The second half of the season begins Saturday afternoon in Annapolis for the Mustangs.
SMU (4-2) will face a Navy (3-2) team the Mustangs have had issues defeating the past two years. In 2008, the Midshipmen did not attempt a pass as they took care of the Mustangs the last time the teams met in Maryland. Last season Navy used overtime to defeat SMU, 38-35.
But this will be the first time quarterback Kyle Padron has faced the Midshipmen. In 2009, Padron entered the game against Houston, the week after SMU played Navy. As a starter Padron is 9-3 including his 460-yard passing performance against Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl last season.
The Mustangs went 4-2 in the second half of the season in 2009, after starting the year 3-3. With a better start to the 2010 season the Mustangs are also looking for a better finish. Two of the toughest opponents come on back-to-back weekends for SMU playing Navy this weekend and Houston for homecoming next weekend. The final challenge will be the season finale at East Carolina.
The Mustangs are already 3-0 against conference opponents, including Rice and Tulsa within the western division, and finish their non-conference schedule with the chance to go 2-2.
It’s hard to judge how the team will approach this game. The Mustangs are just 1.5-point underdogs, and it is possible that is only because Navy is the home team. SMU is coming off a close win against Tulsa last week and has two divisional opponents the next two weeks including next week against Houston.
It is possible the Mustangs will overlook this game and seek conference glory. But if they can pull out a win on the road it can help maintain momentum, and give the team confidence to win on the road.
The Midshipmen only average 19.6 points a game, but only allow 17.6 points a game on defense holding opponents to just over 170 yards rushing and just over 140 yards passing a game. And their offense does most of its work on the ground.
Led by quarterback Ricky Dobbs, Navy ranks 10th in the NCAA in rushing yards per game with 260—Dobbs has 317 yards and five touchdowns rushing this season. But Navy has four other 100-yard rushers already this year. Vince Murray and Gee Gee Greene each have over 200 yards, with Murray is approaching 300. Greene is also the team's leading receiver with 13 catches for 197 yards. Greg Jones has 204 yards and one touchdown reception.
Navy has 12 touchdowns this season, nine of them are rushing. Time of possession can be a misleading statistic, but the longer the Midshipmen have the ball, the less time the potent Mustangs offense has it. Navy averages 33:28 minutes in possession a game, leaving their opponents with just 26:30 minutes to operate, about a seven-minute difference.
After playing while sick against Rice and only rushing for 45 yards on 11 carries expect Zach Line to be a big part of what the Mustangs offense does against Navy. He carried for 92 yards on 17 touches against Tulsa last week. The Navy defense is good, but it will be tough for them to contain Padron and all of the receiving weapons SMU has if the running game is successful.
Padron is coming off back-to-back 300-plus passing games—371 against Rice and 381 against Tulsa. After not looking like the same quarterback who tore apart Nevada’s defense last December things appear to be clicking again for the sophomore play-caller. While Line has been a pleasant surprise this season, the success of the offense still lies on Padron's shoulders, and his right arm.
The SMU defense will be called on to stop the run. The Mustangs have been good about keeping opponents' passing games in line, with the exception of Texas Tech, but Navy doesn’t throw often. Last week against Tulsa the Mustangs gave up 4.2 yards a carry, the highest team average allowed this season. Tulsa’s 135 rushing yards was second to the 190 rushing yards given up against TCU, but it took the Frogs 46 carries opposed to the Golden Hurricane’s 32.
The defensive MVP through the first half of the season may have been Ja’Gared Davis. Davis is third on the team in tackles with 44, but 12 of them are for a loss including seven sacks. He also has a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
The Mustangs are underdogs because they are on the road, but if they play as well as they have so far this season, they can return from Annapolis with a win.