is exactly what happened as the quarterback passed for 302 yards and a touchdown. Before last weekend the edge here would have gone to Navy, but allowing over 300 yards to an FCS team through the air is not a good look. It is not like UConn are particularly talented as a passing offense and the inability to score points is what has hurt the Huskies over the last few seasons. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs does has some talent though and the Navy defensive backs will have to bend less this Saturday.
CONNECTICUT RUSHING OFFENSE
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The Navy passing defense many not have been particularly stellar against Fordham, but the rushing defense was better than anticipated against the best running back, and perhaps the best player, in the entire FCS. Navy shut down Chase Edmonds, holding the Rams star to just 70 yards on the ground. Edmonds is a better player than any of the Uconn running backs, so linebacker Daniel Gonzales and the rest of the unit should be able to deal with the ground game. The only wildcard here is quarterback Shirreffs, who runs too much as a rule, but who is a threat to break a big run or two for his side.
REMARKS: Neither Navy or Connecticut did anything especially well or badly on special teams in the opener. Each has a decent kick returner (Arkeel Newsome for UConna and Dishan Romine for Navy) and each has a kicker that is perfect on the year without really being tested. Each also has a punter with a big leg that can change field position and if the game turns into a slog then the boots might be needed to decide the contest.
REMARKS: Ken Niumatalolo normally wins the coaching duel as he has built an incredibly successful program in one of the most unlikely places in the nation. This game though sees Niumatalolo going up against another solid coach and, most importantly, a coach that knows how to win against the triple-option. Bob Diaco was the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame from 2010-13 before he moved to UConn. That means this is the sixth year in a row he has faced at least on option team, allowing him to develop a game-plan over time to beat it. Whether Diaco has the players to work the scheme is a huge question, but as a coach Diaco is certainly capable.
REMARKS:With both teams winning last week it is hard to say who has the momentum. The Navy/Fordham game was over by halftime as the Rams were never going to run the Mids down. The Uconn game went to the wire as the Huskies won on a field goal with 11 seconds remaining. Normally that would be a boost, but against an FCS team it feels more like an escape. Navy is at home, but how will the team react to being without Tago Smith? Is Will Worth good enough to carry this team for this game, let alone the rest of the season?
Lots of questions and not many answers mean the intangibles here are a push.
PREDICTION: Navy 35, UConn 17. Navy gave up way too much yardage last week to Fordham but stopped the Rams cold when it came time to score. I'm not convinced the UComm offense is any better than the one Fordham put out there as the Huskies just cannot score. Navy will get the option moving and keep scoring against a team that struggles to keep up in games that go over 25 points.