The Navy Midshipmen fell short against SMU, but they put up a good fight versus an unbeaten team which will likely compete for the AAC championship later this season (against Cincinnati).
Navy is not where it wants to be at 1-4 on the season, but the Midshipmen have definitely made progress from early September, when they were not particularly competitive. The schedule gets easier, not harder, from here on out. The UCF-SMU double was extremely challenging. Navy now has a chance to accumulate wins. If its level of play keeps improving, that will happen, and Navy might still be able to find six wins this season and a bowl bid.
The margin for error, though, is minimal, and Navy can’t continue to let winnable games slip away. Let’s see what the Midshipmen need to focus on in a Thursday night game in Memphis against the Tigers.
1 – Third-down defense
Memphis has been a very good third-down team on offense in recent weeks, converting 50 percent or better against Temple and Tulsa. Memphis converted four different fourth downs combined in those two games. Yes, Memphis lost each of those two games, but it’s very unlikely that a team will continue to convert a lot of third downs and lose. Navy needs to hold Memphis under 40 percent of third-down conversions if it wants a really good chance of winning. The Midshipmen will also need to stop the Tigers on fourth downs to get their defense off the field and make this game a lot more manageable.
2 – Takeaways
Navy was able to play SMU close because it came up with an interception in the end zone to stop a Mustang drive. Navy’s defense made important plays to build a 21-7 lead before the Ponies rallied. Navy will notice that Memphis has committed at least two turnovers in each of its past two losses. Negative turnover differential is why the Tigers have lost their last two games despite rolling up at least 450 yards in both games. Memphis collected over 600 yards against Tulsa but didn’t score 30 points and lost to the Golden Hurricane. Navy has to pounce when the Tigers make a bad throw or put the pigskin on the turf.
3 – Fourth-quarter offense
Triple-option football is meant to get a defense tired and mentally distracted so that in the fourth quarter, its reactions and responses are not reliable or consistent. Navy beat UCF with a 17-point fourth quarter. Navy ran out of gas on offense in fourth quarters against Houston and SMU. Finding ways to make the offense sing in the fourth quarter is a central need for the Midshipmen. They won’t win this game in the second or third quarter. They will need to rise to the occasion in the final 15 minutes.