No. 6 Houston preps for twists of Navy's triple-option

BY foxsports • October 4, 2016

No. 6 Houston and its high-flying offense continues the march toward a potential spot in the College Football Playoff with a visit to Navy on Saturday.

The winner of this game will have sole possession of first place in the American Athletic Conference West Division. The Cougars have rolled to five consecutive victories this season, but could face a tough test dealing with the Midshipmen's triple option.

"It's totally different," Houston coach Tom Herman said about dealing with Navy's offense. "All the assignments, run fits and even where you line up on defense are different. We have had success against the run in previous games, but that's a conventional two back or spread run. We haven't played a triple option run since Navy last year."

Houston (5-0 overall, 2-0 AAC) beat Navy 52-31 last season en route to winning the AAC championship.

The Cougars are led by quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who was named the AAC's Offensive Player of the Week for the third time in five weeks. In Saturday's 42-14 win over Connecticut, Ward completed 32 of 38 passes for a career-high 389 yards with three touchdowns. Ward also ran for 65 yards with a pair of scores to keep Houston in full control.

"He took a couple pretty big time hits against Connecticut," Herman said about Ward. "Stood in there. I was really proud. That is something Greg has never really done in his career; sit in the pocket and take a hit while you're throwing the football. It's kind of a double-edge sword because he doesn't have to a lot of the times. He can run around, make the guy miss and go make yards. He realizes for the offense to succeed that he needs to be able to make that kind of throws. He's doing that now."

Wide receiver Linell Bonner has been a key target for Ward and he 33 receptions for 439 yards with two touchdowns. Steven Dunbar also has made a big impact with 21 catches for 326 yards and also has two scores.

Ward, however, can spread the ball around and six different receivers have caught touchdown passes so far this season.

"Everybody is held accountable," Dunbar said about Houston's talented group of receivers. "Everybody works hard. On any given day somebody could have a bad day and the next guy just has to be ready. That's just how we play. We work real hard. It's always on us about just going hard and playing hard."

The Midshipmen (3-1, 2-0) will look to keep pace with their dominant ground attack, which averages 251.5 yards per game -- 14th best in FBS. Quarterback Will Worth took over the starting job when Tago Smith went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener. Worth has been solid running the triple option, and has become the leader of the offense.

In his first two career starts, Worth orchestrated late fourth quarter drives to give the Mids come-from-behind victories. On the season, Worth has completed 31 of 53 passes for 527 yards with a touchdown. He has also run for five scores.

Nonetheless, Houston should be fully prepared to handle Navy's ground game. The Cougars have the top-ranked rushing defense in the nation, allowing just 42 yards per game. Senior linebacker Steven Taylor leads the way with 27 tackles, including six for a loss and 5.5 sacks. Sophomore safety Garrett Davis has been a dominant force in the secondary and has four tackles for a loss with a sack.

"It's always competitive in our room," Houston defensive end Jerard Carter said.

Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is one of the toughest places for any opponent. The Midshipmen have won 12 straight home games dating back to 2014.

Houston has an impressive streak of its own, reeling off eight straight wins since last year -- the third longest run in the nation behind Alabama (17) and Tennessee (11). The Cougars have outscored their opponents 221-56 over that stretch.

Navy is coming off a disappointing 28-14 loss to rival Air Force. Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo understands there is even a bigger challenge this week.

"They're ranked where they are for a reason," Niumatalolo said about Houston. "They're just so good in so many places. A well-coached team with so many good players is a tough combination."

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