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Navy Midshipmen vs. South Florida Bulls Preview and Prediction

Daniel Gonzales

Daniel Gonzales

Friday night features a matchup of American Athletic Conference heavyweights as Navy brings its sterling 4-0 AAC West record to Tampa where it will face South Florida, which is tied with Temple for first place in the AAC East at 3-1. Navy enters this contest 5-1 on the season including a 46-40 win over then-No. 6 Houston. South Florida is 6-2 on the year and had won three in a row before dropping a 46-30 game to Temple last week.

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Navy (5-1) quarterback Will Worth, who replaced starter Tago Smith after an ACL injury in September, gashed Memphis for 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns last week in the Midshipmen’s win against Memphis. It was Navy’s 14th straight home victory and allowed the Middies to strengthen their grip on first place in the AAC West.

South Florida is tied with Temple for first in the AAC East after last week’s loss in Philadelphia.

Both teams have only met once and that was last year in Navy’s inaugural season in the AAC. Last Halloween, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds threw for just 16 yards but ran for 117 and two touchdowns to lead the Midshipmen to a 29-17 victory over the Bulls.

Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: USF -8

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Three Things to Watch

1. Navy quarterback Will Worth
Worth inherited the task of replacing Tago Smith earlier this year, who in turn was trying to fill the enormous void left behind by Keenan Reynolds, the most prolific running quarterback in NCAA history. Worth has done a commendable job in his first year at the controls. On 31 rushing attempts last week, the senior averaged better than six yards per carry (on 31 carries) in the win over Memphis while also passing for two touchdowns on just four attempts. Against Houston earlier this month, he ran for 115 yards and a score and threw two touchdowns passes (in five attempts) to help upset the previously undefeated Cougars.

In six games this year, Worth has accumulated 489 rushing yards and nine touchdowns while throwing for another 688 with five scores and two interceptions. For a team that doesn’t throw much (37-for-68 passing on the season), Worth has made the most of his opportunities to make a play with his arm when called on.

2. South Florida linebacker Auggie Sanchez
Sanchez paced South Florida with 117 tackles last season and currently ranks 10th all-time in program history with 254 total stops. He’s actually slightly ahead of last season’s pace with 71 tackles in eight games thus far, good for second in the AAC.

In Week 2 against Northern Illinois, Sanchez was responsible for 13 total tackles, and one week later against Syracuse, he matched his Week 2 total while adding a pass deflection.

Sanchez, who is on the Butkus Award watch list, also leads the Bulls with six sacks and eight tackles for a loss. Last year, he netted a career-high 14 tackles against Navy. Worth and Navy’s vaunted rushing attack will get a good test this week from Sanchez.

3. Navy wide receiver Jamir Tillman
At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds, Tillman has the size coaches in any offense would love to utilize. Navy’s offense isn’t conducive to gaudy numbers from wide receivers, but Tillman’s still found a way to produce stellar stats with 1,281 receiving yards for the Midshipmen. In 2015, Tillman recorded 29 receptions for 597 yards and five touchdowns. Averaging better than 20 yards per catch, Tillman was a big play waiting to happen every time he touched the ball.

This season it’s been more of the same, including a season-high 128 yards on nine catches in the loss to Air Force on Oct. 1. And while he has just one touchdown to this point – last week against Memphis – Tillman is Worth’s most reliable target. If South Florida is able to contain Worth on the ground, don’t be surprised if Navy’s offense is funneled through Tillman.

Final Analysis

Temple racked up 319 rushing yards against South Florida last week, a big reason why the Owls were able to put up 46 points and win by 16. If there’s one thing Navy has been consistent with over the years, it’s running the football. The Midshipmen’s triple option look is no secret to opposing coaching staffs, yet continues to produce gaudy numbers. South Florida first faced it last year and surrendered 428 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in a 29-17 loss at Annapolis. While the Bulls’ appear to have a talent advantage when comparing the two rosters, Navy is as well coached and disciplined as teams come. South Florida can’t change the fact that it ranks 100th in the FBS against the run, something that plays right into the Middies’ hands. Look for Navy to come out on top in a close, competitive game to pull even further ahead in the AAC West.

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Prediction: Navy 31, South Florida 27

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.