Teams with similar styles face off
Mids, Temple use power rushing attacks to dominate possession
A power rushing game designed to chew up the clock and wear down opposing defenses: That is the definition of Navy’s triple-option attack.
It also accurately describes what Temple wants to do on offense.
The Midshipmen and Owls will bring similar styles to the field when they meet Saturday at noon in the American Athletic Conference championship game.
Navy ranks second nationally in rushing offense with 342 yards per game and holds the ball an average of 32:40. Temple, which boasts a balanced attack that com-
bines power rushing with play-action passing, ranks fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in time of possession at 34 minutes per game.
“They’re a power-running football team. They’re going to get downhill. As you start to get people involved in the run game, they have really good play-action stuff that complements,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said when asked about Temple. “Even though we’re a triple-option team, our principles are really similar. We run the football, try to control time of possession, run play-action. That’s kind of what they do, too.
With quarterback Will Worth leading the way, no team in college football is running as effectively as Navy. The Mids rushed for a season-high 496 yards in Saturday’s 75-31 demolition of Southern Methodist, the 10th-best output in program history and the most since October 2012. Just one week earlier, the Mids rushed for 480 yards in a rout of East Carolina.
“It’s a great offense and they’ve done a terrific job of wearing teams down and winning the war of attrition,” Temple coach Matt Rhule said. “That’s something we pride ourselves on. It’s not often that we play other teams that run, run, run and pound people until they submit, but that’s what Navy has done.”
Worth has been a workhorse, leading Navy in rushing with 1,181 yards and 25 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior has carried the ball 258 times, 187 more than any other Mid.
“I give a lot of credit to the quarterback. He’s not afraid to run the football,” Rhule said of Worth. “He makes tremendous decisions, but is also making a lot of plays. He’s a physical, competitive kid.”
While Worth has been the focal point of the triple-option this season, the Mids still have balance. Chris High and Shawn White have shared the workload at fullback and combined for 870 yards on 136 carries. The top three slotbacks — starters Dishan Romine and Toneo Gulley and substitute Darryl Bonner — have rushed for 1,028 yards off 109 carries.
Temple running backs Jahad Thomas and Ryquell Armstead have rushed for 856 and 842 yards, respectively, while totaling 25 touchdowns between them.
Quarterback P.J. Walker is also a running threat, but has done a good job of staying in the pocket and throwing downfield this season. The four-year starter has completed 58 percent of his passing attempts for 2,700 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“Temple has really good personnel. Thomas is one of the best backs in the country — very shifty, but also a really powerful runner. Walker seems like he’s been there forever — a real athletic, mobile and strong-armed kid who has been in their offense a long time,” Niumatalolo said.
Navy (9-2, 7-1) clinched the West Division title and a berth in the AAC championship with a game to spare by beating East Carolina on Nov. 19. The Mids maintained their momentum Saturday by routing SMU for their fourth straight win.
“This is a great honor for us to represent the West. We’re really excited about this opportunity,” Niumatalolo said. “Really proud of our program, especially our players and coaches. It’s been a long, tough year and we’ve had to overcome a lot of injuries. We didn’t make any excuses. We just had to find a way to keep fighting through it.”
Temple (9-3, 7-1) had to beat East Carolina on Saturday night to secure the East Division crown for the second straight season. The Owls, who previously played in the Big East and Mid-American, are seeking their first conference championship in program history.
“It’s been an up-and-down year, but a great year. We had some adversity early on, didn’t get off to the start we wanted,” said Rhule, whose team lost to Houston in last year’s AAC championship game. “It’s a true testament to the character, discipline and commitment of our young men on our team that they have the loss of key personnel and are playing their best football down the stretch.”
Navy, which spent 134 years as an independent before joining the American in 2015, is also seeking its first conference title.
This is the second meeting between Niumatalolo and Rhule, who professed respect for each other and their respective programs during a conference call Monday. In 2014, Navy pulled out a 31-24 victory over Temple at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Navy and Temple split with two common opponents this season, South Florida and Memphis.
The Mids lost a shootout with South Florida, 52-45, in Tampa, Fla., on Oct. 28. Temple was the only American member to slow down the league’s most potent offense, beating USF, 46-30, in Philadelphia just one week earlier.
Meanwhile, Navy defeated Memphis relatively easily, 42-28, in Annapolis. The Owls were beaten by the Tigers, 34-27, at the Liberty Bowl.
Navyearnedhome-field advantage for the championship game by virtue of being 25th in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Mids, No. 20 in the latest Associated Press poll, have won 15 straight games at NavyMarine Corps Memorial Stadium, the top current streak in the nation.
“It’s really exciting for our program to have the championship game here in a venue where we’ve had a lot of success,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re going to need all our fans to come and cheer and support and be loud for us. We’re going to need every edge and advantage we can get.
“Hopefully, playing at home will be a benefit for us.”
Quarterback Will Worth (15) leads Navy in rushing with 1,181 yards and 25 touchdowns, including this one Saturday against Southern Methodist.
Temple quarterback P.J. Walker has completed 58 percent of his passing attempts for 2,700 yards and 18 touchdowns.