(WJZ)- It’s been a roller coaster of a year for the Navy Midshipmen. After being routed in their opener by BYU, they staged the biggest comeback in school history to beat Tulane, were beaten soundly by Air Force and then pulled off tight wins over Temple and East Carolina.
In the end, those three wins have placed Coach Niumatalolo’s squad once again at the top of the American Athletic Conference, ahead of a matchup with a familiar conference foe, Houston. Heading into the Saturday matchup, airing on CBS Sports Network at 3:30 p.m., CBS college football analyst Brian Jones says he was impressed by the team’s defense in the win over the Pirates.
“They really held them in check. East Carolina was 1-5 inside the red zone. That’s something Coach Newberry can hang his hat on. They got back Diego Fagot, one of their best linebackers,” said Jones in an interview with CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer.
While a win over the currently 1-3 Pirates may not seem impressive, keeping the Pirates from finishing those drives with touchdowns was a big step forward and the return of Fagot (12 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL) is another plus.
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But, perhaps the biggest question, especially against Houston, is the offense finding consistency. Jones notes it has been “hit or miss” outside of the fullbacks and the loss of game-breaking quarterback Malcolm Perry to graduation clearly hurts in that regard.
While the Mids will still likely find yards on the ground, the Cougars present a stiff test, entering Saturday having given up just 2.1 yards per carry and 74 yards per game on the ground thus far. That’s not to say the defense can’t be had. The Cougars have given up 31 and 43 points respectively to Tulane and BYU. But, those points have largely come via the pass, as they’ve allowed over 270 yards per game through the air at a 9.02-yards-per-attempt clip.
A triple-option team, Navy is never going to air the ball out 30 times in a game. But this matchup is one where when they do go to the air, they’ll need to hit for big plays to keep up. That’s because the Cougars have a strong offense led by quarterback Clayton Tune and receiver Marquez Steavenson. As Jones points out, Steavenson excelled against Navy last year going for eight catches, 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Overall, one thing that seems clear with this matchup is expect a lot of points. Since the two teams started playing each other regularly in 2015, the average score has been Houston 41.2 – Navy 36.6. For Jones, he’s leaning towards the Cougars, simply due to the inconsistency from the Mids thus far.
“Should be interesting. Houston is familiar with Navy, having seen them many times now in the AAC, and I think I would give them the edge, because I just don’t know what Navy team is going to show up week to week,” said Jones.
Houston enters as a 15-point favorite.
Navy hosts Houston on Saturday, October 24 with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on CBS Sports Network.