The Mids struggles continued last time out as they fell 24-17 at home to Temple. Next up is a Houston team that might be the best squad in the entire AAC.
Here are the three keys:
Keep Ed Oliver out of the backfield
This is not a good matchup for Navy. When the triple-option is working at its highest level, a dominant nose tackle can still cause problems. When the triple-option is barely working at all – through a combination of bad quarterback play and a shaky offensive line – then one dominant nose tackle can single-handedly decide the outcome of a game.
On Saturday the Mids have to find a way to deal with Oliver, an All-American player who some consider to be the best overall performer in college football at any position. He is certainly the most dominant force that Navy offensive line will have had to deal with all season, with his size, speed, and nose for the football making him a nightmare to deal with one on one.
Oliver is also in great form. Against East Carolina last Saturday he recorded five tackles for a loss (tying an AAC record) to go along with two sacks and a quarterback hurry. Dealing with Oliver has to be priority number one.
Figure out the QB situation
Navy’s struggles in 2018 can’t all be blamed on the quarterback, but that is a fair place to start.
Malcolm Perry was replaced as the starter last Saturday by senior Garret Lewis, a player making just his second career-start. In the first half it looked to be an inspired decision by Ken Niumatalolo as Lewis directed Navy to scores on three of its first five possessions. Things the proceeded to fall apart in the second half, with Navy gaining just 67 yards, seemingly unable to move the ball.
Lewis is in contention for the start this week, but he certainly didn’t separate himself against the Owls. Perry was pushed back to slotback against Temple, but his days at quarterback might not be over. Senior Zach Abey is also back in the mix.
Whatever the right answer is – and it might be a platoon – Niumatalolo needs to figure it out before this becomes a lost season.
Win the turnover battle
The Navy offense has been brutal this season. Taking out games where Navy moved the ball at will against Hawaii and Lehigh, the Mids average less than 17 points per game. One way to jump start that total is by giving the offense plus field position with a turnover or two in Houston territory.
The Mids rank 74th in the country in total defense, and are giving up way too many touchdowns for the style of defense that Niumatalolo is trying to run. The one statistic that is keeping Navy in game is turnovers, with the defense ranking 21st in the country in that statistic. The Mids are getting it down in both aspects too, with eight fumble recoveries and five interceptions on the year.
A defensive score would be ideal, but just setting the offense up to score would be huge as the Mids look for an upset win.