The Memphis Tigers (3-0, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) will play in their first conference game of the season against the Navy Midshipmen (2-0, 1-0 AAC). The last time these two teams squared off was last season in Annapolis, where the Tigers lost 22-21. One year later, the Tigers look more disciplined, having seen many improvements on defense and getting contributions from their young players early this season. The Midshipmen are also undefeated and will own a 4-1 all-time record against Memphis if they win tonight.
Although the Tigers had a bye last week, the momentum they have mounted in their first three games of the season should persevere. Offensively, they are still one of the most productive units in the nation, despite injuries to starting running back Patrick Taylor Jr. and wide receiver John “Pop” Williams. The Tigers have averaged 447 yards per game and 28.5 points per game, combining for 97 points in their last two games against Southern and South Alabama.
Quarterback Brady White has started the season brilliantly so far with 718 passing yards, five passing touchdowns and a completion percentage of 72%. Kenneth Gainwell, a redshirt freshman running back, has also been stellar in his first three starts as a Tiger, leading the team in rushing yards with 307 yards and four total touchdowns.
Defensively, the Tigers look like a completely different unit than they did last season. They are a top-three defense in the nation in terms of yards allowed per game, points allowed per game and allowed passing yards per game according to NCAA statistics. One big reason for their improved performance is how much more aggressively they rush passers.
In just three games, seven different players have gotten a sack and three with multiple hits on quarterbacks. Their secondary has also done a nice job of limiting big plays downfield, which was their biggest flaw last season. With the likes of cornerback T.J. Carter and safety La’Andre Thomas continuing to shadow the team’s top wide receivers, do not expect to see that unit taking steps back anytime soon.
Navy comes into this game following an impressive performance against ECU, where they came away with the 42-10 victory. It was their second game of the season with 40 or more points. Their offense was led by quarterback Malcolm Perry, who led the team with 307 total yards and six touchdowns, four rushing and two passing. Wide receiver C.J. Williams shined against the Pirates, and on three catches, had 117 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, the Midshipmen did a good job of limiting ECU’s high-octane offense and held them to just to 222 yards offense, while out gaining them by 246 yards. Safety Kevin Brennan was responsible the team’s sole takeaway with an interception he took for 10 yards. Although the unit had no sacks, it did have four quarterback hits, with four separate players getting pressure.
So, what will give the Tigers the edge? That depends. How legit is the Memphis’ defense? This game is going to be the defining moment for this overachieving unit. Navy’s triple option has continuously been one of the hardest offenses to stop and if the Tigers can shut it down, it is safe to say they will earn a lot more respect nationally.
This is not to ignore Memphis’ offensive playmakers, but this game is going to come down to how stout their defense can be as opposed to how many yards that they can rack up. As long as the offense can hold onto the ball and don’t miss out on easy points, then this should be a good start to the Tigers’ AAC conference play.
Score prediction: Memphis 29-Navy 18