Boat Race: USC-Navy preview

What: Navy (2-0) at No. 10 South Carolina (2-0);
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250), Columbia, SC;
When: Sat., Sept. 16, 6 p.m.;
TV/Radio: ESPN2 (Mike Patrick, Craig James, Jeannine Edwards); Gamecock Radio Network, 107.5 FM In Columbia (Todd Ellis, Tommy Suggs, Terry Cousin); Replay on SportSouth (Andy Demetra and Brad Muller).
South Carolina will try to stay unbeaten when it hosts the Navy Midshipmen Saturday night in Columbia in the 2011 home opener. USC has posted a pair of high-scoring wins in the first two weeks featuring plenty of big plays by the Gamecock defense. USC coach Steve Spurrier hasn't minced words this week - he expects his team to play better on both sides of the ball.
The way South Carolina has thrown the ball the first two games, the best strategy against the smaller Navy defense might simply be to hand the ball off to sensational running back Marcus Lattimore and let him work his magic running between the tackles. Inside zone, anyone?
Stephen Garcia has led USC to a pair of early-season wins, but his numbers aren't the ones you usually see from a Spurrier-coached quarterback. Garcia has completed 18-of-40 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns.
Last Saturday, he was overthrowing receivers early before finally settling down. He threw only seven passes in the second half as USC correctly put the game on Lattimore's broad shoulders, but one was a clutch fourth-down completion to Alshon Jeffery and another was a 30-yard scramble pass to Ace Sanders.
USC has never lost when Lattimore carried the ball 20 or more times in a single game. Historically, Navy has experienced trouble stopping big, strong running backs like Lattimore. So, if USC is able to exert its physical advantage in size and strength along the offensive front, it could be an extremely productive night for the sophomore running back.
Lattimore has 288 yards rushing in the first two games. The most likely scenario is a third straight 100-yard rushing game for him.
The biggest concern right now for the USC offense is the lack of wide receivers supporting Jeffery (10 catches) and Sanders (4 catches) in the passing game. Jason Barnes, D.L. Moore (injured) and DeAngelo Smith have largely been invisible in the first two games.
Nineteen of the 21 receptions have been made by Jeffery (10), Lattimore (5) and Sanders (4). Wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. sought to diversify the passing attack when the season started, but so far it hasn't worked out. This contest should give another receiver an opportunity to break out before the Gamecocks jump into the heart of their conference schedule next week.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott isn't issuing any apologies for playing the same five linemen for the entire Georgia game. As long as this week's game remains close, you should expect the same thing to happen.
Defensively, Navy knows it won't be able to match up physically with USC along the line of scrimmage. Under defensive coordinator Buddy Green, the Midshipmen prefer to play a 'bend-but-don't-break' philosophy against Division I programs that, like the Navy offense, tests the opponent's patience.
While linebackers Matt Warrick and Matt Brewer (three forced fumbles) are very active and lead the Navy defense with 17 and 16 tackles, respectively, Navy's best defensive player might be senior defensive end Jabaree Tuani, who tops the defense with 37 career appearances.
The 6-foot-1, 265-pound Tuani is already considered one of the best defensive ends ever to play at Navy. Last season, he registered a team-high 15.5 tackles for loss (ninth most in a season by Navy player) and finished second with five sacks. Tuani has 10.5 sacks in his career. He will be a handful for right tackle Rokevious Watkins.
Navy prefers to play the 3-4, but will occasionally shift into even man fronts. The Midshipmen have been very good early in the season at forcing turnovers, seven in all on four fumbles (tied for fifth most in the country) and three interceptions. Last year, Navy forced almost two turnovers a game.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Stephen Garcia, RB Marcus Lattimore, WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Jason Barnes, LT Kyle Nunn, RT Rokevious Watkins, C T.J. Johnson.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: De Jabaree Tuani, NG Jared Marks, ILB Matt Brewer, ILB Matt Warrick,
COACH'S COMMENT: "Navy might be as good of an independent school as there is in the country. They've won 10 and nine and eight the last three years. I think they've beaten Notre Dame a couple of times. They're leading the nation in rush offense right now. They run the triple option, fullback, quarterback, pitch guys. We're going to have our hands full slowing down these guys. Their coach has done an unbelievable job, 29-14 in his three years" - USC head coach Steve Spurrier.
Navy's best defense on Saturday night might be their offense. In other words, the Midshipmen hope they can sustain some long drives and keep the talented USC offense - and its own defense - off the field.
Navy's narrow 31-27 loss at Ohio State in 2009 provides the blueprint of what can happen when the Midshipmen control the ball and dictate the offensive tempo. Navy started that game with a 15-play, 80-yard TD drive on its initial possession.
Later, they put together an incredible 15-play, 99-yard TD drive that drained 8:38 off the clock. The result of all that ball control by the Mids? The game went down to the wire with Ohio State intercepting the two-point conversion and returning it 99 yards for a two-pointer of its own to escape with the four-point win.
