Keenan Reynolds is the nation’s best rushing quarterback, though Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo insists that the senior can also throw the ball.
It may not matter what the Midshipmen do in their triple-option attack Saturday against one of the nation’s worst teams.
Navy is in the Top 25 for the first time in 11 seasons, and the 22nd-ranked squad will be heavily favored to improve to 6-0 in American Athletic Conference play when it hosts SMU.
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Navy (7-1) ruined the unbeaten season of then-No. 15 Memphis with an emphatic 45-20 road victory last Saturday. The Midshipmen are tied with No. 16 Houston atop the West Division, one game ahead of the Tigers.
"Obviously it was a huge win for our program to go to Memphis and beat a really good team at their place, it was a huge win for our program and for the season," Niumatalolo said.
Reynolds was held to 38 rushing yards. He averages 98.9 to lead all quarterbacks and his 13 touchdowns on the ground are the second-most among signal-callers.
He threw his third TD of the year with a 75-yard strike to DeBrandon Sanders in the third quarter that gave the Midshipmen the lead for good. Navy’s 546 passing yards are the second-lowest total in the FBS, with Reynolds amassing 516.
"It’s not so much that Keenan can’t throw the ball, it’s just the way we choose to play with the way that we choose that helps us to be successful and win and compete," Niumatalolo said. "It’s never been a thing of his skill set, that he’s not a good passer. He actually came here as a shotgun passer."
Reynolds now runs the triple-option with Chris Swain second on the club with 690 rushing yards and fullback Quentin Ezell running for 262. Swain and Ezell have combined for 13 rushing scores.
The Midshipmen, seeking their first 8-1 start since 1963, have the third-best rushing attack in the FBS with 326.5 yards per game. They are ranked for the first time since finishing 24th after the 2004 season.
SMU (1-8, 0-5) isn’t expected to provide much resistance since it is allowing 525.7 yards per game for the nation’s sixth-worst mark and an average of 45.4 points for the fourth-worst. The Mustangs allow 260.0 rushing yards per game to rank seventh from the bottom.
First-year coach Chad Morris has sought to remain positive despite a seven-game slide. The Mustangs trailed by five with less than two minutes left in last Friday’s 60-40 defeat to then-No. 23 Temple.
"Our guys have got to find a way to win instead of trying to find a way to lose and that’s a culture, that’s something you have to change," Morris said. "I firmly believe if you keep playing hard, good things are going to happen."
This contest represents another difficult foe for the Mustangs, who fell to 0-3 against ranked teams last week and also lost to the Cougars when they were unranked. They have dropped 10 in a row to ranked teams and close the season against the 25th-ranked Tigers.
"We’ve played the hardest schedule of anyone in our conference," Morris said. "We’re playing six Top 25 opponents and then our seventh opponent was James Madison, which is one of the premier FCS teams."
Matt Davis has been sacked 34 times – more than anyone in the FBS. He has shown potential, ranking fourth in the conference with 15 touchdown passes and leading the Mustangs to four scores in five trips to the red zone last week.
Davis is also a threat on the ground with team highs of 552 rushing yards and eight TDs.
Navy, which has won eight straight and 16 of 18 at home, will honor its seniors.
"It’s exciting but with all of that said, the motto of our team this year has been 1-0, which the seniors and our captains Keenan Reynolds and Bernie Sarra have come up and we just get ready for the next game, we just get ready for SMU and try to play as good as we can," Niumatalolo said.