No. 24 Navy hosts Memphis in duel for 1st in AAC West
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) Two of the most surprising teams in the American Athletic Conference meet Saturday in an unlikely duel for first place in the West Division.
No. 24 Navy (4-1, 3-0) knocked off previously unbeaten and then-No. 6 Houston two weeks ago. Memphis (5-1, 2-0) announced itself as a contender by defeating Temple in its AAC opener on Oct. 6.
After Saturday's matchup only one will remain unbeaten in league play.
''It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how important this game is for both teams,'' Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ''We both control our own destiny. Whoever wins is going to be in the driver's seat.''
The Midshipmen made their move with a 46-40 upset of Houston. They were unable to build momentum because their Oct. 13 game at East Carolina was postponed due to flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew.
Memphis has gotten off to an equally impressive start behind a potent offense and a defense that leads the nation with 18 forced turnovers.
''I'm really pleased with where we are at the midpoint of the season,'' said first-year coach Mike Norvell, whose squad is coming off a 24-14 victory at Tulane. ''We have put ourselves in position for this week to be a huge game.''
Some other things to know about the second meeting between Navy and Memphis:
VOLUNTEER NAVY: This game holds special meaning for Navy linebacker D.J. Palmore and safety Sean Williams because both hail from the greater Memphis region. Palmore is a native of Bartlett and played at Christian Brothers High in Memphis. Williams is from Cordova, which like Bartlett is a nearby suburb of Memphis. Palmore and Williams are among 17 players on the Navy roster from the state of Tennessee.
TOUGH AT CRUNCH TIME: Navy has won its three conference games by a touchdown or less. The Midshipmen needed a last-second goal-line stand to edge Connecticut by four and a gutsy touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to pull out a 21-14 victory at Tulane. ''They've been in a lot of close games and you can see the character of that football team, which is quite impressive,'' Norvell said. Memphis is one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the third straight season. Linebacker Genard Avery and cornerback Arthur Maulet both have two interceptions and a forced fumble.
FAMILIAR FOE: Norvell, the youngest head coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision at age 35, spent the previous four seasons as offensive coordinator at Arizona State. He directed an attack that saw the Sun Devils score 62 points and roll up 648 yards on the Midshipmen in the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. ''Mike does a really nice job. We remember Mike from Arizona State, where he always had really potent offenses,'' Niumatalolo said.
HOME SWEET HOME: This is the first time Memphis has played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Navy has a 13-game winning streak at the facility, which opened in 1959. The Midshipmen can set a school record for most consecutive victories at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium by beating the Tigers. ''Our stadium has become a pretty tough place to play, with the Brigade (of Midshipmen) and the fans,'' Niumatalolo said. ''We're going to need all the home-field advantage we can get in this game.''
TIME TO HEAL: Niumatalolo said the unexpected bye week was a blessing in disguise since Navy was bruised and battered following back-to-back physical affairs with Air Force and Houston. Starting fullback Chris High (hip), backup slotback Calvin Cass Jr. (concussion), No. 3 wide receiver Tyler Carmona (concussion) and starting cornerback Tyris Wooten (undisclosed) were all nursing injuries. ''Last week was used to mend a little bit, to get some rest, rehab and recover,'' Niumatalolo said. ''We had some guys that were pretty banged up, but they'll all be back.''
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