Key to Beating SMU: Stop the Run

In the triple option era, one-dimensional offensive teams have not had a lot of success against Navy. In fact, eleven of the Midshipmen's last 12 losses have come against teams who have been able to run and pass the ball effectively. So, if SMU wants to beat Navy this Saturday, they may want to try to establish their ground game, but it won't be easy.

Since 2007, Navy is 20-12. In those 12 losses, opposing passers have completed 230-316 passes (72.7%) for 3,063 yards (255 per game). If you look just at this stat, there would be significant reason for Navy fans to be concerned because there is no doubt SMU, under June Jones' direction, will be slinging the ball through the air all evening. The Mustangs currently boast the 15th ranked passing attack in the country, averaging 297 yards per game. Last season, then freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell only averaged 238 yards per game and struggled with his accuracy, tossing 23 interceptions. And while Mitchell has made strides in his sophomore season, he still has the tendency to throw a few bad passes which is evident by his 10 interceptions so far through 5 games.

 

However, if SMU thinks that they will beat Navy just by passing the ball effectively; they may want to take a closer look at the Midshipmen's defense over the past two-plus seasons. In those 12 losses when passers had a field day, in all but one of those contests, the quarterback was complimented by an effective rushing attack. With the exception of the loss to Duke (79 yards rushing) in the last two seasons, teams who have beaten the Midshipmen have been able to pass and run. Just look at these stats:

 

Navy losses in 2007

Rutgers Passing: 14-19 for 266 yards; Rushing: 210 yards

Ball State Passing: 19-33 for 277 yards; Rushing: 262 yards

Wake Forest Passing: 22-28 for 213 yards; Rushing: 196 yards

Delaware Passing: 30-41 for 434 yards: Rushing: 147 yards

Utah Passing: 22-27 for 238 yards; Rushing: 213 yards

 

Navy losses in 2008

Ball State Passing: 21-28 for 326 yards; Rushing: 162 yards

Duke Passing: 25-36 for 317 yards; Rushing: 79 yards

Pittsburgh Passing: 15-23 for 255 yards; Rushing: 244 yards

Notre Dame Passing: 15-18 for 111 yards; Rushing: 230 yards

Wake Forest Passing: 11-11 for 166 yards: Rushing: 239 yards

 

So far this season, the Mustangs have had mixed results running the ball. Junior Shawnbrey McNeal leads the team with 369 yards on the ground, but after opening the season with 158 yards against Stephen F. Austin, he has only gained 61 yards in the past two games combined. Of course, the competition (TCU – 9th ranked rushing defense; and East Carolina – 38th ranked rushing defense) probably had something to do with his lack of success.

 

The road won't get any easier for SMU this week as Navy sports the 29th ranked rushing defense, allowing only 3.36 yards per carry. In two of the Midshipmen's four wins, they have held their opponents to less than 25 yards on the ground (Louisiana Tech – 11 yards; Rice 21 yards). They also held Air Force's vaunted rushing attack to 183 yards, or 100 yards less than their average. In the three games where the Mids' defense struggled, they have been susceptible to the run. In probably their worst performance of the season, Navy's defense allowed Western Kentucky to run for 158 yards, which helped open up the Hilltoppers' passing attack (22-29 for 276 yards). In losses against Ohio State (153 yards rushing) and Pittsburgh (126 yards rushing), Navy's defense did a much more respectable job against the run, especially considering the massive size advantage that both the Panthers and Buckeyes possessed on the offensive line.

 

As Lou Piniella once famously said, "Statistics are like bikinis. They show a lot, but not everything." For the SMU-Navy game, statistics seem to point towards a victory for the Midshipmen if they can keep the Mustangs' ground game in check.  


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