Teams with sim­i­lar styles face off

Mids, Tem­ple use power rush­ing at­tacks to dom­i­nate pos­ses­sion

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

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.”

LOUIS DELUCA/DAL­LAS MORN­ING NEWS

Quar­ter­back Will Worth (15) leads Navy in rush­ing with 1,181 yards and 25 touch­downs, in­clud­ing this one Satur­day against South­ern Methodist.

MITCHELL LEFF/GETTY IMAGES

Tem­ple quar­ter­back P.J. Walker has com­pleted 58 per­cent of his pass­ing at­tempts for 2,700 yards and 18 touch­downs.

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