Navy-Memphis Preview

November 3, 2015

(AP) - The Memphis Tigers can score points in bunches and stifle an opponent when they need to. Getting started is proving to be a problem coach Justin Fuente wants to fix.


The Tigers trailed Tulane 13-0 last week before reeling off the final 41 points to remain undefeated, and that moved Memphis up a spot to No. 15 on Sunday. Yet it still has found itself in a double-digit hole in five games only to win, including against Kansas, South Florida, Bowling Green and Mississippi.

Fuente says he thinks his Tigers are a bit overanxious, trying to do too much too early - something he'd like to avoid Saturday night when Memphis (8-0, 4-0) faces Navy (6-1, 4-0) in a battle for first place in the AAC's West Division.


"I've tried to kind of convey that message, obviously I haven't. I'd be willing to convey any other message y'all think may work, be able to get it across," Fuente said. "But I don't feel like it's a lack of preparation, you know? When I watch us out there, it seems like we're anxious to play. It just takes us a little while to settle in."

Kansas led Memphis 10-0 before the Tigers won 55-23. Bowling Green was up 27-17 with Memphis pulling out its closest win this season, 44-41. USF scored the first 10 points of a 24-17 victory by Memphis, and Ole Miss jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the Tigers scored the next 24 points en route to a 37-24 upset.

The Tigers won the toss against Tulane and deferred to the second half. The Green Wave held the ball for 11 minutes, 13 seconds in scoring a touchdown and led 13-0 just 16 minutes into the game.

"We've done that all season," quarterback Paxton Lynch said. "We've been down behind two scores, so I think we just got Coach Fu (to) pull us aside and tell us that we need to relax and stop beating ourselves and dropping passes and getting penalties against us."

Memphis dropped too many passes on a rainy night and also hurt itself with eight penalties for 106 yards. Offensively, Memphis had failed to score only once inside an opponent's 20 this season until the Tigers' opening drive against Tulane. Lynch was sacked, then Jake Elliott missed a field goal.

Fuente said he saw players trying to do too much, running before catching the ball or thinking of what they would do once they did.

"But for whatever reason, there seemed to be a little excitement or overexcitement or whatever the term is that prevents us from just playing football going into the game," Fuente said.

Now the Tigers enter the toughest portion of their schedule with so much more than just their 15-game winning streak on the line. After hosting Navy, they hit the road to play No. 18 Houston - the third team tied for the West lead - and 23rd-ranked Temple in their chase for a second straight AAC title and the best bowl in school history.

Lynch said the Tigers know falling behind again and again isn't good, even if they have the nation's third-best offense at 48.9 points per game.

"But our defense starts stepping it up after a little bit and our offense gets to clicking after we get that first touchdown, and we realize we're just shooting ourselves in the foot and get to work," Lynch said.

They can start by figuring out how to stop Navy's option offense, which yielded a school-record three 100-yard rushers in last week's 29-17 win over South Florida.

Keenan Reynolds ran for 117 yards and scored twice in the fourth quarter to tie the collegiate mark for career rushing touchdowns with 77, joining former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.

"It's just a number," Reynolds said. "At the end of the day, it was just about getting ahead and putting the game out of reach. We were able to execute that play. It's a big deal, obviously. I am very blessed and fortunate. But I always deflect the attention to my teammates because it's 11 guys out there working."

Another number is 319.7 - Navy's average yards rushing per game, fourth-best in the FBS. The Midshipmen will be going up against a tough Memphis run defense that's giving up only 118.8 per game, 22nd in the country.

Chris Swain ran for 131 yards and Dishan Romine 115 on just six carries against the Bulls as Navy rolled up 428 of its 444 yards on the ground.

Last week's victory made the Midshipmen bowl eligible for the 12th time in 13 years. Navy has ties to the Military Bowl but could go to a more prestigious venue if it wins the AAC title game.

These teams will be meeting for the first time.