Here are three things I’ll be watching for when Fordham visits Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday:
Strength vs. Strength
The key to Fordham’s offense is All-America running back Chase Edmonds. The 5-9, 205-lb. junior is the Patriot League Preseason Offensive Player of the Year after a 2015 campaign in which he scored 20 TDs and ran for over 1,600 yards. Fordham is primarily a passing offense; at 272 yards per game, they were 20th in FCS last season. However, it’s the threat posed by Edmonds that makes the offense tick.
Fordham will spread out the Navy defense in an effort to give Edmonds room to run. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry last year, and if he does the same against the Mids, that will force them to bring safeties up in run support. Doing so opens up play action, something that Fordham is accustomed to taking advantage of– they averaged nearly 14 yards per completion in 2015. The key for the Navy defense, then, is to stop Edmonds with their front seven. That way, the safeties can remain focused on coverage, and Fordham’s big-play potential will be greatly diminished.
While most talk of Navy’s 2016 campaign has been of rebuilding, the defensive line and linebackers don’t fit that story. These are the Mids’ most experienced positions. The team will lean heavily on that experience throughout the season, including tomorrow.
The Passing Game
Every once in a while, teams completely sell out to stop the option and dare Navy to throw the ball. Delaware did it in 2003 and came away with a 21-17 upset. Tulane did it last year, and the Mids still won handily. For a team with nothing to lose, it isn’t the worst approach to stopping an option offense. It worked for Fordham against Army last year, and it is reasonable to think that they’ll try the same thing against Navy.
To his credit, Tago Smith has completed 70% of his pass attempts, but it’s a pretty small sample size. Army threw almost as many passes against Fordham as Smith has thrown in his career. If he can come close to matching that average on Saturday– and if the offensive line can protect him– then Navy should should be fine. If either struggles, then things might get uncomfortable.
How will Navy react to their first mistake?
The 2015 season was Navy football’s best performance in decades, but it didn’t start that way. The offense’s first drive in the season opener was a comedy of errors, with missed blocks, a bad holding penalty, and a lost fumble. Fortunately, the Mids didn’t panic; instead, they scored on each of their next five drives to build a comfortable 31-3 lead by halftime. The calm, businesslike response set the tone for the rest of the game, and to some extent, the whole season.
Of course, that was with a veteran, experienced squad. This year’s team, while not devoid of senior leadership, features an offense with only one returning starter. How will they respond the first time the ball bounces the wrong way? Will things start to snowball, or will they be able to maintain their focus and move on?