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How Bad Does Memphis Need to Win Against Navy, Bad Enough to Where the Season Could be Viewed as Over if they Don’t

Photo Credit: Carolyn Andros

The second game of a season is usually not a make-or-break game. Yet for fans of the Memphis Tigers, that sense of urgency surrounds their American Athletic Conference (AAC) opener against the Navy Midshipmen Saturday at Annapolis, Maryland.

Both teams come into the matchup in search of their first win. Against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on September 3, Memphis could not overcome the weather delays and a career-best day from Will Rogers, who passed for 450 yards and five TDs against the Tigers. Memphis trailed 28-3 at halftime before falling 49-23 to the SEC foe.

Navy enters the game after a lackluster season-opener against FCS Delaware, losing to the Blue Hens 14-7. The Midshipmen were uncharacteristically sloppy handling the football, fumbling four times and losing three. Last year, Navy lost a total of five fumbles all season.

What Occurred Against Mississippi State?

Offensively, sophomore QB Seth Henigan finished the game with a 19-for-30 performance, completing 165 yards and a TD for the Tigers. Senior RB Asa Martin finished with a game-best 58 yards receiving, pacing a ground attack that accumulated 129 yards. Fellow tailback Jeyvon Ducker finished the night with 63 rushing yards and one touchdown.

Defensively, DL Jaylon Allen was a beast for Memphis. The senior finished with 12 tackles and a sack for the Tigers. Defensive backs Greg Rubin and Quindell Johnson also recorded 17 tackles, forcing two fumbles against the Bulldogs.

Which Streak Ends?

This is the second consecutive game on the road for the Tigers to open in 2022. Memphis enters the game looking to snap a five-game losing road streak. The Tigers’ last regular-season road win came against Arkansas State on September 11, 2021, in a wild 55-50 shootout in Jonesboro. Annapolis is an especially difficult place for the Tigers to win, with Memphis boasting only one victory – a 10-7 conquest in 2020 – over the Midshipmen.

Meanwhile, Navy enters the game looking to beat Memphis for the first time in four tries. The Midshipmen have lost to the Tigers by a combined 80-47 score during the past three seasons, including a 35-17 defeat by Memphis last season. That marked the Tigers’ largest margin of victory of the academy-based school in their eight-game series history.

The New Look AAC

A win over Navy bodes well for the Memphis Tigers as the AAC conference will receive an extreme make-over heading into the 2023 season. Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF leave after this year, schools that have won five of the past seven AAC Championship Games.

Memphis played in three-straight AAC Championship games from 2017-2019, with the Tigers beating Cincinnati for the title on their last try. And among the remaining schools in the AAC, Memphis is the best-positioned school to return to the conference championship this season and beyond.

Of the six new members joining the AAC in 2023, only UTSA is poised to lead the conference soon. The Roadrunners were the college football Cinderella last year with a 12-2 record, winning the Conference USA Championship for the first time. Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, and UAB round out the list of schools joining the AAC in 2023.

A Must-Win Situation

Memphis has made no bones about wanting to join a Power 5 conference, and the Tigers are on the cusp of doing so after the recent realignment news. Beating Navy is the first step Memphis must take in that journey.

While Navy is respected for its triple-option rushing attack, losing to the Midshipmen will not be deemed a respectable loss. As an academy-based school, Navy has limited recruiting capabilities. Memphis – and its hotbed for talented football recruits – is miles ahead of where the Midshipmen stand in that category. The results of that discrepancy must be evident when the two teams meet this weekend for Memphis to be considered a Power-5-worthy team.

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