MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The 25th-ranked Navy Midshipmen will put a pair of unbeaten streaks on the line when they play at Memphis.
Not only are the Midshipmen (5-0, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) off to a perfect start this season that has put them in the Top 25, Navy has swept Memphis in the first two games of this fledging series.
This time, the Memphis Tigers bring in a very potent offense that just beat UConn 70-31 last week. Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has seen enough to worry about an offense averaging 42.4 points and 509 yards per game under second-year coach Mike Norvell, who turned 36 on Wednesday.
“They are a really good team,” Niumatalolo said. “Coach Norvell is a really good coach. So we know what we are up against. He did an awesome job getting them to buy in during Year 1, and they’ve progressed even more. To beat UCLA shows the caliber of football team they are.”
The Tigers (4-1, 1-1) are seeking their second win over a ranked opponent this season. Memphis beat then-No. 25 UCLA 48-45 on Sept. 16.
Norvell is equally concerned about the Midshipmen, who showed a new wrinkle in their dramatic, 48-45 victory over Air Force last weekend . Navy ran its familiar triple-option attack out of the shotgun and finished with 557 yards total offense.
“Their offensive presentation is something you don’t see very often ...,” Norvell said. “They are very efficient.”
Perennially among the nation’s top rushing units, the Navy offense has strung together three straight games of 400 or more yards for the first time in the program’s history. Quarterback Zach Abey leads the AAC in rushing and ranks fourth nationally at 174 yards per game. His nine rushing TDs are tied for the NCAA lead.
Some other things to know about Navy’s visit to Memphis:
FLAG DAYS: Memphis has struggled to limit its penalties. The Tigers are averaging nearly 84 yards in penalties per game, most in the 12-team AAC and roughly 45 yards more per game than Navy. They had 12 in last week’s win at UConn. “We have to continue to play more disciplined,” Norvell said. “Anytime you have 12 penalties, it’s something you have to evaluate.”
A 1-2 PUNCH: Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson and receiver Anthony Miller form one of the best combinations in the nation. Ferguson ranks first in the AAC in both completions per game (23.2) and passing yards per game (307). He threw seven TD passes last week, and Miller set an AAC record with four touchdown catches against UConn.
“He can make any throw, on top of his accuracy,” said Navy linebacker D.J. Palmore, a Memphis native and a teammate of Miller’s in high school. “We’ve got to get pressure on him and make him think. That’s going to be huge for our defense to play well.”
GROUND AND POUND: The Midshipmen are averaging 414.2 yards per game rushing and rank first nationally in the category. They also are averaging 7.1 yards per play. Navy has scored at least one rushing touchdown in 69 consecutive games, and 20 of its 25 touchdowns this season have been on the ground.
FAMILIARITY BREEDS SUCCESS: Navy’s success since joining the AAC has been stunning. The Midshipmen are 17-2 in league play and much of their good fortune can be traced to a coaching staff that has worked together for years. Niumatalolo has been with the Midshipmen for 20 years, 10 as head coach. Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson is in his 22nd season. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper is in his 18th season. Five others have been at Annapolis for 10 or more seasons.
RECORD RUN: Memphis’ 2017 senior class is two wins from matching the winningest senior class in school history. The 1963 seniors ended a four-year stretch with 33 wins. These Tigers also are two wins shy of being bowl eligible. A postseason invitation would set a program record with four straight appearances.