The last few seasons have seen a downward trend for Navy, but Ken Niumatalolo has the Midshipmen back to playing some winning football. This week, Navy and quarterback Malcolm Perry hit the road in American Athletic Conference play against UConn. If all goes according to plan this weekend, Navy (6-1, 4-1 AAC) will be hoping to get some more people thinking about them as a potential candidate for a spot in the New Year's Six.
Navy has just one loss this season, which was early in the season against Memphis. With the Tigers hosting SMU this weekend and SMU scheduled to visit Navy later this season, Navy is in a great spot in conference play to keep up the pace and keep their own division and conference title hopes alive. But to keep those hopes alive, they cannot afford to slip up on the road against the Huskies, who are winless (0-4) in conference play and have just two victories (2-6) on the season.
Navy at UConn
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
Spread: Navy -27.0
When Navy Has the Ball
By now, you know what to expect when Navy has control of the football. The Midshipmen attack on the ground with their signature option offense. Malcolm Perry leads the offense and comes into this weekend as the leading rusher in the American Athletic Conference. Perry has rushed for an average of 133.43 yards per game and a conference-leading 14 touchdowns. His rushing total of 934 yards is second only to Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell. The senior Perry has been a big reason why Navy has bounced back this season, as Navy's offense is averaging roughly 12 more points per game this season compared to last year's disappointing season. Navy averaged 25.0 points per game last season and is flirting with nearly 38 points per game this year (37.9 ppg).
That doesn't look like a positive trend for the Huskies. UConn is giving up 37.8 ppg this season. At home, UConn has allowed 31 points to Illinois, 48 points to South Florida, and 24 to a beleaguered Houston. Expect Navy to work the clock and efficiently put some touchdown drives together against a struggling defense. But because the Midshipmen can consume so much time, how many times Navy gets in the end zone may not be as much as you'd count on.
When UConn Has the Ball
UConn's struggles are everywhere to be found in the program. The offense has really struggled the last few seasons and the Huskies come into the week averaging an AAC-worst 344 yards per game and are second to last in scoring offense (21.6 ppg, ECU is at 21.5). And those numbers are inflated after UConn's breakout performance last week against UMass, another struggling FBS program. But what worked for UConn last week, and can anything carry over to a much different opponent this week?
Expect UConn to feed their hot player, running back Kevin Mensah. Mensah rushed or a game-high 164 yards and scored five touchdowns in UConn's blowout of UMass last week. Adding to the running game was Art Thompkins, who carried the ball 13 times for 135 yards and a score. Navy isn't typically the easiest team to run on, but this may be UConn's only way to give the Midshipmen a challenge. Quarterback Jack Zergiotis will play a role too, of course, and his first target will be Cameron Ross, who had nine catches for 120 yards and a touchdown last week against the Minutemen.
After a couple of down seasons, Navy football may be back, and that's not good news for the home team this week. Navy should be able to wear down the UConn defense and pull away on the ground in the second half. As Navy dominates the time of possession, a struggling offensive team like UConn will be pressured to go for some big plays, and Navy will take that in this matchup. Navy may not cover on the road, but they will return to Annapolis with a 7-1 record and a reminder they should not be overlooked in the AAC championship picture either.
Prediction: Navy 30, UConn 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.
(Top photo courtesy of Navy Athletics)