Temple is riding a dominant defensive stretch and 20th-ranked Navy is running roughshod over opposing defenses, which makes for an intriguing matchup in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference title game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Owls, who lost to Houston in last year’s AAC championship, have won six straight games while holding their last four opponents to a total of 23 points.
“Their football program and their culture, they are very similar to us,” Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo told reporters. “Tough, hard-nosed kids who are disciplined. We know this is going to be a tough matchup for us.” Temple led the AAC in scoring defense (17.8 points) and total defense (273.4 yards, which is third in the country), while Navy ranked second in the conference in scoring (41.7) behind the nation’s second-ranked rushing attack (342 yards). “It’s a great offense and they’ve done a terrific job of wearing teams down and winning the war of attrition,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule told the media. “That’s something we pride ourselves on. It’s not often that we play other teams that run, run, run and pound people until they submit, but that’s what Navy has done.” The Midshipmen revolve around quarterback Will Worth, the nation’s leader with 25 rushing touchdowns, while the Owls ride a balanced offense behind senior quarterback Phillip Walker (2,700 yards, 18 touchdown passes), who is questionable with a foot issue but expects to play.
ABOUT TEMPLE (9-3, 7-1 AAC): While Walker’s status is uncertain and Rhule told reporters that backup Logan Marchi “has to be ready to play,” the squad is prepared to go to battle without the services of sophomore running back Ryquell Armstead, one of two players with more than 800 yards on the ground. The absence of Armstead, who had two TDs in last week’s 37-10 win over East Carolina, will cede more carries to leading rusher Jahad Thomas (856 yards, 12 TDs). Walker’s top target, sophomore Ventell Bryant – who averaged 93.3 yards over his final six games – is expected to be ready despite an arm issue.
ABOUT NAVY (9-2, 7-1): Worth has topped 100 yards on the ground in seven consecutive contests and scored multiple rushing TDs in six straight, part of a stretch run that has seen the Midshipmen top the 40-point mark in six of the last seven outings. Navy’s triple-option attack has been rolling along at a historic rate, piling up 480 rushing yards against East Carolina two weeks ago and then 496 – the 10th-most in program history – in last Saturday’s 75-31 drubbing of SMU. The Midshipmen won homefield advantage by virtue of their entry into the College Football Playoff rankings and will be trying to extend a 15-game home winning streak, tied for the longest in the country.
1. Worth needs six rushing TDs to tie former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds’ NCAA record of 31 in a season.
2. Owls DL Haason Reddick led the AAC in tackles-for-loss with 21.5 and ranked second in sacks with 9.5.
3. Walker threw for 240 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 loss to Navy two seasons ago, which gave the Midshipmen a 6-5 series lead.
PREDICTION: Navy 35, Temple 31