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11/9/15

Sports Comment: Navy outplayed and out-coached No. 13 Memphis

Navy dropped eight defenders into coverage against Memphis
Memphis head coach Justin Fuente is the hottest name in the business these days. You can bet that numerous schools in the so-called Power Five conferences will be pursuing Fuente, who has directed a dramatic turnaround of a downtrodden program at Memphis.
Fuente deserves all the attention he's receiving, but guess what? The 39-year-old hotshot got thoroughly outcoached by Navy's Ken Niumatalolo on Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl.
Niumatalolo and his staff devised a tremendous gameplan and the Midshipmen executed it to perfection in pulling off an impressive 45-20 upset of the Tigers, who were 15th in the Associated Press poll and No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds orchestrated an offense that was clicking on all cylinders as Navy piled up 459 yards. Memphis had never previously encountered the triple-option and it showed as the visitors pounded out 374 rushing yards.
Fullback Chris Swain was a powerful force inside, running for 108 yards and a career-best three touchdowns. The 247-pounder with the breakaway speed got 40 of those yards on an electrifying touchdown run that put the Midshipmen ahead by three scores late in the third quarter.
"Chris had some huge runs. He was able to make some guys miss. We haven't really seen that from him," said Reynolds, poking fun at his fullback friend. "Seriously, once Chris gets out in the open, no one is going to catch him."
DeBrandon Sanders added 82 rushing yards to lead a terrific effort from the slotback corps, which absolutely killed Memphis on the perimeter. Demond Brown, Toney Gulley, Dishan Romine and Calvin Cass Jr. also contributed as the slots totaled 204 yards and two touchdowns.
When the Tigers snuck their safeties up to the line of scrimmage to help in run support, offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper made them pay. Sanders slipped down the field uncovered and was hit in stride by Reynolds for a 75-yard pass completion that gave Navy the lead for good at 24-17 with 6:43 remaining in the third period.
While the offense was outstanding, the key to this stunning victory was the lockdown play of the Navy defense. Safety Lorentez Barbour led the way with nine tackles and a forced fumble as the Midshipmen stifled one of the most prolific offenses in all of college football.
Memphis came in ranked third in scoring offense and sixth in total offense, but was held way below its season averages in being limited to 20 points and 438 yards. Inside linebacker Daniel Gonzales and outside linebacker D.J. Palmore had seven tackles apiece as the Mids created three turnovers, forced two punts and two turnovers on downs.
None of the national experts thought Navy had the personnel to contain the high-powered spread passing attack of Memphis, which boasts a future first round NFL draft pick in quarterback Paxton Lynch. So it was rather surprising to see Lynch struggle to his worst outing of the season in terms of completion percentage (26-for-42) and yards (305).
Interim defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson devised a strategy of dropping eight defenders into coverage to create an umbrella that allowed few passing lanes. The Midshipmen usually only rushed three men, but got enough pressure to flush Lynch out of the pocket a few times.
"We were going to play a lot more coverage today than we have in the past. We were going to make (Lynch) earn it, maybe try to frustrate him a little bit and see if he would get impatient," Niumatalolo said.
Navy's ultimate game-plan was to dominate possession and limit the scoring opportunities for Memphis, which came in averaging almost 85 plays per game. That approach worked to perfection as Navy won the time of possession battle in a big way, 36:57 to 23:03. The Tigers got just 11 possessions and ran 75 plays with 42 of them coming on three drives. Fuente probably could not believe his potent attack was limited to six plays or less on eight other possessions.
Bottom line, Memphis (8-1, 4-1) got outplayed and out-coached in a showdown for first place in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference. Navy (7-1, 5-0), which debuted in the Associated Press poll on Sunday at No. 22, went into enemy territory and applied a thorough whooping on a team that was favored by nine points for most of the week.
Fuente may be the flavor of the week in the college football coaching profession, but Niumatalolo is a product with staying power. The humble, soft-spoken Hawaiian coached his 100th game at Navy on Saturday night and improved his record to 64-36.
Niumatalolo is underrated and under-appreciated on a national level. He has provided tremendous leadership and incredible consistency as Navy is well on the way to winning eight games for the seventh time in his eight seasons at the helm.
Navy's beat down of Memphis produced its first win in 31 years over an opponent ranked in the Associated Press Top 15. If the Midshipmen can take care of business against SMU and Tulsa over the next two Saturdays, they will set up the biggest non-service academy game in program history.
On Nov. 27, the day after Thanksgiving, Navy travels to Texas to take onHouston in what shapes up as a showdown for the West Division title and a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game. The 16th-ranked Cougars are 9-0 overall and 5-0 in the AAC after holding off Cincinnati, 33-30, on Saturday.
In his postgame press conference on Saturday night, a disconsolate Fuente paid Navy quite a compliment.
"I want to commend Navy. That is a fine football team we just played. They are tough and physical and well coached. They run a lot better and are a lot more athletic than anyone gives them credit for," Fuente said. "They kicked our tail tonight and deserved to win the ball game. The bottom line is they played really well and we made too many mistakes. Even if we had played mistake-free, I don't know how that would have turned out. They are pretty darn good. They are going to be hard for anyone to beat, in my opinion."

From: http://www.capitalgazette.com/

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