Annapolis, MD (WJZ)- “Of all of the conferences in college football, the American has been the most competitive and the most entertaining by far,” according to Rich Waltz of CBS Sports Network.
While much of the country’s attention will be focused on Columbus, Ohio on Saturday afternoon, where the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes face the #8 Penn State Nittany Lions, a battle in Annapolis will go a long way to determining the wild West division of the American Athletic Conference. The #25 SMU Mustangs visit Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis to take on the Navy Midshipmen.
The Mids are coming off a 52-20 thumping at the hands of rival Notre Dame last week in which they allowed Irish quarterback Ian Book to throw for 284 yards and five touchdowns. It was a disappointing lapse for a defense that has been much improved this season under coordinator Brian Newberry. Heading into a matchup with the one-loss Mustangs, CBS Sports Network play-by-play announcer Rich Waltz says he’s “really curious to see if Navy can bounce back.”
SMU, for their part, bounced back from their loss to Memphis with a 59-51 win over East Carolina. However, that game was even closer than the score would indicate, as the Mustangs didn’t separate until scoring two touchdowns in a three-minute span in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs gave up nearly 500 yards passing and over 140 rushing to the Pirates.
Both teams have run high-powered offenses this season ranking in the top 15 in scoring, with Navy racking up 37.9 ppg (13th) and SMU hanging 45.1 (6th) on its opponents this season. Though, as you might have guessed, they do it in vastly different ways.
It’s a great contrast of styles. SMU and Shane Buechele throw it around. Navy will get you for 350 yards on the ground, which is the best in the nation,” said Waltz. “I have had a hard time predicting outcomes and games in this conference, because there isn’t a huge drop-off between the top and bottom teams.”
That contrast should make for an entertaining watch. For as prolific as the SMU offense has been, their defense has allowed opponents to match that high scoring, ranking 106th in the country in scoring defense (32.7 PPG). So there is an opportunity for Navy to put points on the board. However, the Mustangs defense has been solid against the run this season, allowing just 3.53 yards per carry and 124 yards per game on the ground. That run defense will be tested by the triple option system that gives defensive coordinators nightmares in preparing for it on just one week’s notice.
Navy’s weakness against the pass (212.8 ypg, 7.39 YPA) could be the fatal flaw in this game, as SMU quarterback Shane Buechele has proven capable of picking apart opposing defenses all season. In the end, the key part of Saturday’s game that Waltz says to look for is the pace of the game.
“Often times in a game like that, for a team that is up-tempo and throws it a bunch, time of possession and number of possessions are important. Because Navy, if they’re moving the football, they are going to eat clock,” said Waltz. “I have talked to a lot of offensive coordinators, and they always say I don’t schedule a lot of stuff late, I try and get all of my best stuff in early, because you don’t know if you’ll get to it.”
With both teams entering the game with 5-1 records in conference and sitting just behind Memphis due to each having lost to the Tigers this season, the loser of this game is likely out of the West division race with a week to go. The Tigers control their own fate. If they win this week, they clinch the division with wins over both Navy and SMU. But, if the Tigers drop either of their next two games against South Florida or Cincinnati, the door will be open for the winner of this matchup to finish the season atop the division with a spot in the conference championship game secured.
Vegas sees the Midshipmen as the favorites by 3.5 points in front of their home fans. Kick-off is slated for a 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday, November 23rd on CBS Sports Network.