The Navy Midshipmen (4-1) will meet the Memphis Tigers (5-1) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, this Saturday. Navy is actually the home underdog in this one despite beating #6 ranked Houston last time out. Both teams are undefeated in the AAC West Division and as such this is a pivotal matchup as the winner will have the inside track on representing the division in the conference title game. This is especially true for Navy as Memphis does have to play Houston down the road.
NAVY PASSING OFFENSE
MEMPHIS PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: Will worth has thrown for 603 yards on the season with three touchdowns and two interceptions. We all know by now that Navy uses the pass only after it has been set up by the run, and even then only as a change of pace. That surprise factor will be key if Navy does want to move the ball through the air because the Tigers have 11 interceptions on the season and are the very definition of a ball-hawking defense. If the ball is thrown look for Jamir Tillman to be the target. His 18 receptions are more than the rest of the team combined (17).
NAVY RUSHING OFFENSE
MEMPHIS RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The Navy rushing offense tore up a very good Memphis defense last season when Justin Fuente was the head coach in Tennessee. In that game, a Keenan Reynolds led attack rushed for 374 yards and handed the Tigers their first loss in over a year. With Reynolds gone the attack is relying much more on the fullbacks and slot backs as Worth is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. The attack as a whole is going for 263.4 yards per game and it will need to be above that average to control the clock and keep up with Memphis on the scoreboard.
MEMPHIS PASSING OFFENSE
NAVY PASSING DEFENSE
REMARKS: Memphis was expected by many to take a step back now that Paxton Lynch with the Denver Broncos, but the transition at quarterback to junior Riley Ferguson has been seamless. Ferguson has passed for just under 1600 yards so far in 2016 and is excelling the wide-open, up-tempo passing style that the Tigers are playing. Ferguson has a 2:! touchdown to interception ratio with 12 scores thrown, but his sack number of 17 in six games is a little high. Navy will be able to disrupt the passing attack at the front end if they can get to Ferguson and that has to be the goal because he is deadly when given time to throw.
MEMPHIS RUSHING OFFENSE
NAVY RUSHING DEFENSE
REMARKS: The Memphis ground game is more of a side dish than the main course, but amazingly named running back Doroland Dorceus can do some damage on the ground. Dorceus has rushed for 427 yards this season, but he averages 7.2 yards per carry (long of 71) and has five touchdowns. This tells you that the coaching staff does an excellent job of giving Dorceus the ball in situations that it is not expected and that he rarely gets caught for short gains. Navy did an excellent job against a similar pass first attack when they played Houston, but the loss of Daniel Gonzales at linebacker is still a worry when teams run the ball.
REMARKS: It makes sense that field position will matter in this one and the Mids have been great on kickoff coverage all year. Navy allows just over 50 yards on kick returns per game, meaning that the opposition is always faced with a long field in those situations.
REMARKS: Navy has the edge here, but it is closer than it has been in some of the Mids games this season. Ken Niumatalolo has managed to push Navy to No. 24 in the polls in what had to be seen as a rebuilding year coming in with all the losses on offense. That he has been able to do this after losing quarterback Tago Smith early in the season is nothing short of incredible. Memphis coach Mike Norvell may be the youngest head coach in the FBS, but he does have previous experience with Navy. A Norvell led Arizona State offense just torched the Mids in the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, putting up 62 points and 648 yards for the game.
REMARKS:The two teams are very evenly matched and as such it is easy to see this being a very close game. Navy has had three conference games this season and each of then has required toughness down the stretch to pull out a victory. The was the last-second goal-line stand against Connecticut, a huge touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to beat Tulane, and then the battling performance in just staying far enough out of reach against Houston. Those close wins bode well for Navy here.
PREDICTION: Navy 31, Memphis 28. This is going to be a close game. If these teams played ten times it probably goes 5-5 or 6-4 one way or the other. Navy is at home and Niumatalolo really wants that AAC title game position. It is enough for the Mids to eke out a victory.