When: Saturday @ 3:30 EST
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland
TV: CBS Sports Network (Hopefully you have it!)
Spread: Memphis (-6)
Weather: Looks like it’s gonna be a wet one. Supposed to rain all morning as well.
HOW THEY FARED IN WEEK 1
Memphis rolled over FCS opponent, Mercer, to the tune of 56 first-half points behind 358 passing yards from Brady White in his first game as a Tiger. White threw 5 TD passes to 5 different receivers, with running backs Patrick Taylor and Darrell Henderson both scoring as a receiver and on the ground. The starting unit on defense gave up 37 yards in the first-half and gave up just 1 first down. You can read more about the game here:
Navy travelled from Annapolis to Hawaii and looked to be suffering from jet lag in the first half against the Warriors. Navy fell behind 28-0 thanks in large part to Hawaii’s passing attack in their re-implemented Run-And-Shoot offense. Navy scored on 6 of their final 8 possessions and brought the game within 10 in the 3rd quarter, but continued to give up big plays, falling 59-41 to the Warriors.
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HOW THEY MATCH UP
MEMPHIS OFFENSE: Unless you skipped the beginning of this article, then you already know Memphis got off to a great start in Mike Norvell’s 3rd season as Head Coach of the Tigers. Brady White’s 358 passing yards are good for 10th in the nation on the young season, with the Memphis passing game coming in at 4th overall. The Tigers were able to convert 67% of the 3rd downs they faced against Mercer, and the first unit did not turn the ball over while they were in the game.
The Memphis ground game ain’t no slouch; either, as the Tigers racked up 324 yards on the ground (8th in FBS) behind two of the best back in the AAC, Patrick Taylor and Darrell Henderson. Memphis new starting outside receiver Damonte Coxie had a good day snagging 4 passes for 79 yards and a score while teammate Pop Williams hauled in 6 receptions from White. Tony Pollard, the second leading receiver from last year’s record breaking offense was eerily quiet against Mercer, but is expected to be a crucial part of this offense.
NAVY OFFENSE: On the Navy side of the ball, the triple-option is led by quarterback Malcom Perry, a dynamic athlete that is always one move away from taking it to the house. Perry took over starting QB duties from Zach Abey (who now starts at WR) towards the end of the season and led Navy in a Military Bowl blowout over Virginia. Perry finished with 108 yards and a score on the ground last week at Hawaii, while attempting just 3 passes with 1 completion for a touchdown. Abey still moves to QB in short yardage situations and he ran in 4 touchdowns on 5 carries last week, which is good for tops in the nation. Navy rushed for 326 yards in the loss, which is just ahead of Memphis at 7th in the FBS.
“Their quarterback Malcolm Perry is as good of an athlete and player that you will see in our conference. He can change the game on any snap. The fact they moved him primarily to quarterback I think is a tremendous weapon for their offense because of his explosiveness…”- Mike Norvell on Navy QB Malcom Perry
The Midshipmen did a good job of protecting the ball last week as they did not turn the ball over, but they converted on just 42% of their 3rd down opportunities. Fullback Nelson Smith came on as a change of pace back behind Anthony Gargiulo and both finished with 10 carries, but Smith totaled 108 yards and a score compared to Gargiulo’s 40 yards. Navy was able to score on 6 of their final 8 drives against Hawaii, and showed glimpses of being able to control the game putting together a scoring drive that lasted almost 7 minutes of game time in the midst of their comeback effort.
MEMPHIS DEFENSE: The Tigers starting unit was stingy against the inferior Bears last week, giving up just 37 yards and 1 first down in the half they played. Reigning AAC Rookie of the Year, TJ Carter, grabbed his 6th career interception taking it all the way back for the score giving him his 1st career Pick-6. Linebackers Austin Hall and Bryce Huff were flying all over the field making big hits, while Jackson Dillon made his presence felt in his return for his 6th year of eligibility after being injured in each of the previous two season openers.
While we didn’t get a great look at what the Memphis defense while look like against FBS-level talent, we do know that the Tigers coaching staff has been raving about the improvement of this unit from a year ago. Carter is a potential All-American, and due to injuries early last season, Defensive Coordinator Chris Ball returns experience and depth at just about every position. The linebacking corps, who will be crucial in stopping the triple-option of Navy, has a legitimate claim to being the best and deepest unit on the team. Curtis Akins and Hall both showed up in a big way for last year’s Navy game finishing with 11 and 10 tackles respectively, with Hall adding 2 interceptions.
NAVY DEFENSE: Returning safety Sean Williams was named to the All-AAC Honorable Mention Team at the conclusion of last season, but the rest of the Midshipmen’s defense is relatively inexperienced after losing several leaders from the 2017 squad. Navy’s secondary gave up over 500 yards through the air in the loss to Hawaii. However, their rush defense was solid, allowing just 86 yards to the Hawaii running backs.
From the eye test standpoint, Navy’s defensive front was getting no pressure on the QB and the secondary seemed to be content with giving up the short, underneath routes. The problem arose when the defensive backfield continued to get burnt deep. The newcomers at the linebacker position didn’t appear to be great in coverage either, as the Navy defense in general had a rough go at it in the season opener. I would imagine they will come out hungry looking to redeem themselves against the Tigers.
KEY FACTORS FOR A TIGERS WIN
The defensive line has to win the battle in the trenches against the Navy offensive line. O’Bryan Goodson and fellow sophomores John Tate and JoJo Dorceus, along with elder statesmen Emmanuel Cooper and Jonathan Wilson have got to eat their Wheaties on Saturday morning. Stopping the triple-option begins with these big fellas up front, so the linebackers can shoot through the gaps to make the tackle on the fullback or QB. The good news is most of these guys played a big role in last year’s 30-27 win against Navy so they know what it takes to contain this offense, however the elusive Perry at QB adds a new wrinkle.
If stopping the Navy offense begins with the lineman, then the rest of the pressure seems to fall upon the linebackers. As I mentioned earlier, Akins and Hall both had huge games last year against Navy and it is imperative that they, along with Dillon and Huff, not only stop the run but also keep Perry from getting to the outside. Hawaii did a great job of having an LB in Perry’s face as soon as he began to roll out when they were stuffing the Midshipmen offense, and I have to think this Memphis group will be up for the challenge.
Protect the ball on offense. Memphis should be able to move the ball against Navy’s defense, both through the air and on the ground. If Brady White can continue to hit his receivers on short to intermediate routes, then talent will take over and the Memphis athletes will be able to make plays. Likewise, Patrick Taylor and Darrell Henderson should be able to move the ball on the ground and may be leaned upon more than normal if the rain doesn’t hold off.
No matter what the weather is like, I believe the Memphis defense will rise to the occasion for their first challenge of the 2018 season and have an impressive performance in slowing down the Navy running game. I expect that we will once again see big numbers from Akins and Hall, with Huff throwing his name in the mix for team leader in tackles as well.
As I just stated, I think the Memphis offense will be able to move the ball through the air and on the ground. I’m expecting Tony Pollard to have a breakout day offensively, especially running short routes and being the security blanket for Brady White in the adverse weather conditions. Memphis takes this one 42-30.
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[Photo Credit: The Commercial Appeal]