Time and date: Thursday, September 14 at 7:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. CT
Location: Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium – Memphis, TN
Spread: Memphis (-14)
All-time series: Memphis leads 5-3
Last meeting: Memphis 37, Navy 13 – September 10, 2022
Current streak: Memphis, 4 (2019-2022)
Setting the scene
In this Thursday night AAC clash, plan for both heavy artillery and hand-to-hand combat coming up against a stealthy air strike. Teams always love when the triple option comes to town so how Memphis adjusts for that defensively will dictate much of the game. Offensively, the Tigers should get some good rhythm going as Navy continues to find its footing in this post Ken Niumatalolo world.
It’s Memphis’ Military Appreciation night so there will be Military activations on Tiger Lane (Navy dive tank, military equipment, possibly even an Air Force flight simulator), skydivers parachuting onto the field during the National Anthem and a Navy swearing-in ceremony in both the first and second quarter, among other festivities.
The Mids are 1-3 against the Tigers in Memphis with the last win transpiring back in 2015. They are coming off a 24-0 victory over Wagner, an FCS opponent, but a shutout nonetheless. It seems they have shaken off the dust from Dublin and returned to their roots grinding away 245 rushing yards but flexing some spread muscles with both senior Tai Lavatai and sophomore Blake Horvath taking snaps at quarterback. Eli Heidenreich and Daba Fofana led the run game behind Lavatai with a combined 100 yards rushing and two scores. Lavatai aired out a 45-yard pass to Anton Hall on the first possession proving the Mids can come at teams over the top as well. If Navy can create some chaos in the turnover game again, it could be a closer contest than most anticipate.
“When we don’t give up X plays on defense, we’re pretty good,” said head coach Brian Newberry in this week’s press conference. “I think that was the difference in the game last year were the X plays they hit us on and I can certainly say the same thing about ‘19 and ‘21 as well. We gotta keep the ball in front of us that’s for sure. We gotta make them eran it, we can’t give them any gifts.”
This scrappy Memphis squad has been fun to watch so far this year, with definitive wins over Bethune-Cookman and Arkansas State, surrendering a total of just 17 points in the two contests. Is that a testament to Matt Barnes’ defense or strategic scheduling? Probably not something this Navy game will sus out but it’s always fun to see teams struggle with the triple option. Barnes addressed the new-look Navy in his presser this week.
“They have some differences but the core is the same, they definitely had some wrinkles against Notre Dame but they were a little more traditional against Wagner,” said the second year defensive coordinator. “We went back to his (Newberry’s) previous school – we are very familiar with all the formations, all the shifts, we’ve practiced all that. But it’s tough for us on a short week.”
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Seth Henigan finished 21-of-29 for 239 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for an extra 26 yards and an extra score. He connected with wide receivers Joseph Scates and Tauskie Dove for touchdowns while Blake Watson led the run game with 20 carries for 59 yards. That score marked Dove’s first touchdown as a Tiger. And Henigan’s seven-yard rushing TD was the longest of his career.
Y’all know I am an upset girl at heart and I will always root for Brian Newberry and his Midshipmen, but I can’t pick against Memphis in this game, having seen Navy play and knowing they are still working out the kinks. Plus, though I have never experienced it, legend says it’s hard to play in the Liberty Bowl. The Tigers were also on a turnover hunt last game, so this bout will come down to who can protect the football. Navy’s defensive line looked tough at times against the Irish, but they will have to work to get to Henigan if they want to slow the Tigers down. Memphis boasts a faster defense and a nimble quarterback with a strong arm so I am rolling with Memphis, not necessarily to cover but definitely to win by a touchdown.