Two explosive offenses are set to meet in Fort Worth, Texas, for the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. Navy enter this game averaging 37.4 points and 436.7 yards of total offense per game with a 9-4 overall record and an American Athletic Conference (AAC) West Division title. However, the Midshipmen have struggled in recent weeks, averaging just 253.5 yards in back-to-back losses. Navy lost to Temple 34-10 in the conference title game and was beaten 21-17 by Army a week ago – the first loss to its archrivals since 2001.
Louisiana Tech has scored 44.0 points per game while gaining 516.1 total yards on average. The Bulldogs are 8-5 overall, and won the Conference USA West, but have also lost two games in a row. The Bulldogs lost to Southern Miss 39-24 in the regular season finale, and fell to Western Kentucky 58-44 in the C-USA title game. Also, Louisiana Tech is just 3-5 in games played outside of Ruston.
Armed Forces Bowl: Louisiana Tech vs. Navy (Fort Worth, Texas)
Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 23 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium (Fort Worth, Texas)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Louisiana Tech -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Navy’s Triple Option
Utilizing its traditional triple-option offense, Navy ranks fourth nationally with 310.9 rushing yards per game and has scored 56 rushing touchdowns – eight more than any other FBS team. The Midshipmen have run for more than 300 yards in eight games this season, but averaged just 112.3 in losses to Air Force, Temple and Army.
Quarterback Will Worth leads the team with 1,198 rushing yards and 25 TDs, but he was injured in the AAC Conference Championship Game and won’t play against Louisiana Tech. Zach Abey started against Army, and proved capable of carrying the load with 73 rushing yards and two touchdowns. But he’s had issues when it comes to throwing the ball with four interceptions and no touchdown passes. Abey is a sophomore who started the season as Navy’s third-string quarterback before original starter Tago Smith (torn ACL, Week 1) and Worth went down with injuries.
Explosive running back Toneo Gulley (427 yards, 9.9 ypc, 4 TDs) also was injured in the loss to Temple and he will miss the bowl game too. But the Midshipmen still have several quality ball carriers in Chris High (500 yds., 5 TDs), Shawn White (443, 7), Dishon Romine (416, 1), and Calvin Cass (150, 2).
2. Louisiana Tech’s Prolific Passing Game
Like Navy, Louisiana Tech has played exceptional offense this season, though the Bulldogs have relied on the pass for the majority of their success. Quarterback Ryan Higgins ranks third nationally with 4,208 passing yards, and has thrown 37 touchdowns and just eight interceptions while completing 65.8 percent of his passes.
Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson give Higgins arguably the best wide receiver combination in the country. Taylor ranks second in the FBS with 124 receptions – 10 of which have gone for touchdowns – and is third in the country with 1,570 receiving yards. Henderson ranks eighth with 1,406 receiving yards and second with 17 TD catches. The playmaking junior has averaged 19.5 yards on 72 receptions this season.
In addition to Taylor and Henderson, running back Jarred Craft has been a reliable receiving option out of the backfield. Craft leads the team with 1,011 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground, and also has 41 receptions for 339 yards and four more touchdowns.
3. Which Defense Has the Advantage?
Despite both teams winning their respective divisions and playing for conference championships, neither Navy nor Louisiana Tech has been particularly good at stopping opposing offenses. The Bulldogs rank No. 70 nationally in total defense (418.0 ypg), and have surrendered an average of 5.68 yards per play, which ranks 64th. Navy has allowed 429.2 yards per game, which ranks No. 76 in the country, but has been even worse with an average of 6.3 yards allowed per play– No. 106 in the nation.
However, if there is a matchup advantage for one squad, it’s Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs allowed just 134.4 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry during the regular season – both of which ranked second in Conference USA and among the top 30 nationally. The Bulldogs rank 121st in the country against the pass (283.6 ypg), but Navy is not a team that likes to throw the ball all over the field as only three teams have been less productive through the air than the Midshipmen (125.8 ypg), who also have a total of eight touchdown passes on the season. Navy may not even want to throw the ball considering Louisiana Tech is seventh in the nation with 42 sacks (8.7 percent of pass plays) while the Midshipmen have allowed 21 despite attempting the third-fewest passes (146 att., sacks allowed 14.4 percent of pass plays).
On the other side of the football, Navy ranks 80th against the pass (242.2 ypg) even though it has played some of the worst passing offenses (Air Force, Tulane, Army) in the nation. Take out those three teams (all of which rank 124th or lower), and Navy has given up 283.6 yards through the air per game. This is bad news facing the Bulldogs’ third-ranked passing attack.
Playing in Conference USA, Louisiana Tech has faced its fair share of dynamic offenses this season. But, the Bulldogs have not faced an opponent that operates a traditional triple option since Army in 2013 – and any team that faces a this unique system for the first time usually finds itself in a difficult position.
However, the Louisiana Tech defense has been at its best against the run this season. That gives the Bulldogs hope of containing Navy’s rushing attack – particularly since the banged-up Midshipmen have struggled to move the ball effectively over the last two games. Louisiana Tech also appears to have a sizeable advantage when it comes to throwing the football. It certainly won’t be easy, but expect the Bulldogs to be able to slow down Navy just enough to win a high-scoring game.
Prediction: Louisiana Tech 38, Navy 35
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
(Top photo courtesy of www.navysports.com)