Photo courtesy of IU Athletics
IUSportCom’s Brian Singer gives his IU-Navy preview for Saturday’s contest and picks a winner.
Closing out its non-conference schedule, Indiana (2-4, 0-3) heads to Annapolis to face Navy (3-3). This matchup will be just the third time these two teams will have faced one another. The last time the Hoosiers faced the Midshipmen was in 1986, and the result was a Hoosiers win. Unfortunately, this season Indiana has been struggling to find those wins. Navy will look to extend their winning streak to three come Saturday, also the school’s homecoming game. Can the Hoosiers crash the party and defeat Navy?
The Opponent: Navy Midshipmen
Over the last five quarters, plus one overtime, the Navy football team has gone from the fringe of collapse to an upswing that includes the promise of long-term prosperity. The sudden shift has primarily come from quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who performed with command uncommon for a freshman for the second straight game last week. In Friday’s 31-13 victory over Central Michigan, Reynolds had the triple option moving virtually without a hitch and became the first Midshipmen quarterback in 15 years to pass for three touchdowns.
The 5’9” freshman from Tennessee took the starting job after their starting quarterback suffered a lower leg injury (sound familiar)? Trey Miller went down, but the Midshipmen haven’t missed a beat. The team ranks 121st in passing yards, but as of late it’s been spiraling upward. What’s carried the team all season? Rushing offense.
Noah Copeland, the squad’s fullback (who knew fullbacks could rush), leads the team with 344 yards this season, while running Gee Gee Greene doesn’t trail by much with 292 yards—7.1 yards per carry. Navy runs the typical “Oregon triple option” offense with the hopes that speed will win. Indiana, having just faced Braxton Miller, and having Tre Roberson on the team, should be aware of how to defend the option.
Navy’s defense has been inconsistent. They opponents average 172 yards per game—and we know IU loves to run the ball. Against Notre Dame (not a great rushing attack, 47th in NCAAF in rushing yards) they surrendered 293 yards on the ground. The next week, against Penn State, they gave up only 110 yards on the ground. Their passing defense, lead by cornerback Parrish Gaines and safety Tra’ves Bush, is something worth mentioning. Opponents average just 189.2 yards per game in the air—an impressive stat for the Midshipmen squad.
X-Factor: Keenan Reynolds
Caps off to the freshman quarterback who propelled his squad to a comeback win over Air Force and a dominating victory over Central Michigan. Now, it’s time for the freshman to receive a B1G test on a BIG stage (see what I did there)?
Indiana’s defense has let up ample points, but still has recorded impressive numbers. IU’s 7.5 tackles for loss per game rank second in the league and 19th nationally. The Hoosiers defense has 13 sacks and 45 TFLs. Indiana didn’t reach those totals until game 10 last year. Reynolds will have to be aware at all times of where defensive tackle Adam Replogle is on the field—he’s averaging 6.8 tackles per game which leads the B1G and puts him at 16th in the nation. The Hoosiers have had to defend against the running quarterback and the options, and they’ve even run that themselves. Freshman Keenan Reynolds’ experience might come into play if they need to switch some things up. Nonetheless, the freshman will need to perform well if Navy hopes to extend their winning streak.
The same two expressions that I wrote last week still apply this week—“Close but no cigar,” and “Almost doesn’t count except in horseshoes.” The comeback against Ohio State almost gave coach Kevin Wilson his first B1G win as the Hoosiers head coach, but a Buckeye falling on the ball off of an onside kick put that possibility to rest.
Cameron Coffman got the start again, and performed well—he put up 275 yards in the air and one touchdown. He didn’t finish the game as he was pulled for Nate Sudfeld (don’t get me started on that). Anyway, I did speak to one of the players on the team and he thinks Coffman will start against Navy.
Indiana seems to need to get over that hump that prevents them from winning these close games. Their 15th ranked passing offense and 35.5 points per game definitely aims to do that, but it’s the big plays that the Hoosiers have missed which have prevented the wins from happening. It seems that one “big stop” that the cream and crimson must make never seems to happen. The struggles on the defensive side of the ball continue for coach Wilson’s team. 51 points to Ohio State seems inexcusable, but unfortunately, not completely surprising.
Navy’s rushing attack should be Indiana’s primary focus. If the linebacker group — which came with high expectations coming into this season — can force Navy to rely on the passing game, the Hoosiers should be fine. It’s the trickery with the option that could fool them. Indiana’s defense might have to have their own tricks if stopping the run doesn’t happen on Saturday and they hope to come back home with a win.
X-Factor: Rushing Attack
I believe this is the first time I’m choosing Indiana’s rushing offense as the x-factor. I blame Kevin Wilson for this—not establishing the run. Coffman had 44 passing attempts, while Stephen Houston has just 11 runs. He averaged 8.3 yards on those carries, so continue giving him the ball. I know they were down, but they need to establish the run early, and then that will open up the game for Coffman, who had just a 50 percent completion rating last weekend. Coach Wilson, who pulled Coffman, can blame himself for the poor completion percentage.
Navy’s defense is more vulnerable to the run than to the pass. Their two most impressive defensive players lie in the secondary. Exploit the weakness. Let Stephen Houston, who has most certainly risen in the past few games, take the ball and do the work. Get that run going, and then the rest will flow. If the run doesn’t get going, Coffman will have to go against this secondary that knows the Hoosiers will be passing every snap. That’s not the formula for winning. Establishing the run however, is.
I now stand at 3-2 on the season after my prediction, which was against Indiana last week. This week, I’ll change it up. Indiana needs to get that one game where they make the big play, then comes the domino effect. Hopefully, this win in Annapolis will carry on throughout the season. I don’t think Navy has enough defensive power to stop the Hoosiers offense. As a result they’d need to pass on offense. Unfortunately for the Midshipmen, their passing offense isn’t too superb. Therefore, the Hoosiers come out with a win and even up their record at 3-3.