No. 22 Navy braces for challenge of slowing potent USF
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Houston one game, Memphis the next, and now South Florida.
No. 22 Navy is facing a steady stream of high-scoring teams in the American Athletic Conference and finding one of the best ways to defend them is to keep the ball away from opposing offenses.
''We're very cognizant of time,'' coach Ken Niumatalolo said, noting how important it will be to limit the number of possessions for USF, when the West Division-leading Midshipmen (5-1, 4-0) face the Bulls (6-2,3-1) on Friday night. ''One way to stop them is to keep them on the sideline.''
USF is averaging 487.1 yards and 42.4 points per game in getting off to one of the best starts in school history. The Bulls scored at least 35 points in their first seven games before being held to a season-low 30 in a 16-point loss at Temple.
Navy rushed for 442 yards - most ever by a USF opponent - during a 29-17 victory in Annapolis last season. And, it could take another dominating ground performance to remain unbeaten in conference play.
''I know they had a tough one the last time (against Temple), but they've been playing really well,'' Niumatalolo said, adding that the Bulls' high-scoring attack begins - but doesn't end - with dual-threat star Quinton Flowers.
Flowers is the second-leading rusher among quarterbacks in the nation behind Louisville's Lamar Jackson. He also leads the AAC with 15 touchdown passes and is on pace to become the first USF player to top 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season.
Throw in two-time conference rushing leader Marlon Mack, who run for a conference-best 10 TDs, and leading receiver Rodney Adams, and the Midshipmen figure to have their hands full.
Niumatalolo is counting on his own quarterback, Will Worth, to take some of the pressure off the Navy defense.
Some things to watch when Navy seeks to extend its record in conference play to 12-1 since joining the American last year:
WORTH LEADS THE WAY: The senior from Valrico, Florida - a short drive from the USF campus in Tampa - accounted for five TDs in last week's 42-28 win over Memphis. In addition to rushing for a career-best 201 yards and three touchdowns, he completed 3 of 4 passes for 85 yards and to score to keep the Midshipmen atop the West Division standings.
''A lot of quarterbacks are not as tough as him. He can run people over, then drop back and throw a couple of touchdowns,'' USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. ''That offense is dynamic, and he's the leader of it. He's crucial to their success.''
HOMECOMING OF SORTS: Navy has 13 players on the roster from Florida, the fifth-most of any state.
ONE-TWO PUNCH: Flowers and Mack form the best one-two rushing punch in the league, with Mack averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 94.1yards per game on the ground. Flowers averages 6.9 yards per attempt, 93.1 yards per game and has run for eight TDs.
PLENTY TO PLAY FOR: That's USF's mantra in the aftermath of last week loss to Temple. The Bulls share first place in the East Division, although the Owls own the tie-breaker.
''Our football team is still learning how to be champions. ... Hopefully we learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward,'' USF coach Willie Taggart said.
APPROACHING MILESTONE: Navy is three wins shy of becoming the 24th FBS program - and first service academy - with 700 victories. The Midshipmen are 697-548-57 in 136 seasons.
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