The Memphis Tigers enjoyed a bye week after an impressive win over the University of South Alabama Jaguars. But given their next opponent, it’s unlikely they were resting.
In fact, the Tigers used the extra time off to prepare for Navy on Thursday night and their rarely-seen triple-option offense, which has led the Navy Midshipmen to a 2-0 record overall and a 1-0 record in the American Athletic Conference.
Last season, Memphis suffered a heartbreaking loss to Navy, a game the Tigers could attribute to turnovers. Memphis’ crucial late-game errors cost them 10 points and the win on a rainy day in Annapolis last year. So certainly the Tigers want revenge, but they’re after something else too.
A win over the Navy should vault the Tigers back into the national rankings. The Tigers are ranked No. 26 in the Amway Coaches poll and No. 30 in the Associated Press poll.
The AAC Western Division has quietly become ultra-competitive this season. Navy and Tulane each have a division win. Memphis, Navy and SMU are still undefeated. The schedule has broken well for the Tigers this season and will host all three. The Tigers own a great conference record under Mike Norvell, with just three losses at home in three seasons.
Here are key things to look for in Thursday night’s matchup of AAC powerhouses:
Discipline, discipline and more discipline
The Tigers enter the game with the third-best defense in the country for total defense, allowing just 226.3 total yards per game.
But when lined up against the triple-option, every player must maintain their defensive responsibility. Very few teams run the triple-option offense and it’s been known to make a good defense look bad — and fast.
Tigers defensive coordinator Steve Fuller has had to scheme for the triple-option while he was the defensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Navy leads the nation in rushing yards per game with 371.5. The Tigers defense has been allowing 115.7 yards per game. Although Navy is a great rushing team, they will occasionally connect on a few big pass plays.
The best defense is a great offense
The Navy defense is only allowing 226.5 total yards per game – just behind Memphis. Navy tries to control the tempo by rushing the football and trying to wear out opposing defenses To beat Navy at that game, The Tigers will need to build an early big lead, hopefully forcing Navy to pass more often.
Memphis has a history of scoring a lot of points in a short amount of time. With the status of Patrick Taylor still being in question, offensive production will rest on the shoulders of QB Brady White, WR Damonte Coxie and redshirt freshman RB Kenny Gainwell.
Gainwell has rushed for 307 yards and scored on three rushing touchdowns. Coxie is the season leader in receptions (15) and yards (237), but has yet to score this season. White has been very efficient completing 72.2 percent of his passing attempts. White has 718 passing yards and has thrown 5 touchdowns on the very young season.
Navy can lull opponents to sleep with their style of play. They also like to play mind games. Against a team like Navy, fewer offensive downs can make an opponent feel pressure to score. But that can create errors and possible turnovers — something the Tigers learned the hard way last year.
The Tigers will need to resist the urge to play Navy’s game and allow the game to come to them. If they can keep a cool head, they’ll have a great shot of upending the Midshipmen.
The Memphis Tigers play the Navy Midshipmen at The Liberty Bowl Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 26. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. and can be seen nationally on ESPN.