The Memphis Tiger football team will encounter one of its’ biggest tests of the season Saturday, when the Navy Midshipmen travel to Memphis for homecoming.
Memphis coach Justin Fuente said they will need to match Navy’s intensity to win.
“They are an incredibly difficult matchup for us, and everybody that plays them really,” Fuente said. “The program is fantastic. They have an incredible quarterback who will finish his career as the all-time touchdown leader (rushing) in NCAA history. They have a triple option attack plus they have great football players who will attack. It is a matchup that we are looking forward to. We are going to play a hard-nosed football team. Hopefully we can find a way to match their intensity and execution level so we can win the football game.”
Navy has been impressive all season long—with a 6-1 record (4-0 in the American Athletic Conference)— behind its’ perfected triple-option game plan.
The most captivating fact of Navy’s game plan is it rarely waivers from the triple option. It doesn’t matter that defenses know it’s coming and how well teams game plan to attempt to combat it. The Midshipmen have rushed for an average of 319.7 yards per game this season, compared to only 65.9 yards per game through the air.
Fuente said the scheme is not only difficult to defend, but that Navy has talented players to execute its’ scheme.
“They have been doing this for so long so they have all the answers,” Fuente said. “This team has a great scheme and their players are able to adjust quickly. Eventually, they are going to hit you in places that you are going to have to adjust. It is an incredibly tough challenge. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it is not just the scheme. It is the execution and the talent level, combined with the scheme. Sometimes Navy has a rep for being a scheme team, but that is not always true. They have good talented football players combined with a scheme which makes them difficult to play.”
One reason the triple option is so successful for the Midshipmen is because quarterback Keenan Reynolds orchestrates it.
Reynolds has accounted for 753 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns this season. In Navy’s 29-17 win over USF last week, the senior tied the FBS record for career rushing touchdowns (77) set by former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
Navy’s lone loss of the season came by the hands of then No. 15 ranked Notre Dame—a game that may have been a different story if Reynolds had not exited the game in the second quarter with a minor leg injury. Reynolds attempted to come back in the third and fourth quarters, but was ultimately held out to end the game to ensure no further injury. He rushed for 110 yards on 15 carries in the loss.
One of the biggest advantages Navy gains from running the triple option is they usually dominate the time of possession throughout games. The Midshipmen are plus-five minutes in time of possession this season.
With so many rushing plays and the clock almost constantly rolling, Navy keeps its opponent’s offense off the field, limiting their chances to score.
Fuente said his team will have to be very efficient and take advantage of each possession the offense does get Saturday.
“It is difficult, it is difficult for the whole team,” he said. “Offensively, you may not get as many snaps as you normally get in a game. It is a different mindset from playing Tulsa or Bowling Green in terms of getting a lot of possessions. There are not going to be that many possessions in this type of game. You have to be more efficient on the offensive side of the ball and you have to be sound on the defensive side of the ball.”
Memphis has defended well against the rushing attack all season, allowing only 118.7 rushing yards per game, but Memphis will still have its hands full Saturday, as this is the first time in his four seasons at Memphis that Fuente will face a team who runs the triple option like Navy.
Fuente said the lack of exposure to the triple option is the biggest concern for his team as they prepare for Navy.
“The fact you do not practice it is a big issue,” he said. “You have to be sound minded because you do not know what to look for at times. Sometimes it all looks alike but it is a completely different play thrown at you. It may look triple option, but could be something else.”
Coach Justin Fuente and the Tigers will face the Navy Midshipmen for the first time ever Saturday.