Navy visits No. 15 Memphis with AAC title hopes at stake

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) Memphis likes to throw the ball with Paxton Lynch. Navy runs the triple option thanks to the running skills of quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

The contrast in styles is something the Tigers have been preparing to defend since last spring.

''You have to do that to even give yourself a chance,'' Memphis coach Justin Fuente said of the months of preparation. ''If you're going to not pay any attention to them and just pull up the film the Sunday before you play, you're asking for it in my opinion. You better have done a little bit of work.''

Now the 15th-ranked Tigers host Navy for the first time Saturday night at the Liberty Bowl showcasing two of the reasons for the conference's ascension in the college football landscape. The winner leaves with a share of the top spot in the American Athletic Conference's West Division.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo calls this ''the biggest game of the season for us.''

The undefeated Tigers (8-0, 4-0) just debuted at No. 13 in the College Football Playoff's inaugural rankings.

Memphis relies heavily on Lynch, who ranks seventh in the country averaging 338.6 yards a game. The junior has completed 70 percent of his passes, including 18 touchdowns compared to only one interception. Nuimatalolo wants to keep Lynch on the sideline as much as possible.

''Lynch is probably as good as I've seen,'' Niumatalolo said. ''His arm strength allows him to throw any ball. He's got great touch and can move. It's amazing.''

Reynolds is the maestro of Navy's triple option, and the Midshipmen (6-1, 4-0) running for an average of 107.6 yards on the ground per game. He also has 13 touchdowns rushing. Reynolds' ability to run the show for the Midshipmen drew raves from Fuente with Navy fourth in the nation in rushing offense at 319.7 yards a game.

''It's awesome. It's fascinating. It really is,'' Fuente said. ''They know what they're doing. They know the offense.''

Navy and Memphis are tied with Houston in the American West. Navy has the lone loss among the three - 41-24 to Notre Dame on Oct. 10.

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Here are some other things to watch Saturday night:

COIN TOSS: Fuente routinely defers to the second half if the Tigers win the coin toss. Last week, Tulane held the ball for 11-plus minutes and was up 13-0 before Memphis scored the final 41 points. Given Navy's ball-control reputation, would Fuente consider changing his approach? Fuente said: ''It would be something I would consider.''

TRIPLE THREAT: Reynolds ran for 117 yards on 28 carries in last week's 29-17 win over South Florida, as three Navy rushers collected at least 100 yards, the first time that happened in Navy history. In addition to Reynolds, Dishan Romine had 115 and Chris Swain totaled 131 yards.

A RECORD: Reynolds' two touchdowns last Saturday gave him 77 rushing scores in his career, tying him with Wisconsin's Montee Ball (2009-12) for most in NCAA history. While appreciating the mark, Reynolds said: ''It's just external pageantry. At the end of the day, it's still football.''

EARLY PREPARATION: Fuente acknowledged the Tigers worked on defending Navy's triple option during spring practice, studied it in the offseason and even practiced it during an off week before Memphis faced Mississippi.

HOME GAME: Navy has three players from the Memphis area on its depth chart, including sophomore D.J. Palmore at linebacker. Reynolds, who is from Nashville about 200 miles east of Memphis was recruited by the Tigers as a wide receiver.

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Online:

AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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