The Navy Midshipmen (3-2) took down their third AAC foe of the season on Saturday as they beat East Carolina 27-23. They now get to host the Houston Cougars (1-1) with the Mids looking for their first 4-0 start in league play since they made the championship game back in 2016. Here are the three keys to a Navy victory.
Keep riding Nelson Smith
In the recent past it has been the play of the quarterback that has driven the Mids triple-option offense to seemingly unlimited success. Malcom Perry was a different animal in that role last year as he broke countless games open on his own. Navy doesn’t have a Perry this year, however, and it instead an offense that is being driven by the play of the fullbacks, and in particular senior Nelson Smith.
Smith went for a career-high 157 yards and added two touchdowns against ECU last weekend. This was on the heels of his 120-yard day against Temple. When Smith and Jamale Carothers are on song, it drives this offense forwards and gives the Mids the ability to control possession and eat clock. This is their basic recipe to win games.
Houston can play
If their game against BYU on Friday night was anything to go by, then this will be a tough opponent for the Mids. The same BYU team that smashed an admittedly underprepared Navy squad 55-3 earlier in the year put Houston down 43-26, but had to stage a big-time comeback to do so. The Houston Cougars were up 26-14 late in the third quarter and seemingly had the game in hand. Then the Cougars in blue reeled off four unanswered touchdowns, turning the score around and marching to a 5-0 record at this point. Houston’s biggest weakness from this game was their pass defense – BYU went for over 400 yards – but this is not an area the Mids can exploit on Saturday.
Stop Marquez Stevenson
The Cougars have a number of impressive options on offense but Marquez Stevenson is a class apart. The WR has six catches for 137 yards and a touchdown in two games and he is seven in the country in yards per reception at 22.83. He is also 17th in all-purpose yards per game with 142.0. Add in his kick return touchdown – a phase where he averages 36.3 yards per return, and you have a player that the Mids will need to be wary of on every snap thanks to his game-breaking speed and elusiveness.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 3:30 PM ET. Watch on the CBSSN network.