High-powered offenses meet in Navy-Memphis tilt

The Sports Xchange

October 10, 2017 at 10:13 pm.

Oct 7, 2017; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Zach Abey (9) runs during the second quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 7, 2017; Annapolis, MD, USA; Navy Midshipmen quarterback Zach Abey (9) runs during the second quarter against the Air Force Falcons at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Navy unveiled a new wrinkle to its typically potent option attack in last week’s thrilling victory over Air Force, an added dimension that bewildered Memphis coach Mike Norvell when he was reviewing film in preparation for Saturday’s showdown with the undefeated Midshipmen in Memphis.

Navy orchestrated its option attack out of the shotgun against Air Force and rushed for 471 yards and four touchdowns in a 48-45 victory. Running back Malcolm Perry had a 91-yard touchdown run, and quarterback Zach Abey had a 75-yard touchdown run for the No. 25 Midshipmen, who are 5-0 for the first time since the 2004 season.

Abey finished with 214 yards rushing on 29 carries and led a game-winning drive in the final minutes that left his coach emotional in the post-game press conference.

“So proud of our players; what great, great kids,” a tearful Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo told reporters after the win. “I don’t know why I’m so blessed to coach these guys.”
Norvell was showing a different kind of emotion at this week’s press conference, one of concern about his Memphis defense, which that ranks 93rd in the nation against the run.

“I think they’re averaging 412 yards a game rushing,” Norvell said of the Midshipmen. “So it’s very, very efficient. And then last week, they had to have a two-minute drive to go win the game and they marched right down the field and were excellent in their conversion on that. This is a team that is definitely difficult to prepare for. Our guys are excited about doing our best in getting prepared for them.”

Memphis (4-1, 1-1 AAC) also is coming off an impressive offensive performance in a 70-31 rout of Connecticut on Friday. Tigers quarterback Riley Ferguson threw seven touchdown passes and made Niumatalolo do a double take, while scoreboard watching last Friday.

“Is that a 7 and a 0?” Niumatalolo joked to the media this week. “Unfortunately, it was what I thought it was: a high-scoring, really good team. Both teams recognize that this is going to be a huge game for our confidence.”

The only thing that really slowed down the Tigers against Connecticut was themselves. Memphis was called for 12 penalties, costing the Tigers 104 yards and drawing the ire of their coach.

“We’ve got to eliminate the penalties,” Norvell said. “We’ve got to continue playing with a better focus, and not putting ourselves behind the chains or making it easier for them by giving them a free down.

“It’s going to be a huge factor in this game. I think that when you look at it statistically, Navy doesn’t get called for many penalties. They play with really good discipline. That’s one of the strengths of their team, so if we go out there and we are penalized and they’re not, then those are the hidden yards that puts somebody in a position to have better success. So we’ve got to make sure we’re working to win that penalty battle.”

Navy won last year’s meeting 42-28, rushing for 532 yards in a key conference victory that propelled the Midshipmen to the American Athletic Conference Western Division title.

Memphis is hoping for revenge, but knows it won’t be easy.

“For us, everybody’s going to have a job,” Norvell said. “Everybody’s going to have an assignment, and then once you execute that assignment, you’ve got to do it in a physical nature, and you’ve got to make the play.

“I think there’s an excitement for the opportunity. They’ve competed for the divisional championship, and then the conference championship last year. We know this is one of the best teams in our league.

“They’ve proven it, they’re top 25; they’re undefeated. They’re doing an exceptional job again this year. So to say that for our team to look at it as anything more than just another opportunity, it’s a great opportunity because it’s against a great football team.”

Memphis could get two key players back for the Navy game in running back Patrick Taylor Jr. and linebacker Curtis Akins. Taylor and Akins each sat out the Connecticut game with injuries, but Norvell said both will be evaluated in practice this week.