All eyes in the conference this week will be on 7-2 (4-1) Tulsa @ 6-2 (4-1) Navy. Not only is it Veteran’s Day weekend, but it will also senior day in Annapolis. The winner of this game will be the favorite to win West division, and host the AAC championship (Yes if Tulsa and Temple win out, Tulsa will host the championship game.)
Both Tulsa and Navy have outperformed expectations this year. For Navy, they were picked to finish 3rd in the West, and 43rd in the nation by USA Today. Tulsa was picked to finish 4th in the West, and 66th in the nation. Yet, here we are in mid-November, Tulsa and Navy are both fringe top 25 teams, and tied for 1st in the West. That is why we play the games folks.
This is an 11 am C.T. kickoff. Despite Navy’s 11-game home winning streak, Tulsa opened as a 1 point favorite. It has since shifted from Tulsa -2.5 to now at the moment Navy -2.5. Regardless, Vegas and everyone else expects this to be a very close game. I am beyond exciting for it, let’s get to my preview:
Last year: In their first year in the AAC, Navy impressed with a 7-1 conference record, 10-2 overall. A 52-31 loss to Houston is the only thing that separated them from a New Year’s 6 bowl. Navy met Pittsburg in the Military Bowl, and won 44-28, their 3rd straight bowl win. Their 11 wins were the most in school history. In the 2015 meeting, Navy traveled to Tulsa the week before Thanksgiving and won 44-21. Navy racked up 461 yards of rushing, which was the most they had all season.
This year: As I mentioned, Navy has far outperformed expectations. It was a dubious start to the season, and losing their starting QB to an ACL tear in week 1 certainly didn’t help. After squeaking out a 4 point victory over Uconn and a 7 point victory over Tulane, Navy fell to Air Force 28-14 on October 1st. After that week, most people had Navy ranked toward the bottom of the conference, but the very next week Navy upset undefeated and #6 Houston 46-40. They followed that up with a 42-28 victory over Memphis, which asserted them as the team to beat in the West. Navy’s lone conference loss was @ USF. Last week Navy defeated Notre Dame (now 3-5) 28-27.
The stats: Since Navy controls the ball so much and possessions are down, I’m going with different stats.
Total offense: 6.41 yards/play (26th) TU ranks 53rd.
Rushing offense: 5.41 yards/rush (19th) TU ranks 39th.
Passing offense: 10.9 yards/attempt (2nd) TU ranks 65th.
Total defense: 6.19 yards/play (109th) TU ranks 49th.
Rush defense: 4.71 yards/rush (91st) TU ranks 62nd.
Pass defense: 8.0 yards/attempt (107th) TU ranks 107th.
Best players: As you’d expect, Navy does not beat you with one guy. However, they once again have a pretty dang good QB this year. Despite starting the season as a backup and having never started a game for Navy prior to this year, senior Will Worth has impressed the conference with his ability to play QB. Worth has rushed for 793 yards this year and passed for 1035. Last year Keenan Reynolds was said to be the best QB in the history of Navy football; well 8 games into this year Worth is averaging only 6 fewer yards rushing per game, and has a higher QBR and passing yards/game than Reynolds had. No one is saying that Worth is a better player, but he has proven himself to be nearly as effective as his predecessor.
Uniform advantage: It is just too hard to beat Navy’s classic look. It is even better when they do awesome stuff like this:
Uniform prediction: This would be a repeat combo, but I’m thinking we see white-white-white.
Keys to game: There is no secret what Navy’s game plan is to control all facets of the game. I included the per/play stats to reveal two things; Navy’s offense is really, really good, and Navy’s defense is really, really bad. Last week vs Notre Dame, Navy did only allow 27 points, but Notre Dame only had 6 total possessions! Notre Dame scored on 5 of their 6 possessions, averaging 4.5 points/drive, but it wasn’t enough! For Tulsa’s offense, if they play like they have recently then they should be able to score every time they touch the ball (and they might need too). The number 1 key for Tulsa’s offense though is that they must NOT turn the ball over. Navy’s defense has only forced 9 turnovers all year, but in a game where possessions are so valuable, a turnover would be backbreaking for Tulsa. This especially includes special teams, if Navy punts the ball, please just put someone back there that can field it.
Defensively for Tulsa I think we’ll see something similar to what we saw vs Navy. We’ll play Micheal Thomas (#12) a lot at linebacker, McKinley Whitfield will be in at safety, I wouldn’t even be surprised if we saw us play with 4 linebackers. Stopping the triple option is extremely, extremely difficult and Tulsa struggled mightily last year against it, but I think that if we get the right bodies in there, and we play smart, then we have the size and speed to defend this rushing attack. Tulsa’s defense should also have a goal of getting Navy’s offense out of rhythm. The way to disrupt the triple option is for the offense to get behind in down and distance (whether by a big loss or penalty), or being down by 2 or more possessions. A quick start is necessary for TU.
Preview: I want to take one minute just to say how much I love that we are in this position. We control our own destiny for the AAC conference championship, just two years after being 3-9. I love Coach Monty. Back to football.
I have a question for you guys, is Navy good? Now I know they aren’t bad, so better question, are they better than us? Initially I was surprised that Vegas opened with us as a 1 point favorite, but now I’m starting to see what Vegas saw. Everyone in the American was convinced that Navy was mediocre until they beat Houston on October 8th, and while there is no doubt that is a quality win, we’ve seen just how vulnerable Houston was at that point. Navy’s second most impressive win was again at home, vs Memphis. That is another good win, but Tulsa won by a wider margin, and on the road against that same Memphis team. Last week Navy needed a miracle 4th down conversion to beat a bad Notre Dame team, and earlier this year we saw them struggle with 3-6 UConn, and a Tulane team that Tulsa dismantled. Now I’m not trying to discredit Navy and their incredible coach Ken Niumatalolo, I’m just saying that I believe Tulsa has had just as good of a season as Navy has, and I don’t view us on different tiers.
Despite my words above, I do think that this is the second most difficult AAC game Tulsa will play all-season. The triple option is a nightmare to stop, and Navy is talented, well-coached, and experienced. To make it worse, we are playing the Naval Academy on Veteran’s Day weekend, and it’s their senior night! Winning this game would almost feel anti-American.
Prediction: If Tulsa can do these 3 things, they will almost certainly win.
- Score first.
- Don’t turn the ball over.
- Force Navy to come up empty in 3 possessions.
That’s it guys. Easier said than done, but I think that Navy’s game plan is so specific that if they execute it well they win, if they don’t, Tulsa wins. Don’t think that I’m like 100% confident in us winning this game (in fact I’m more like 50/50), but I just have a feeling about this. It has been a special season, and we have looked like the best team in the conference the past 3 weeks. If Tulsa turns it over and can’t stop Navy a single time then this could easily go the other way quickly, but I just don’t see that happening. I’ve got Tulsa 42-28.