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Mission Planning: Houston Loaded With Problems

The Midshipmen welcome AAC West rival Houston to Annapolis this weekend, and the Cougars have some serious playmakers on both sides of the ball

Tulsa v Houston Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Navy is preparing to welcome the University of Houston to town this weekend in Annapolis, kicking off a month long stretch where every team they play is currently undefeated besides the Cougars. Given that Houston’s only loss was to Texas Tech, having to play them, Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and UCF, with three of those four away from home, that’s as rough a stretch as you will find anywhere in the country.

We’ve already spent time on here discussing what we viewed as realistic possibilities for the next month, and I think that Navy’s best chance to survive this stretch with bowl eligibility at the end is to beat Houston, plain and simple.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent years that a highly touted Cougars squad came to Annapolis and left with a loss.

What is it going to take to take down Major Applewhite and company? Let’s take a look at what Houston is bringing to NapTown this weekend!

Houston Offense:

We know all about Ed Oliver and what he brings to the defense. More to come on that in a moment, but the offense is without a doubt the dominant side of the ball as a whole this year.

They rank #4 in the country in yards/game at 553 and are extremely balanced with 306 passing and 246 rushing per game on the season.

With that kind of yardage being put up equally in all phases of the game, it’s not hard to believe that they are also the #3 scoring team in the country with 48.7 points per game.

There is no doubt that they provide a significant challenge for the Midshipmen defense, having failed to be held to less than 40 a game the entire season so far.

Quarterback D’Eriq King has improved on last year, completing 63% of his passes for 1571 yards with 20 TD against 3 INT. He also has 8 rushing TDs on the year, leading the team in that category as well.

As I mentioned, this is a very balanced Cougars offense, and they have spread the love around with four rushers with 29 carries or more, five receivers with at least a dozen receptions, and four receivers with at least three touchdowns.

The primary running back is Patrick Carr, who has 362 yards on 58 carries and 1 TD.

At wide receiver, they have a pair of standouts in Marquez Stevenson and Keith Corbin. They each have 6 TDs receiving on the season, and Corbin currently is tied for the longest consecutive TD game streak for a receiver in the country at 5 straight games.

The unit is led by offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, whose hiring in the offseason was controversial to say the least. There is no denying Briles offensive genius, but his connection to his father’s program at Baylor and everything that transpired under his watch and came to light in the Pepper Hamilton report have continued to leave many Cougar fans asking what the price was for being able to put up nearly 50 points a game.

Regardless, this will be a tough matchup for a Navy team in need of a big performance. If there is a bright spot, though, it’s that the only defense Houston has faced that is ranked higher in total defense than Navy is the East Carolina team they faced last weekend.

That game involved two turnovers forced by Houston’s D that resulted in 14 easy points. There is no way Navy will keep them off the scoreboard, but managing the number of touchdown drives with long offensive drives of their own will, like most weeks, be the key to success.

Houston Defense:

While the Houston offense has seemingly scored at will this season, the defense has been gashed more than I would have thought before looking at the numbers.

They currently sit at 117 in total defense, giving up 476 yards per game, including 150 per game on the ground.

They are currently giving up 28 points per game, and if Navy can get just beyond that average on offense, I think they have a good shot at pulling the upset.

Of course, any mention of the Houston defense begins with their all-world defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Coach Niumatalolo indicated this week that the only other player on defense they have individually planned for was Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh, who is a DPOY and perennial Pro Bowler in the NFL.

I know everyone knows how good Oliver is, but his numbers are worth repeating, simply because of how staggering they are. In all of this, don’t forget that these are numbers for a DEFENSIVE TACKLE. Not an end or a linebacker, a DT.

There’s a reason Navy has to scheme for him individually, as last year Oliver had 14 tackles, 3.5 for loss, and 2 sacks against the Mids.

In one game.

He is as disruptive as they come and his motor is relentless. Navy is a team predicated on long sustained drives that result in time-consuming touchdowns. Oliver has the ability by himself to change the course of these drives. It only takes one or two plays per drive to keep the Mids from doing what they want on his own.

Oliver has 51 TFL in just 31 games, averaging 1.63 per game. Coming into this season, he had 39.5 TFL over his first two years, which was TWENTY MORE than the next closest DT in history, on a list that includes Aaron Donald, Warren Sapp, and Ndamukong Suh.

He leads all defensive linemen in the country this year with 46 tackles in 6 games. Next closest is a three way tie at 40, all of them in 7 games played.

He has 46 tackles, 11.5 for loss, 2 sacks, 9 QB hurries, and a forced fumble on the season.

He is already an Outland Trophy winner and consensus All-American after only two seasons and can be found on pretty much every mid-season All-American list again this year.

But enough about the guy who makes the defense churn, let’s look at some of the other playmakers.

Transfer Deontay Anderson was the No. 1 safety in the 2016 class and earned freshmen All-SEC honors at Ole Miss before transferring to Houston. After sitting out last year, he is making his presence known in the defensive backfield for the Cougars.

Sophomore Gleson Sprewell, who is filling in for injured starter Garrett Davis at the other safety position, will be sitting out the first half of the Navy game due to a targeting penalty. That is something to keep an eye on as the Cougars will continue down the depth chart on the back end for the first half.

We don’t know what Navy’s offensive game plan will be behind center, but perhaps giving Garret Lewis the nod again to open the game will be the right call given the situation in the secondary.

Emeke Egbule is having an outstanding senior season at linebacker with six passes defended, four pass breakups, and two INTs, and he leads the nation with three fumble recoveries.

This is a defense that has talent and is known to be aggressive at trying to force turnovers which sometimes leads to a feast or famine situation. I would look for Navy to break out some trick plays looking for the home run score early in this game to take advantage if Houston starts really stacking the box and being aggressive with their play calling.

Outlook:

So, here’s the deal. We know that this is going to be a tough challenge, as tough as any Navy has faced so far this season. But there is most definitely hope to be found. This will be the second best defense Houston has played this season, and the Midshipmen, who are giving up 31.8 points per game, will need that unit to step up to keep this game close.

I’m not saying Houston isn’t good or extremely talented, hopefully that is apparent if you stuck with me this far, BUT they have only played one team with a winning record and that was their one loss on the season against Texas Tech. Overall, the teams they have played have a combined record of 12-26. That’s not good. So, aside from the game against the Red Raiders, this will probably be the toughest game that Houston has played as well this year if you ask me.

I’m not the betting guy around here, but at -12, given how well Navy plays at home as an underdog (just ask Chris Fallica who picked Navy to cover last week against Temple on College Gameday), I’d be willing to wager a couple Iron Rooster pop tarts that the Mids find a way to keep this game to single digits and make it closer than the experts have predicted.