Houston visits Navy in battle of AAC unbeatens
The Houston Cougars and Navy Midshipmen meet Saturday afternoon at Annapolis, Md., in a clash between two of the five unbeaten teams in the American Athletic Conference.
Despite blowout nonconference losses against BYU and Air Force, Navy (3-2, 3-0 in the AAC) sits atop the standings after defeating Tulane, Temple and East Carolina, with all of those games decided by four points or fewer.
The Midshipmen have two other upcoming games against other teams that are currently undefeated in the AAC, facing SMU and Tulsa in succession after taking on the Cougars.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said of the team’s two-game winning streak, “It’s given us hope to keep playing. Those two losses were crushing losses. To see our guys bounce back with hard-fought wins, it gives us hope. I’m encouraged that we’ve found ways to win ugly games.”
Meanwhile, Houston (1-1, 1-0 AAC) led then-No. 14 BYU by as many as 12 points Friday and held an advantage into the fourth quarter before falling apart and losing 43-26.
Junior quarterback Clayton Tune threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, but Houston’s defense surrendered 29 unanswered points over the final 16 minutes.
Houston was held to only 22 yards in the fourth quarter after totaling 416 yards over the first three.
“Their big plays were just too big,” Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “We had about the same amount, but they doubled ours in yards. Things just broke down in the fourth quarter.”
Despite playing only two games this season due to COVID-19 postponements and cancellations, the Cougars rank 20th among FBS teams in total yards per game (457) and are averaging 37.5 points per game.
Tune’s 9.8 yards per pass attempt is tied for eighth among FBS quarterbacks, and he has thrown for 629 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions with a 64.1 completion percentage.
However, Holgorsen said his team was still trying to find its identity and lamented the 10 penalties for 113 yards it committed against BYU.
Navy needed a resilient performance last week to beat East Carolina as backup quarterback Tyger Goslin stepped in for starter Dalen Morris, who exited with a concussion.
Goslin directed the game-winning drive as Navy converted a pair of fourth downs, one that put the Midshipmen ahead and the other to hold off a late Pirates comeback attempt.
Niumatalolo said he expected Morris to be ready for Saturday’s game even though the senior was still in the concussion protocol early in the week.
Navy’s signature triple-option offense, which has amassed 952 rushing yards, is led by fullbacks Nelson Smith (55 carries for 342 yards and six touchdowns) and Jamale Carothers (75 carries, 311 yards, two touchdowns).
“We did a decent job against it last year other than the QB run,” Holgorsen said of slowing the Midshipmen’s ground attack. “The one thing we have to focus on is being more disciplined, and this is the week to do it because you better be disciplined when you go up against what they do.”
Navy’s defense is allowing the sixth-fewest passing yards per game among FBS teams (154.6) but the second-most rushing yards per game (273.8). The Midshipmen received a boost last week when inside linebacker Diego Fagot returned from injury to record 12 tackles.
“Diego’s got everything you’re looking for in a linebacker,” Niumatalolo said. “He can cover. He can blitz. He keeps coming out there and fighting. The kid is a warrior.”
–Field Level Media