Navy has to beat SMU, 2 other teams for bowl spot

Navy has finally put its losing streak in the books after six

disappointing games.

The Midshipmen are guaranteed a spot in the Military Bowl if

they can get the six victories needed for bowl eligibility. That

means Navy (3-6) has to win the rest of its games, starting

Saturday at SMU (6-3) in what could be a preview of sorts if the

two teams wind up in the Big East.

”It’s a one-game season. This next game is the most important

game of the season,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ”We have to find

a way to win the next game. That’s all we can do.”

Navy has won four straight games against SMU, and seven of

eight. The teams are connected by late coach Frank Gansz, and have

a trophy in his honor. After playing center and linebacker for Navy

from 1957-59, Gansz coached for 38 seasons – 24 in the NFL and 14

in college, including for Navy and SMU.

For the Midshipmen to get to the Military Bowl on Dec. 28 in

Washington D.C., they have to win at SMU and San Jose State next

week, and then beat Army on Dec. 10.

After a lopsided loss at Notre Dame that put the Midshipmen on

the brink of bowl elimination, they opened November with a 42-14

win over Troy.

”That win gave us some hope for this week. Now this game means

a lot,” Niumatalolo said. ”Obviously, winning this game is

important for our other goals. There’s a lot riding on this game so

hopefully we’ll be ready.”

Navy is trying to get its ninth consecutive bowl game, while SMU

is already bowl eligible for the third straight season under coach

June Jones. SMU is also 4-0 at home this season, including a 45-24

win over Tulane last week. The Mustangs led 31-0 at halftime,

snapping a two-game losing streak during which they managed only 10

total points.

Now the Mustangs have to figure out how to stop Navy’s

triple-option offense that is averaging 318 yards rushing per game.

The Midshipmen ran for 253 yards on 55 carries against SMU last

year, and threw only nine passes, in a 28-7 victory that came after

a 14-0 halftime deficit.

”You spend the whole week doing something you haven’t done all

year,” SMU defensive coordinator Tom Mason said of prepping for

Navy. ”The kids have to understand this is going to be physical,

they’re going to cut you all over the field and you have to be

assignment perfect.”

While Jones has a reputation for big-passing offenses, SMU

features Conference USA leading rusher Zach Line, who is averaging

121 yards rushing per game.

Line has seven 100-yard games and 17 rushing touchdowns, two

short of Eric Dickerson’s school scoring record. He has three

consecutive 100-yard games even while having to wear a

specially-designed vest because of a dislocated left shoulder.

While both schools have a connection with an old coach, there is

also a past connection with the two head coaches in this game.

Niumatalolo was a redshirt freshman quarterback at Hawaii in 1983

when Jones was in his first year coaching quarterbacks there after

his NFL career ended.