Indiana makes its second trip to the East Coast of the season when the Hoosiers play Navy at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium tomorrow afternoon. It will be IU's first trip to Annapolis, although IU holds a 2-0 lead over Navy, with both games played in Bloomington in the mid-1980s.
After eight straight winning seasons, the Midshipmen fell to 5-7 last year, and appeared to be in deep trouble after a 1-3 start that included blowout losses to Notre Dame and Penn State, a win against FCS team VMI, and a 12-0 loss to San Jose State. Nevertheless, the Mishipmen have rallied nicely, winning in overtime against Air Force on the road and winning 31-13 at Central Michigan last week (the Chippewas are now 2-4 but did win at Iowa).
Although the Midshipmen rank #14 in rushing offense this season, their 233 yards per game is well below their usual production, which has generally been above 280 yards per game. Given what generally is a lack of a passing game, Navy is only #95 in total offense nationally and #107 in scoring offense. For Navy to succeed offensively, they almost always have to do it on the ground. Last week's win over CMU was something of an exception. The Midshipen averaged a pedestrian 3.8 yards per carry and ran for 238 yards, but had 134 passing yards and three passing TDs despite only 6 completions. Navy doesn't pass often, but given the focus that they require of defenses trying to defend the triple option,
Navy's resuscitation of the season seems to have correlated with an injury to QB Trey Miller in the Air Force game. Miller was replaced by Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds hasn't been a world beater, but he has been less mistake-prone than Miller, who has turned the ball over 10 times this season (3 interceptions, 7 fumbles). Reynolds has 41 rushes for 99 yards, compared to 87 attempts and 291 yards for Miller, including three rushing TDs. Navy's top running backs have been Noah Copeland (77-344) and Gee Gee Greene (41-292). Navy has been respectable on defense, and Keegan Wetzel (4 sacks), and Matt Warrick (2 interceptions) are guys to watch. The Navy pass defense is tough to gauge. They rank #21 in pass defense, allowing only 189 yards per game, but are #97 in pass efficiency defense. On the season, Navy's opponents have completed 66 percent of their passes against Navy. San Jose State torched the Midshipmen for 280 yards. The two very good teams Navy has played, Notre Dame and Penn State, aren't great passing teams, but both did very well against Navy. I think it's fair to think that IU will put some points on the board.
IU's defense has been working on the triple option since the preseason. Will that be enough to make a difference? I don't know. What I do think is that IU's offense will have some fun against this defense. I suspect the Navy offense will get well against the Hoosiers. And boy, doesn't this game feel like where the rug always gets pulled out from under IU fans? We've played well against teams with better talent in the past few weeks, recruiting is on fire? Well, screw it. I'm setting aside my inner pessimism. The turnaround begins tomorrow. Indiana 45, Navy 31.