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Navy (8-3) at Hawaii (5-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 28th, 10:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: Aloha Stadium (50,000) -- Honolulu, Hawaii. Television: ESPN U. Home Record: Navy 5-1, Hawaii 3-2. Away Record: Navy 3-2, Hawaii 2-4. Neutral Record: Navy 0-0, Hawaii 0-0. Conference Record: Navy 0-0, Hawaii 3-5. Series Record: Hawaii leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Already locked in to the Texas Bowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston on New Year's Eve, the Navy Midshipmen now make it their mission to make sure the Hawaii Warriors stay home for the postseason as the two squads collide at Aloha Stadium this weekend.
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, a native of Laie', Hawaii and a graduate from UH in 1989, was a player for the Warriors for a number of years so he is more than familiar with what to expect when he brings his Midshipmen to the shore. The academy has been watching from the sidelines since defeating Delaware by a score of 35-18 back on November 14th in Annapolis. The win was the second straight and the seventh in the last eight outings for the squad.
As for the Warriors, they need to win this and their season finale against Wisconsin next weekend just to become bowl eligible and again take part in the Hawaii Bowl, played right here in Honolulu. Since dropping six consecutive decisions, the Warriors have bounced back with a three-game win streak. The most recent of those triumphs came last Saturday in a 17-10 overtime decision against San Jose State on the road. Once a rarity, Hawaii has actually won two games on the mainland this season, the other coming against Washington State in the second game of the campaign.
Hawaii won the only previous meeting between the teams back in 1999 by a score of 48-41. Against the service academies, the Warriors have a mark of 8-11-1 all-time.
Consistently ranked as one of the top running teams in the country, the Midshipmen are at it again in 2009 with 282.6 ypg on the ground, ranking them third in the country. A total of seven players have gained a least 100 yards for the program on the ground, with Ricky Dobbs handling most of the action with his 227 carries for 797 yards. Bound to hit the end zone here and there, Dobbs has tallied 22 rushing scores this season, easily one of the best marks in the nation. Dobbs, who also serves as Navy quarterback, has tried to get that aspect of the offense up and moving, but it hasn't been easy. Granted, he has thrown for 752 yards and four touchdowns, but the team's average of just 70.8 ypg through the air means it is dead last among the 120 programs that make up the Football Bowl Subdivision. While it doesn't fall under the offense so to speak, Navy could stand some improvement on kickoff returns because the squad is averaging just 17.8 yards per attempt, 119th in the country this week.
For as much as the Midshipmen run the ball, one would think the team would get plenty of opportunity to practice stopping such plays by the opposition, but to this point in the campaign the team has had a hard time getting beyond the line of scrimmage. While its true that Navy has permitted just 133.9 ypg on the ground to rank 50th in the country at the moment, where the team figuratively drops the ball is in tackles for loss, averaging just 3.5 per contest. Ranking last in the entire FBS in TFLs is not easy to shake off, neither is ranking 98th in sacks per game with an average of just 1.3 per outing. If not for the efforts of Craig Schaefer who has four of the team's 15 sacks, one can only imagine how bleak the outlook would be. If the Midshipmen can't get into the backfield against Hawaii with any regularity that means Warrior QBs will be allotted plenty of time to pick their targets down the field.
It seems like all of a sudden, not only does Hawaii have a decent running game, it is actually making a huge difference in the outcome of games. Last weekend it took a five-yard touchdown run by Leon Wright-Jackson in overtime to get the Warriors into the win column for the third time in as many games. Wright-Jackson carried the ball 10 times for 65 yards, trailing Alex Green who registered 81 yards for the squad. Were it not for Shane Austin's three sacks the squad would have had a decent total on the ground. Austin was credited with one rushing score and 299 yards through the air for the team as well. For all the different players who have stepped in under center for Hawaii this season, one would think there would be a drop off in production, but after 11 games this squad still ranks first in the Western Athletic Conference and third in the nation with 347.1 ypg. But as huge as the numbers have been from time to time, this team has still been held to 17 points or less in four games in 2009.
The Hawaii defense was outstanding in the first half against the Spartans on the road, registering interceptions on three of the first four possessions by the home team. Lametrius Davis was credited with two of the picks, the other going to Mana Silva, while Tuika Tufaga got in on the act with a sack and a forced fumble that was recovered by Jeramy Bryant. The Warriors limited the locals to 21 fewer offensive plays and just 277 yards overall in the decision. Despite forcing a number of SJSU turnovers last weekend, Hawaii is still ailing in that department, ranked sixth in the league and tied for 107th in the country with a turnover margin of minus-0.73 turnovers per contest. Even though he has started just four of 11 games this season, Corey Paredes is still the top man on the team with his four sacks and has been credited with three forced fumbles. Silva is now up to six INTs on the year and combines that with 60 tackles to make him one of the more feared players on the Hawaii defense this season.
Navy already knows where it is heading next month, but the Warriors are still in limbo so the incentive should be on the side of Hawaii. However, as one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to stopping the run, the Warriors are setting themselves up for disappointment this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Navy 31, Hawaii 17
11/25 10:46:02 ET