When Navy joined the AAC this is exactly the sort of opponent the Mids hoped would be traveling to Annapolis on a regular basis. On Saturday the Mids will play its highest ranked visitor since 1984 in the shape of the No. 6 ranked Houston Cougars. The Cougars already have a win over Oklahoma to their name in 2016 and, with the exception of a late season tilt with Louisville and a potential AAC Championship game, this matchup with Navy might be the toughest remaining fixture on their schedule.
Here are the three keys to beating the Cougars:
1) Contain Greg Ward Jr.
The Cougars are a great football team. They have a stifling defense and playmakers all over the field. Having said all that, the Cougars will be as good as quarterback Greg Ward Jr. makes them. Thankfully for Houston, Ward has been outstanding (and healthy) so far this fall.
Ward ranks sixth nationally in total offense (375.8 yards per game) and 13th nationally in passing (331.3 ypg). He has the longest active winning streak in games started at 18 as he didn't play in Houstons one loss (Connecticut) in 2015. He is also one of only three quarterbacks this year averaging over 300 yards passing and 40 yards rushing per game, to go along with eight passing and five rushing scores.
Ward is absolutely the real deal and the Navy secondary, a unit that has been bad this fall, will have to have its best game of the year to contain the Heisman Trophy candidate.
2) Neutralize Steven Taylor
While Ward might be the focus of the Houston offense, the Cougars also have a defensive player that has stepped up his game and who is being tracked by NFL scouts.
Linebacker Steven Taylor has 27 tackles, six tackles for a loss, and 5.5 sacks through five games, impressive numbers even if the standard of competition Houston has faced (outside of Oklahoma) hasn't been all that outstanding. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder is very active around the ball, with a strong motor and an impressive set of pass rushing skills. The Navy running game fell apart last weekend and the Mids were forced to throw the ball more than normal. If that happens again then the offensive line must know where Taylor is and account for him on every play.
3) Get the fullbacks going
The lifeblood of the triple-option is the ability to run the ball and, specifically, the ability of the fullback to run the ball. Without the fullback run, nothing else works as defenders are free to flow to the edges of the formation as a group and shut down anything they see.
Against Air Force the Mids primary fullbacks Chris High and Shawn White combined to run the ball 16 times for 53 yards. That is good for just 3.3 yards per carry. With the inside option shut down there was no room at all on the outside for quarterback Will Worth or the slot backs and Navy was able to rush for a total of 57 yards. Getting the fullbacks going early in the game with brutal, downhill runs is going to be the primary goal of the offense.