The struggling Mids are set to take on SMU in their final home game of the season. Navy pounded SMU in Dallas last season scoring 75 points in the process, but this Mids team is looking to break a three-game losing skid.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Run well against a loaded front
Last Thursday night in Philadelphia, Temple produced the blueprint to stop Navy and its high level running game dead in its tracks. The Owls employed an eight-man front on basically every play and that extra defender in the box was often unblocked or unaccounted for in the triple-option system. The result was that the Mids put together one of the worst offensive performances in recent years, rushing for just 136 yards in the 34-26 loss.
Ken Niumatalolo knows that Navy cannot rush for 2.6 yards per carry and expect to win games. Playing with an eight-man front is effective, but it is also very risky. One missed tackle in that alignment can lead to a huge play, something Temple managed to avoid with sound fundamentals. The lack of a passing attack is killing Navy and allowing defenses to focus exclusively on the run. Whatever Niumatalolo has had to do this week in practice, running against an eight-man front should have been the Mids top priority.
Slow down the SMU passing attack
If you take away the opening day contest against Stephen F. Austin where SMU struggled, the Mustangs passing attack he been lighting it up in 2017. The team is led by quarterback Ben Hicks who is averaging almost 310 yards per game. Hicks is talented enough on his own, but the Mustangs have given him three outstanding wide receivers to work with as their offense has been productive all year long.
The nation’s leading receiver (in terms of total receptions) is Trey Quinn. Quinn has 90 catches on the season for 921 yards and is generally considered to have one of the safest pairs of hands in the country. Hicks will also look to find the 6-foot-4 Courtland Sutton early and often, especially when in the red zone. Sutton has nine touchdowns on the year and must be watched at all times.
Will Justin Lawler be a factor?
In Justin Lawler the Mustangs have a defensive end that is among the best in the nation. Lawler has 7.5 sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, and 55 total tackles this season. His best asset is his ability to pressure the quarterback and force game-changing mistakes, but as a general rule having an outstanding pass rusher is no kind of factor against Navy. The triple-option takes away that pass rushing ability from the game, often leaving players who are one dimensional in that aspect as more of a liability than an asset.
This season though that might be different. Zach Abey has been beaten up over the last couple of weeks and his status is up in the air for Saturday. If Abey is good to go with his shoulder injury then Navy will be its usual rushing self. If, however, Abey is unable to play, then Garret Lewis would be the obvious replacement. Lewis is much less physical than Abey, but he is a better passer. If he plays then Lawler might be a bigger factor than expected.