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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Commentary

Scouting the Navy Midshipmen


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Coming off their first loss of the season, the No. 21 Cougars welcome the No. 16 United States Naval Academy Midshipmen to TDECU Stadium, with the winner claiming the AAC West title and hosting the inaugural AAC Championship game next Saturday.

The Midshipmen enter the contest winners of five straight games, including a dominant 44-21 performance over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Nov. 21.

Navy is led by ninth-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo, whose triple option offense has led to a 66-36 record overall and has the 2015 club up to No. 16 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since 1978.

The Midshipmen aim for an old school style game, controlling time of possession with their rushing attack and playing lockdown defense en route to success. They currently boast the second best rushing attack in the country, averaging 348.4 yards per game, and are holding opponents to 18.7 points per game, good for 19th in the nation and one spot better than the UConn Huskies the Cougars faced last weekend.

The offense is captained by senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds, a Heisman candidate and owner of the NCAA record for most career rushing touchdowns scored with 82, breaking the mark of 77 set by Montee Ball in 2012. Reynolds has rushed 201 times for 1009 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year, but isn’t afraid to throw it when he needs to, going 33-for-68 for 652 yards and five touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception on the season.

Senior fullback Chris Swain is the other half of the two-headed rushing attack, getting 20 yards on 163 carries for eight touchdowns and has fumbled only twice, but has lost both of them.

The defense has been one of the top in the country, only giving up 350.9 yards per game and has held opponents to 42 percent on third down conversions and 75 percent on red zone scoring attempts. Like the Cougars, the Midshipmen force a lot of turnovers, collecting 14 fumbles and seven interceptions, while giving the ball away only six times, ranking second in the nation with a +15 differential.

Anchored upfront by senior nose tackle Bernard Sarra, the Midshipmen rushing defense has been stout, allowing only 130.6 yard per game and 12 touchdowns total. Sophomore linebacker and Texas native Micah Thomas has had a breakout season with a team-high 58 tackles including 4.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks.

Unsurprisingly, the Midshipmen are the least penalized team in the nation, accumulating only 33 penalties for 284 yards on the season, a full 40 penalties less than the Cougars.

A win would secure the AAC West for the Midshipmen and put them in position to have their best season since 1963 when Heisman-winning quarterback Roger Staubach led them to a national title appearance in the Cotton Bowl.

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