USF will welcome Navy to Raymond James for their ninth game of the season. This game is the second Friday night game in a row, and is followed by an off week. It’s also USF’s Salute to Service game, so student veterans and their families get free tickets.
Date: Friday, October 28, 7:00 PM
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo (9th year at Navy, 19th overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Ivin Jasper (9th year at Navy, 17th overall)
Defensive Coordinator: Dale Pehrson (2nd year at Navy, 21st overall)
All Time: Navy’s 2015 win over USF was the first-ever game between the two teams.
Navy was one of the best teams in the country last year. They won a school-record 11 games, including a victory over Pittsburgh in the Military Bowl, held on to the Commander-in-Chief Trophy, and finished the season ranked #18.
Last year in Annapolis, the Midshipmen broke USF’s three-game win streak and contributed to a temporary drop off in the Bulls’ prolific offensive production. USF hung with Navy for the first half, but got overwhelmed in the second. Rodney Adams returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and USF added a field goal toward the end on the first quarter. At halftime, the Bulls were behind 13-10, but soon took a 17-13 lead on a quick touchdown drive.
The rest of the second half was brutal. Navy had the ball for 24:30 during the second half and they ran it down the Bulls’ throats over and over. The Midshipmen ended up scoring two more touchdowns and a field goal to win 29-17.
Navy had one of last year’s most efficient offenses. “Efficient” doesn’t really do the Midshipmen justice, though. Their triple-option scheme crushed other team’s souls. Almost half of their drives ended in touchdowns. They scored on 95% of their trips to the red zone. They averaged 37 points per game. Navy’s offensive FEI last season was #1 in the nation.
The good news is that there has been a lot of player turnover from 2015 to 2016. Star quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who carried the Navy offense last season, has graduated. Thankfully, so have all five of 2015’s starting offensive linemen.
There is a ceiling to the triple option approach, and the Midshipmen may have hit it last season because they had Reynolds under center. Without him — and without his linemen — the team will find it tough to reach the same level this year.
Tago Smith has taken over at quarterback, and he hasn’t been bad in the little playing time he has had in the last couple of years. His wide receivers, slotbacks and fullbacks have seen a lot of action already, but there will be kinks to work out.
Navy’s first test will come in week two against UConn and the robust Huskies defense. If the Mids can make it through that game with a win, other teams should fear them.
I don’t usually agree that the best defense is a good offense, but it’s true for the Midshipmen. The defense doesn’t see a lot of time on the field, because the offense is usually out there stepping on the dreams of their opponents one long, sustained drive at a time.
The defense has a permanent nickel back, much like USF’s 4-2-5. The difference is that USF has more athletic players, so they try to create havoc, and Navy is under more of a prevent philosophy.
Experience is a little weak on the defensive line and the secondary, but Navy can count on their linebackers as a solid unit this fall. Their run defense should stay decent this year, but their DBs are probably going to have trouble handling any good passing team that comes their way.
Now that USF has seen Navy’s system, and defended against it respectably, they should be better positioned to win this game. With a whole bunch of inexperienced players, the Midshipmen will definitely have a tough time on the road in Tampa.
With a little creativity, USF can draw in the Navy linebackers in with the run game, and then stretch them out with the pass. The Mids will give up chunks of yardage if the ball gets distributed around.
However, Navy will be running the same system that beat the Bulls by 12 points and limited their still developing, but much vaunted, offense to a single touchdown a year ago. So there is definitely the potential for the Midshipmen to control the game and walk up and down the field at will.
There’s no way to predict what state these teams will be in when they meet in Tampa. But, relying on the fact that Navy is undergoing a rebuild, and that it’s a home game for the Bulls, USF should be able to take this one.