Quarterback Kriss Proctor directs a triple option offensive attack that is foreign to most SEC defenses. Navy looks to exploit that unfamiliarity by confusing defenses and grounding out yardage and consuming the clock. Proctor has been described as the fastest Navy quarterback in recent memory, so he's a perfect fit for the triple option.
Proctor is described as a QB who knows how to read defenses and is very skillful at distributing the football. He leads Navy in rushing with 199 yards on 38 carries in two games. He opened the season by rushing for 176 yards on 22 carries against Delaware, his second career 100-yard rushing game.
Navy did suffer a huge blow when senior running back Aaron Santiago suffered a season-ending broken forearm injury late in the first half at Western Kentucky last week. Santiago was one of the fastest players on the team (4.49 seconds in 40; 3.99 seconds in pro agility drill, fastest mark on the team). But Navy has plenty of choices with co-captain Alexander Teich (nicknamed "Alexander the Great"), a fullback, hoping to fill the void with his hard-nosed running style. Columbia native Gee Gee Greene is also an integral part of the offense at slot back. He has 833 career rushing yards (6.9 ypc; fifth best in school history) and five touchdowns.
After two weeks, Navy is the top rushing team in the nation, averaging 400.5 yards per game on the ground. But the defensive talent it must face this week is far and away the best it has seen this season. In terms of throwing the ball, Navy picks its spots and will patiently wait until they feel the time is right to throw it.
So far this season, Navy has thrown the football 14 times with seven completions in two games. Yet, it has three touchdown passes, the major reason why Navy is No. 119 in the country in passing offense and No. 3 in passing efficiency. Navy is averaging 20.9 yards per completion, a sign it often take teams by surprise.
The USC defensive line must guard against being overly aggressive. Defending the triple option requires the D-Line to display enough discipline to keep from going too far 'vertical,' something they're accustomed to doing against more conventional offenses. The best term for it is "controlled aggression." How well the line handle its assignments and stay at home will be one of the keys to the game.
In an effort to boost the run-defense, DeVonte Holloman has been moved to strong safety with D.J. Swearinger sliding over to free safety, giving the defense a similar look to last season.
The worst-case scenario for the USC defense is for Navy to maintain ball possession for long stretches of time, chew up the clock and fail to forces turnovers. If that happens, Spurrier and the offense will grow increasingly frustrated as the night wears one.
Conversely, the USC defense hopes to force as many three-and-outs as possible and get the Navy offense to throw the ball more than it would like. Grabbing an early lead at home wouldn't hurt in those efforts.
Navy's worst fears are for the Gamecocks to dominate the defensive interior, push the Navy center out of the way and wreak havoc in the backfield before the Midshipmen are able to execute their run plays. Without question, the athleticism and quickness of the USC defensive line will be a lot for the Navy offensive line to block. Will Navy be able to block Clowney, Ingram and Taylor, and avoid penetration from this three?
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: QB Kris Proctor, SB Gee Gee Greene, SB John Howell, FB Alexander Teich, RG John Dowd.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: DE Devin Taylor, DE Melvin Ingram, DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Travian Robertson, MLB Shaq Wilson, CB Stephon Gilmore, SS DeVonte Holloman, FS D.J. Swearinger.
COACH'S COMMENT: "We feel like it's an offense that gives us a chance to compete. People don't see it as much anymore, besides us and other academies and Georgia Tech. Everybody else is in the spread or running conventional stuff. I think from that standpoint, it helps us that guys don't have as many days to prepare for it" - Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo
Quarterback - Even
Running Back - Edge to USC
Wide Receiver - Edge to USC
Offensive Line - Edge to USC
Tight End - Even
Defensive Line - Edge to USC
Linebacker - Edge to USC
Secondary - Edge to USC
Special teams - Edge to USC
SYNOPSIS: When you spend your college years training for warfare, not much is going to rattle you. Thus, Navy won't be intimidated by the boisterous environment at Williams-Brice. Nevertheless, after dousing Delaware and Western Kentucky in its first two contests, squaring off with a nationally ranked SEC team is a quantum leap forward for the Midshipmen. Nothing they've encountered in the first two weeks has prepared them for what they will face on Saturday night. Navy's best hope is the USC defense continues to underperform and fails to play with discipline as the Midshipmen try to establish the run early. But can Navy find a way to contain Lattimore, Jeffery and the USC offense? Doubtful.
PREDICTION: Time of possession rarely determines the outcome of a football game, but this could be one game where it tells the tale. If Navy is able to put together a couple of long drives, frustration could set in for the Gamecocks. But don't count on that happening. USC's athleticism on defense will be the difference. Moreover, expect Lattimore to spearhead a dominant USC offense that overpowers the undersized Navy defense. Spurrier doesn't lose these kind of games - he is 42-0 against non-BCS schools, including a 16-0 mark since his arrival in Columbia. But he has never faced Navy as a head coach. Is it still 1984? No. Sorry.
The Pick: USC 34, Navy 14
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