A year after going 1-11, June Jones has already tripled SMU's wins at the halfway mark of the 2009 season, with his Mustangs going 3-2 over the first five weeks of the year. The Mustangs are not only 2-0 in conference play, but they're coming off of a huge 28-21 win over a good East Carolina team which had previously lost to only North Carolina and West Virginia. The Mids dominated SMU in Annapolis last season, but that were under monsoon-like circumstances which helped to ground the Mustang passing attack. With no assurance of such luck this year, will the Mids be able to overpower the Mustangs on the road? My guess is yes, but here are three key personnel matchups which will help decide the game.
Navy cornerbacks Blake Carter and Kevin Edwards have been instrumental in Navy's defensive success so far this year, matching up one-on-one with some of the best receivers in the college ranks. They shut down Rice's wide receivers last week, but they'll have their hands full this week with SMU wideouts Emmanuel Sanders and Alderick Robinson, who have combined for more than 800 receiving yards through just five games. Navy safeties Wyatt Middleton and Emmett Merchant will likely be called upon to help keep Sanders and Robinson from getting over the top of Carter and Edwards, but matchup problems created by the dynamic receiving duo could allow SMU's other receivers to thrive against Navy's linebackers. Sophomore wideout Cole Beasley isn't a physical threat at only 5-foot-9, but he's amazingly quick in space and will present a challenge for the Navy linebackers trying to keep track of their zones while also watching the eyes of Bo Levi Mitchell. Wile Ross Pospisil and Clint Sovie have received a lot of the publicity this year, outside ‘backer Ram Vela has played outstanding in pass coverage, and showed it last week when he picked off Rice quarterback Nick Fanuzzi and nearly returned the ball for a touchdown. Vela has the quickness to stay with Beasley in the open field and the discipline to bring him down one-on-one, and if he can contain Beasley on Saturday he'll allow the Navy defensive backfield to focus only stopping Robinson and Sanders downfield.
Navy DT Michael Walsh vs. Southern Methodist QB Bo Levi Mitchell
Coming into the Rice game, there was serious concern among Navy fans over the ability of the Midshipmen to generate pressure on the defensive front. Both of Navy's starting nose guards – Chase Burge and Jordan Stephens – missed the game with injuries, forcing defensive coordinator Buddy Green to call upon senior defensive end Michael Walsh to fill in at the nose. Walsh's two tackles didn't stand out on the stat sheet against SMU, but he did a good job taking on double teams and freeing up a Navy defender (often an inside or outside linebacker) to get pressure on Rice QB Nick Fanuzzi. Navy will see a similar spread offense this week, and Walsh (or a healthy Burge or Stephens) will need to duplicate that performance this week if the Mids are to avoid having SMU signal caller Bo Levi Mitchell from picking the defense apart. Navy nose guards have registered four pass deflections this year – all coming at key times. If they can't help the defense get to Mitchell, they can still be successful in stopping him by getting their hands up and disrupting the underneath routs.
Last week the Midshipmen offense went up against one of the best safeties in the country when Dobbs and company lined up across from Andrew Sendejo, who finished the game against Navy with 17 total tackles. As we've seen in numerous circumstances this year, the matchup between Dobbs and the opposing team's free safety has been key in deciding the game, with the strength of Dobbs' arm able to catch particularly aggressive safeties off guard in the passing game. SMU safety Chris Banjo isn't huge at 5-foot-10, 190-pounds, but he plays bigger than his size and is incredibly physical in run support. Last year he recorded 13 tackles against Navy, but with the circumstances of this year's game, he'll likely have to contend with Dobbs' ability to throw the ball downfield in addition to running the option. Last week, coach Niumatalolo sent a message to Sendejo early in the form of a play-action pass on the first play of the game, saying that, "we were just trying to slow him down a bit. We wanted to get his attention early." With Banjo likely to be dialed in to playing the option, expect Dobbs to look for slotbacks Marcus Curry, Bobby Doyle, and Cory Finnerty downfield off of play action early in the game to scare the sophomore safety from getting too aggressive.