Tulane, Navy seek bowl eligibility in AAC West showdown
Both teams will be looking to become bowl eligible in a key American Athletic Conference matchup on Saturday.
Navy (5-1, 3-1) has won three straight, including a 35-3 rout of South Florida last Saturday. Tulane (5-2, 2-1) was on a similar roll until getting blown away by Memphis 47-17 last week.
"It's humbling. There's no doubt about that," coach Willie Fritz said. "You've just got to bounce back and fight through it."
Memphis quarterback Brady White threw for 358 yards and five touchdowns. Now, the Green Wave must contend with a masterful running game.
Led by quarterback Malcolm Perry, the Midshipmen have their triple option operating at a high level and lead the nation in rushing with an average of 345 yards per game.
"Navy's got a great ball club. They do things differently than Memphis does offensively," Fritz said. "It's going to be a big challenge for us to shift gears and play that triple option they run so well."
Earlier this month, Tulane rolled up 525 total yards in beating Army 42-33. That was part of an impressive four-game winning streak in which the Green Wave knocked off Houston 38-31 and blew out Connecticut 49-7.
Navy and Tulane are chasing unbeaten SMU in the AAC West.
"Our entire league is tough, and in the West there are a lot of teams that are still in the hunt," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We're excited about competing on this side of the conference, but it's definitely tough, man."
Some other things to look for when Navy hosts Tulane on Saturday:
A sixth victory would be double the number Navy managed last season, when it posted a disappointing 3-10 record. That marked just the second time since 2002 the Midshipmen failed to qualify for the postseason.
Tulane is trying to for a second straight bowl bid for just the second time in program history. The Green Wave appeared in back-to-back bowls in 1979 and 1980.
DEFENDING THE OPTION
Fritz is very familiar with option football, having employed a zone blocking version of that offense as head coach at Blinn College (1993-96), Central Missouri (1997-2009), Sam Houston State (2010-13), Georgia Southern (2014-15) and now Tulane.
"We do a good job playing the triple option, normally," Tulane safety Chase Kuerschen said.
Navy struggled to move the ball for most of last year's late November meeting at Tulane. The Midshipmen only managed 117 rushing yards in a 29-28 loss that got the Green Wave bowl eligible. In 2017, Tulane only gave up 194 rushing yards in a 23-21 loss in Annapolis.
But Perry has run for 792 yards and 14 touchdowns while orchestrating the option.
"Defensively, they've always had a good plan against the option and their players have executed it well. They've always played us tough," said Niumatalolo, noting that Tulane employs a defensive philosophy similar to what Air Force does against Navy
Tulane boasts the eighth-ranked rushing offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision with an average of 267.7 yards. Quarterback Justin McMillan and tailback Corey Dauphine have 390 and 377 rushing yards, respectively.
Dauphine left the Memphis loss with a wrist injury and backup tailback Darius Bradwell sat out the game with a leg injury. Fritz expects both Dauphine and Bradwell to be able to play against Navy, which ranks No. 16 nationally in rushing defense (96.7 yards allowed).
"It's going to be a big test. They're a really good running team. They've got a talented running quarterback," Niumatalolo said. "The team that can run the ball is going to win this game."
RIGHT AT HOME
It's homecoming in Annapolis. Navy had won five straight homecoming games before falling to Central Florida last year and Houston in 2017.
Navy has beaten Tulane twice on homecoming, in 2005 and 2015. The Green Wave hasn't won at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium since 2001.