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Thursday Night NCAA

Thursday Night College Football – Navy at Memphis

After an exciting finish last Thursday in the AAC West, the division will be in the spotlight again this week to open up the final college football weekend of September. Memphis and Navy played to a one-point game last season before divergent paths the rest of the way and this will be a big division test between still undefeated teams.

Match-up: Navy Midshipmen at Memphis Tigers

Venue: At Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tennessee

Time/TV: Thursday, September 26, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Memphis -10½, Over/Under 54

Last Meeting: 2018, at Navy (+6½) 22, Memphis 21

With a run of six straight bowl seasons heading into the 2018 season there was little reason to expect that Navy wouldn’t bounce back from an opening week loss at Hawai’i, falling 59-41 last September in the run vs. pass non-conference test. Navy did just that with a 22-21 escape hosting Memphis but that would be the highlight of a stunning 3-10 season for the Midshipmen.

Ken Niumatalolo is 89-58 in his career at Navy since taking over Navy for the 2007 bowl game and since moving to AAC play the squad is 21-12 in conference games including 1-0 this season with a 42-10 win over East Carolina on September 14. Climbing back to the postseason looks realistic for Navy though there are not many soft spots in a deep American Athletic Conference path while non-conference games with Air Force, Notre Dame, and Army remain.

Senior quarterback Malcolm Perry has led the offense in both passing and rushing with 254 passing yards in two games for more than is usually expected from the option attack. Perry saw the field significantly in most games last season and he was the primary quarterback in the Memphis game with 36 rushes for 166 yards as well as a pair of completions. At 5’9” he is certainly among the smallest FBS quarterbacks in the nation.

Memphis started last season 4-4 coming off a 10-win season in 2017. The Tigers would rally for four straight November wins in conference play to claim a second consecutive AAC West title (shared with Tulane and Houston last season), where they lost for a second straight season to UCF in the championship game in Orlando. The Tigers are 29-14 under Mike Norvell who started in 2016, including a 3-0 start this season, but Memphis has not yet won a bowl game in his tenure.

Norvell was a discussed coaching candidate for some major conference openings last off-season and starting this season he notched his first win over Mississippi for the Tigers with a 15-10 opening result. That win will help keep the Tigers in the top Group of 5 bid conversation if they remain perfect even if a banner year for Ole Miss doesn’t look likely. Memphis won’t have to play UCF in the regular season this year but the East draw is difficult with a road game ahead at Temple plus games at South Florida and home against Cincinnati in the season finale as Navy ironically is in the ‘West’ division despite being among the easternmost programs in the nation.

Memphis has a chance for a great season with junior quarterback Brady White back and off to a productive start while the Tigers have 681 rushing yards in three games. The difference this season for Memphis could be on defense with great returning experience and so far positive early returns with only 40 points allowed in three games. Last year Memphis allowed more than 27 points per game in conference play and nearly 32 points per game overall.

Navy has outrushed foes by nearly 600 yards so far this season but Memphis is one of the few teams that can keep pace with the Midshipmen on the ground with Navy only having a 264-233 edge in rushing in last season’s meeting  with Henderson’s big runs leading to 9.7 yards per attempt for the Tigers in that game. Memphis has had at least 177 rushing yards in all three games including putting up 312 in the last contest vs. South Alabama.

Last season: Navy led 9-7 at halftime getting a touchdown with seven seconds remaining in the half but failing going for two. Memphis took over in the third quarter with a pair of long runs from Darrell Henderson who went for 78 and 59 for scores as the Tigers led 21-9. Perry added his second touchdown run early in the fourth quarter as Navy climbed within five on a short-field score after a fumble. The Navy defense forced a 3-and-out and the Midshipmen turned in a 13-play 56-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with just over two minutes to go. After Navy missed again on the two-point try, Memphis only needed a late field goal and White led the Tigers to the Navy 34-yard-line before the drive stalled and the Tigers came up short on 4th down. Memphis had a 378-316 edge in yards but a 4-1 deficit in turnovers.

Historical Trends: Navy is 3-1 S/U and 4-0 ATS in this series as division opponents since 2015. Historically few teams have been as good as Navy in the road underdog role with an amazing 84-42-1 ATS mark since 1980 including a 56-23 ATS record since 1994 and a 23-12 ATS mark under Niumatalolo. When getting 10 or more points as a road underdog Navy is 30-11 ATS since 1994 (9-4 under Niumatalolo since 2008), though splitting last season in that role. Under Norvell, Memphis is 20-4 S/U and 14-10 ATS at home including going 6-1 S/U and ATS at home last season. Since 2004 Memphis has performed well as heavy chalk with a 27-14 ATS record when laying 10 or more points with only two S/U upset losses at that high of a price, one of which was the 2015 home meeting with Navy.