Baltimore Sun

Mids face short turnaround with Memphis next

- By Bill Wagner

Navy football had no time to dwell on Saturday’s disappoint­ing loss to then-No. 24 SMU. The struggling Midshipmen put that game behind in a hurry because they face a short turnaround.

Next up for Navy (1-4) is a Thursday night road game against Memphis (3-3) at the Liberty Bowl that will be broadcast nationally by ESPN. This marks the first time since 2004 the Midshipmen have played on Thursday night after having a game the previous Saturday.

Things worked out well that time as Navy traveled to Colorado Springs and defeated service academy rival Air Force after beating Vanderbilt at home.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalol­o said the most difficult aspect of having just four days between games is recovery. Coming off a physical contest with SMU, players are banged up, with many needing to get treatment in the training room.

“I think the physical part of recovery is going to be tough. Football is a violent game and guys are so much bigger, stronger and faster these days,” Niumatalol­o said. “You run into each other for 70 plays, something’s got to give. Your back is sore, your neck is sore, your hamstrings, your fingers.

“Fortunatel­y, both teams have to go through the same thing.”

Memphis might have a slight advantage in a short week as the home team, but Niumatalol­o is hoping that might be nullified a bit by the fact it played a Saturday night game at Tulsa and had to travel in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

However, history is on the side of the Tigers, who are 8-0 in Thursday night matchups and 20-1 in non-Saturday regular-season games. One of those Thursday night wins came against Navy in 2019 at the Liberty Bowl.

Naturally, Niumatalol­o has adjusted the weekly schedule to accommodat­e a short practice on Monday. Normally, the Midshipmen participat­e in recovery exercises on Monday afternoon, then resume practice on Tuesday.

Niumatalol­o will hold another short practice Wednesday in Annapolis with players and coaches before boarding buses for the trip to BWI Marshall Airport. Navy will do a walk-through practice at the Liberty Bowl on Thursday.

“Wednesday is like Friday, and we normally never practice on Friday,” Niumatalol­o said.

On a positive note, there were no classes Monday at the Naval Academy because of Columbus Day, and that enabled players to spend time at Ricketts Hall in meetings and film study.

Navy blew a two-touchdown lead in the span of 5 minutes late in the second half in losing 31-24 to SMU. Inside linebacker Diego Fagot scored off a 20-yard fumble recovery to put the Mids ahead 21-7 with 7:42 remaining in the second quarter.

Bryan Massey took all the energy out of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with a momentum-changing 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Navy went three-and-out on its next offensive possession, giving the ball right back to the visitors. Quarterbac­k Tanner

Mordecai directed a touchdown drive that tied the score before halftime.

The Midshipmen were then outscored 10-3 in the second half as the triple-option offense suddenly shut down. After scoring touchdowns on its second and third possession­s of the game, Navy punted four times and turned the ball over on downs twice on its final six possession­s.

Memphis lost to Tulsa, 35-29, on Saturday night as kicker David Kemp missed three field-goal attempts and an extra-point try. The Tigers fell to 0-2 in the American

Athletic Conference after falling to Temple on the road the previous Saturday.

“Both teams are coming off losses and have to find a way to bounce back. The team that is able to do that the best is going to be successful,” Niumatalol­o said.

True freshman quarterbac­k Seth Henigan leads a high-powered offense that ranks 11th nationally in total yards (499 per game) and passing yards (323). Henigan has completed 60% of his passes for 1,938 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Memphis features one of the most dangerous weapons in the American, if not the entire nation, in speedy wide receiver and returner Calvin Austin III. The 5-foot-9, 162-pound senior ranks second nationally in both all-purpose yards (162) and receiving yards (139.5). He has seven receiving touchdowns and has also scored off a punt return.

Austin, who is also an All-America sprinter for the Memphis track and field team, is a highly regarded NFL prospect. The Tigers have sent a steady stream of offensive playmakers to the profession­al ranks, including running backs Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys), Darrell Henderson (Los Angeles Rams) and Antonio Gibson (Washington Football Team).

Riley Patterson kicked a 26-yard field goal with 10:53 remaining in the game and that held up as Memphis edged Navy 10-7 last season in Annapolis. The Tigers have won three of the past four meetings with the Mids.

“This is a typical Memphis team. They’ve got a young quarterbac­k that seems fearless and has done a lot of good things,” Niumatalol­o said. “We know these guys very well. They’re always well-coached, tough and athletic. It’s another week that we’ll have our hands full.”

 ?? PAUL W. GILLESPIE/CAPITAL GAZETTE ?? Navy slotback Chance Warren runs the ball during last season’s home game against Memphis.
PAUL W. GILLESPIE/CAPITAL GAZETTE Navy slotback Chance Warren runs the ball during last season’s home game against Memphis.

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