WHO: Navy (5-5) at South Alabama (6-5)
WHEN: Friday, November 28, 2 PM CST, ESPN3
WEATHER: 59°/45° 0% Rain
Live Stats: On the South Alabama Sports Website
South Alabama faces another tough test against Navy in their regular-season finale Friday. The highly disciplined Midshipmen enter as the nation's leader in rushing yards per game, fewest penalties committed, and fewest penalty yards so far this season.
The Jaguars have not performed well against the triple-option in recent history. Last year they lost 42-14 to the Midshipmen in Annapolis, MD behind a 351 yard rushing performance. Earlier this season the Jags dropped a 28-6 decision to Georgia Southern, another triple-option team, in Mobile where the Eagles rushed for 335 yards.
Navy enters the game with a 5-5 record looking to get bowl eligible so they can go to their 10th bowl game in the last 11 seasons. Meanwhile the Jaguars would like to add another win to bolster their credentials for bowl committees.
What will it take for the Jaguars to earn a win?
Protect the ball. South Alabama has turned the ball over 14 times in the last four games, including five turnovers last Saturday against South Carolina.
In their first five wins of the season, USA only had two turnovers then overcame a four-turnover performance against Texas State for a 24-20 win two weeks ago. However in their five losses the Jags have turned the ball over 16 times.
Play disciplined. When you play one of the service academies, you have to play disciplined, especially one as well coached and as disciplined as the Naval Academy runs their offense.
Fundamentally the offense is the same as Georgia Southern, but Navy will run their triple-option offense both out of the shotgun and under center. The Eagles offense was primarily run out of the shotgun.
Another hallmark of the triple option that the Jaguars will face is cut blocks, which have been a topic of discussion over the last few years as a source of leg injuries. With teams like Navy, who typically have smaller players on the offensive line, it's a way for them to block their opponents without engaging their larger opponent who has more leverage.
Good quarterback play. Brandon Bridge started the first eight games of the season before an injury sidelined him for a couple games. Against Arkansas State Matt Floyd earned the start but did not play well.
Hunter Vaughn started the last two games. Against Texas State, Vaughn led the team to a win and bowl eligibility, but threw four interceptions last week against South Carolina, three of them in the second quarter.
Bridge saw his first action in Columbia since his injury against Louisiana-Lafayette when he came in to relieve Vaughn late in the second quarter. But Bridge was an ineffective 2-of-11 for 19 yards before giving way to Vaughn late in the fourth quarter.
Jaguar coaches said at the beginning of the week that the starter will be based on how they perform in this week's practice rather than comparing and contrasting numbers. On Wednesday Jaguar head coach Joey Jones told Alabama Media Group that Bridge would get the start after the coaches felt he had the best week of practice. However he also added that Hunter Vaughn would be ready if needed.
A positive from last week was that South Alabama started off strong against South Carolina before turnovers turned the game solidly in the Gamecocks favor. On the other hand, Navy completely dismantled a Georgia Southern team that's one game away from a perfect Sun Belt Conference record.
If the Jags recent record against triple-option teams is any insight into this game, I don't like what I see. The current point spread is Navy by 10, which may be conservative based on USA's quarterback situation and their history against the triple option.
This would be a great time to prove history (and my prediction) wrong by ending the regular season with a big win and compelling a bowl to extend an invitation. I think Navy wins and covers, but I really hope they prove me wrong.