GAME PREVIEW: BYU at Navy

BYU at Navy
When: Monday, Sept. 7th 8:00 PM EDT
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, MD
TV/Streaming: ESPN/WatchESPN (subscription req’d)

The Labor Day tradition of a a night game goes on this year, although this was not the game that most thought would be played. Georgia versus Virginia was the original game to be played on this Labor Day but with the SEC going to a conference only model due to COVID19 pandamic, this game was canceled.

Both BYU and Navy were to have rivalry games in the opening weekend and both had those games caneled with BYU to play Utah and Navy to play Notre Dame.

This game between the Cougars and Midshipmen was just schedule last month and with the none of the Power Five leagues having any games in Week 1 of the season, this match-up quickly became the best game of the opening weekend.

Navy is coming off an 11-win season that ended with a 20-17 victory over a Power Five school in the Big 12’s Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. The Midshipmen engineered a remarkable turnaround a year ago, going from a 3-win team in 2018 to a year end Top-25 squad in 2019. Navy led FBS teams in rushing offense last season, churning out a school-record 360.5 yards per game on the ground and rushing for 52 touchdowns. The Midshipmen also totaled a school-record 4,687 rushing yards.

BYU had an up and down season and finished with a 7-6 mark a year ago. The Cougars ended their season with a 38-34 loss to Hawai’i in the Hawai’i Bowl. BYU scored upset victories over USC, Tennessee, and Boise State while dropping games to Toledo and South Florida.

The Utah game was not the only game BYU lost this season. In fact, only two schools on its schedule remained after the announcement the Big 10, Pac 12, and Mountain West Conferences as BYU is an independent school. The Cougars only had Navy’s conference mate of Houston and FCS North Alabama remaining from its original line-up. Even the Houston game was altered as the game will now be at Houston instead of being at home for BYU. BYU did get this game and five others to have what is currently an eight-game schedule for 2020.

Navy did lose the Notre Dame game as well as its FCS opponent of Lafayette. The Midshipmen did not replace this game and will play an 11 game schedule with Army and Air Force being the other out-of-conference games to go with their American Athletic Conference schedule.

These two teams have met twice in the past but not since 1989, and the series is tied 1-1. BYU won in 1989 and Navy won in 1978.

BYU Cougars (7-6) in 2019

BYU returns QB Zach Wilson, OT Brady Christensen, OC James Empey, and OG Tristen Hoge as the key pieces on offense this year. The Cougar offensive line returns all five starters and Zach Wilson is expected to have the breakout season after an injury plagued some of 2019.. BYU suffered a major loss when star TE Matt Bushman suffered a season ending injury in practice recently.

The big issue without Bushman, is that there are really no returning starting recievers for BYU. WRs Gunner Romney and Dax Milne will need to take the next step forward in their absence. Romney did record 377 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 31 catches last season, while Milne added 285 yards and two scores on 21 receptions. Those two or other emerging receivers will be a key to not only this game but the full season for BYU.

RBs Lopini Katoa and Tyler Allgeier should be the main backfield. Katoa was BYU’s backup last season and tallied 358 yards and four touchdowns. Allgeier only rushed for 119 yards but was limited in the backfield after spending part of the season on defense as a linebacker.

The BYU defense has had nearly a month to prepare for the triple option attack of Navy and the biggest position to stop that attack is the linebacking position with seniors in Isaiah Kaufusi and Kavika Fonua leading the group . Overall, four starters are back but stoppring the run was a concern last year for the Cougar defense as it ranked 78th in all of the FBS against the run in 2019. The Cougar line in the middle led by DT Khyiris Tonga should force more option to the edges so the linebackers will have to be disciplined to stay in their lanes to stop the Midshipmen offensive attack.

Key Player: QB Zach Wilson

Wilson will need to make the right decisions with his passing game and might need to change the plays to more running than BYU typically likes to do to keep an aggressive style defense of Navy honest. But with a strong offensive line, the running game should get enough to keep press off in passing plays. Navy will likely have the time of possession in the game so it will be key for Wilson to convert his team’s third down plays and keep drives alive. The number of possessions for his team will be lowered so lacking turnovers and coverting third-down plays will be needed from Wilson in what is expected to be a very tight game.

Navy Midshipmen (11-2, 7-1 AAC) in 2019

The biggest question for Navy will be at quarterback after three starter Malcolm Perry graduated. He was the main reason the Midshipmen had the turnaround season a year ago and capped off his career by rushing for 2,017 yards as a senior.Dalen Morris is the man charged with gilling them. The senior beat out Perry Olsen, who in the offseason, was expected to be the frontrunner for the starting job. Morris has played in just five career games, so his inexperience could be an issue.

Helping out Morris in the backfield will be two RBs Jamale Carothers and Nelon Smith. Car was the second leading rusher on the team with 734 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago, while. Smith recoreded 571 and seven scores to his credit in 2019.

On defense, the group lost ten key pieces from last year’s squad but LB Diego Fagot and an experienced secondary return. This should help against what BYU typically likes to do in the passing game. The key for Navy will also be to get some pressure on BYU QB Wilson. They can not make it easy for him to find his targets so getting pressure and causing turnovers will be a key to the game.

Key Player: QB Dalen Morris

With the lack of experience, I would suspect that BYU will stack the line to stop the option game. How Morris reads the defense will be key. He will need to option out of the running game to the passing game on some plays and will likely need to hit on some of his passes to keep the BYU defense guessing what is coming.

Fearless Prediction:

The game features two natives from Hawai’i as their respective coaches. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake and Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo are great friends off the field but Niumatalolo is the more experienced coach. BYU looks to have more firepower on offense and even with a lack of experience at the receiver possitions, should be able to muster up its passing attack. The Navy offense will also get its share of plays in the option running game despite at new quarterback running it in Morris. This game will come down to fourth quarter execution. I like the experienced quarterback of Wilson for BYU to come up with a late drive to win the game on the road. BYU 31 Navy 27

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