Aulbach: Navy to test Topper run defense

Lucas Aulbach

The team that takes the field against the Toppers Saturday should be a unique sight for people in the Smith Stadium stands.

Navy (2-0) runs the triple-option offensive system, where the quarterback is just as likely to run with the ball as the fullback and running back joining him in the backfield. It’s the definition of ground-and-pound — the Midshipmen have thrown just 20 passes through two games this year, picking up 308 yards through the air as opposed to 796 on the ground.

It’s a style that has served them well. Navy is undefeated through two games and leads the nation in rushing yards per game, as the Midshipmen average 398 yards on the ground a contest.

That’s a number that should jump off the page to WKU fans. Through their first four games, the Toppers have given up 782 yards on the ground — a figure which ranks No. 95 in the NCAA.

Navy is about to go up against a team that is replacing its entire starting defensive line from a season ago. The Midshipmen on offense are probably licking their chops just thinking about the weekend.

None of this has been lost on coach Bobby Petrino. While the Toppers could definitely use another non-conference win before beginning their Sun Belt schedule, the coach said his team is looking at this weekend’s game as a fun chance to face a unique system.

“Everything about it is something you don’t practice all the time,” Petrino said Monday. “It’ll be a challenge for us, but I think our guys are excited about it. They understand how good they are at doing it, so it’ll be fun.”

Navy has playmakers behind the center in quarterback Keenan Reynolds, whose mark of 118 rushing yards per games ranks No. 17 in the nation, and Darius Staten, who has 130 rushing yards on 11 carries through two games. A lot of pressure is going to be on the young defensive line and experienced linebackers to hold those guys to short yardage.

WKU will have its best shot at a win if it can score early and score often. The run-based triple-option is built to run the clock after building a big lead. If the Toppers can put a lot of points on the board early and shut out the Navy offense, the Midshipmen may be forced to air it out to try and put enough points on the board to catch up.

The offense can only do so much, though. This game might be the best test yet for the young Topper defense. WKU has yet to face an elite rushing offense, and the team is about to take the field against one of the best. The results should be a fair gauge of where the Toppers stand heading into Sun Belt play.