SMU travels to Navy on Saturday in a crucial AAC Western Division matchup. A few thoughts and keys to an SMU win...
Navy uses the flexbone as an equalizer. The Midshipman offense takes months to prepare for, all crammed into one game week and a few odd practices in the spring. No matter how well your scout team preps, they'll never be able to run it as quickly and efficiently as the Mids. Last year Navy ran for 495 yards and put 75 points on the Mustangs in a game SMU had to have to qualify for a bowl game. This year the Mustangs are qualified for a bowl trip, but the task of slowing down Navy's offense is still a challenge.
Van Malone's Defense
For as much as SMU's offense merits mentioning, the Mustang defense is improved. A key to that improvement has been stingy second halves. Against Cincinnati, UCF, and Tulsa, the Mustangs have allowed just 26 second-half points. However defensive coordinator Van Malone is adjusting, it's working. Navy poses a new challenge, something, unlike anything they've seen this season.
Meet Zach Abbey
Navy relies on Zach Abbey to jump start and facilitate their offense. Abbey, a junior from right there in Maryland, is coming off his worst start of 2017 against Temple. The Owls held Abbey below 100 yards rushing for the first time this season. Abbey missed part of the Temple game due to a shoulder injury. The Owls also held the Navy offense below 200 yards rushing, just the second time that's happened in 2017.
Abbey's quick decision making and ability to hurt teams with his legs has helped Navy to another top-five team rushing season. Abey ranks fifth in the FBS with over 1,200 rushing yards and sixth in points per game. Earlier this season he set a school record by rushing for 100 yards or more for the eighth straight game. He's listed atop the Navy quarterback depth chart, for Navy's sake they're hoping he's available to guide the offense.
Notes and Numbers
SMU and Navy are meeting for the 19th time, with the Midshipmen holding the 11-7 advantage.
Navy has won the last seven meetings, and SMU’s last win in Annapolis came in 1998 with a 24-11 defeat of the Midshipmen.
The SMU and Navy Athletic Departments created the Gansz Trophy in 2009, a traveling trophy to honor the late coaching legend Frank Gansz. Navy is 5-0 in Gansz Trophy games since the trophy was created.
James Proche led Mustang receivers with 173 yards on 7 catches and a TD last week against UCF.
SMU corner Jordan Wyatt has 5 defensive touchdowns for his career (4 INT, 1 fumble after a 36-yard pick six against UCF, and his 269 career interception returns yards are a program record at SMU.
Navy has 24 players on the roster from Texas, the most of any state.
The Mids are 42-11 (.792) at home under Ken Niumatalolo.
The Mids have converted 55 out of 113 third-down opportunities (.487) which is the seventh-best mark in the country.