Louisiana Tech may not be counted among the usual list of non-BCS conference powers, but third year coach Derek Dooley has quietly built the Bulldogs into a WAC contender. Louisiana Tech went 8-5 a season ago and even upset Mississippi State, while the Bulldogs hung tough with Auburn for much of the first half during their opener last week. Like Navy they have set their sights on a bowl berth in 2009, and have no shortage of talent to help them achieve that goal. Here are four key personnel matchups that could decide Saturday's game.
Despite missing much of fall camp due to the effects of an illness, sophomore Marcus Curry made the start at slotback against Ohio State, and did not disappoint. Curry only carried the ball four times for 21 yards, but he showed precision route running in the passing game and displayed great hands and body control. Baker, meanwhile, is one of the very best non-BCS conference safeties, having been named First Team All-WAC in both 2007 and 2008. He led the Bulldogs in tackles in 2008 (115 total) and came up with seven stops during last week's game at Auburn. As the team's free safety, he'll not only be called to support the run against Navy (something Auburn struggled with last week) but he'll have to play intelligently and not get caught off of play action. Look for Navy to try to exploit Baker's aggressiveness by getting Curry open downfield.
Navy DE Jabaree Tuani vs. Louisiana Tech LT Rob McGill
Tuani came into last week's game against Ohio State with the reputation of being Navy's best defensive linemen, and up against a stout Buckeye defensive line the sophomore from Brentwood, Tennessee did not disappoint. Tuani has proven to be incredibly quick off the edge, and displayed great pass rush ability against Ohio State. He'll be going up against 6-foot-6 tackle Rob McGill on Saturday. McGill is a solid player who was Second Team All-WAC a year ago, but will have his hands full with Tuani. If the Navy sophomore can speed past McGill on Saturday, expect Buddy Green to dial-up zone blitzes to exploit the pressure.
Navy CB Blake Carter vs. Louisiana Tech WR Philip Livas
Livas is one of the most dynamic playmakers in Bulldog history, having returned three kicks for scores last year while also leading the team in receiving with 67 yards and two touchdowns. Navy cornerback Blake Carter did an excellent job in helping to lockdown speedy OSU wideout DeVier Posey, and also contributed an impressive five solo tackles on the afternoon. If the Bulldogs are going to have success of offense against Navy it will be imperative for them to get the 5-foot-8 Livas the ball in space, while Navy will hope to contain him with the sure-tackling Carter.
You have to give Merchant credit for the way he played against Ohio State. After missing all of spring practice he made a great comeback to the field, contributing 8 tackles against the Buckeyes while also coming up with an interception. Merchant did an outstanding job of playing center field for Navy against the Buckeyes, and showed the ability to keep Buckeye receivers from getting wide open downfield. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were counting on quarterback Ross Jenkins to continue his 2008 success against Auburn last week, and for the first half it looked as if he would, hitting his first ten passes of the game. Jenkins was inconsistent in the second half however, forcing a throw into double coverage that was intercepted. For the Bulldogs to be successful against Navy, Jenkins will have to go through multiple progressions and not get locked onto any one receiver. It'll be especially important for Tech that he is able to look-off Merchant, who is a master at reading quarterbacks' eyes.
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