The lead in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference is on the line on Saturday as the Navy Midshipmen (4-1, 3-0) hosts the Memphis Tigers (5-1, 2-0) in Annapolis. These are the only two unbeaten teams left in the division and win (especially by Navy who have already beaten Houston) would see the victors ideally placed with around half of the conference schedule left to play.
Here are the three keys to beating the Tigers:
1) Run the ball just like last season
Playing basically the same schedule year after year is new to Navy. One of the greatest advantages the Mids have with the triple-option is that previously they would play schools that hadn't seen that kind of offense in a full recruiting cycle. That all changed with conference affiliation however and now the Mids must work out how to continue to move the ball on defenses that are more prepared.
Last season Memphis thought that it was in a good position to stop the Navy offense. Extra portions of practice had been dedicated to the option from spring ball onward as the Tigers coaching staff knew Navy was a real threat in the division. Even with that prep, the Mids handed Memphis their first loss in over a year, rushing for 374 yards in a 45-20 win. The cast has changed in the Navy lineup, but the Mids must move the ball on the ground to have a chance at victory.
2) Protect the football
Ball security is going to be important in any game, but against Memphis, in 2016 you simply cannot give their defense a chance to take the ball away. The Tigers lead the nation in turnovers gained, having intercepted 11 passes and recovered seven fumbles so far this season. Memphis is also tied for third in defensive touchdowns with three, meaning that they get a momentum-changing non-offensive touchdown about once every other game.
Navy will not take to the air all that often, so the proficiency of the Memphis secondary interception passes will not be the main concern. Those seven fumbles, though, show that the Tigers defenders have been working hard at hitting and stripping the football. The option is vastly dependent on ball security, so watch the Navy players as they take contact to see how the ball is being protected.
3) Come out of the gates fast
The East Carolina postponement will go one of two ways. Either Navy will come out of the gates fast and fresh, looking like they haven't missed a beat, or the Mids will be lethargic and not on their game immediately. It is one thing to have a bye scheduled in the season as the coaches and players are prepared, it is another thing to have a game moved on short notice. If Navy used the week off correctly then coming out hot and putting Memphis behind on the scoreboard early with tempo offense has to be the goal.