|Utah at Navy Matchups|
Utah Offense vs. Navy Defense
Utah has given RB Darrell Mack an average of 21 carries per game this year and he'll be the focal point of the offense yet again. Mack will be working against a Navy run defense that's giving up an average of 4.2 yards per carry and is vulnerable in the middle where he is at his best. Though he rarely gets caught out of position and he plays with a good motor, 285-pound NG Nate Frazier is going to have a hard time holding his ground working against a bigger Utah interior offensive line. His inability to occupy multiple blockers will make it easier for the Utes to get bodies on ILBs Irv Spencer and Ross Pospisil. In addition, the Utes can further weaken the Midshipmen's interior run defense by stretching their front with multiple-receiver sets.
|Utah vs. Navy|
When: Dec. 20, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Where: San Diego
Preview: Navy looks for record-tying win against Utah
QB Brian Johnson is an adequate open-field runner who flashes the ability to locate the open man when he drops back to pass but he doesn't always make sound decisions with the ball. As is the case with most quarterbacks, forcing Johnson to get rid of the ball quickly amplifies this problem so giving him enough time to find the open man and space to step into his throws is crucial for the Utes. The good news for Utah fans is they should have some success keeping the Navy pass rush at bay. While Utah's pass protection has been shaky at times a Navy front seven that that lacks a top-tier pas rusher has struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks. It's also worth pointing out that Johnson should be able to get rid of the ball quickly because Navy will have a difficult time matching up with WRs Derrek Richards, Brian Hernandez and Marquis Wilson.
Navy Offense vs. Utah Defense
QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada's ability to make accurate reads is critical to the success of a Navy option attack that averages more rushing yards per game than any other team in the country. After all, the defense dictates whether Kaheaku-Enhada sticks the ball in the belly of FB Adam Ballard, keeps the ball or pitches it to SBs Reggie Campbell and Zerb Singleton. If he sees the Utes' defensive ends fly upfield, he will give Ballard, who is a powerful between-the-tackles runner, the ball. Kaheaku-Enhada will keep the ball and attack the perimeter where he will make his second read when he sees the ends collapsing inside. If the Utah outside linebackers and safeties try to take away the pitch by floating outside, it will create a seam for Kaheaku-Enhada to turn upfield and he has above-average top-end speed. If the perimeter defenders start flowing inside in an effort to take away Kaheaku-Enhada, he will pitch the ball to Campbell or Singleton, who are both dangerous when they get into space. Meanwhile, the Utes struggled to slow Air Force's triple option attack earlier this year and NT Gabe Long separated his shoulder in the regular season finale so he may not be available or 100 percent healthy.
Utah's pass defense ranks as one of the best in the nation statistically, but it faces a unique challenge in this game. Kaheaku-Enhada has finished just one game with more than 10 passing attempts this year and that kind of commitment to the ground game obviously sets up the play-action package well. In addition, the Midshipmen are capable of manufacturing the occasional big play when they drop back to pass. Kaheaku-Enhada has adequate arm strength, Campbell is capable of turning a catch underneath into a long gain and WR O.J. Washington is averaging 21.3 yards per reception. Keeping that in mind, the Utes' back seven has to stay alert and avoid biting on any of Kaheaku-Enhada's play fakes.
Utah's Louis Sakoda has been impressive handling the place kicking and punting duties. As a place kicker, he hasn't missed a field goal attempt inside 40 yards this year and he's connected on 10 of his 13 attempts from beyond that range. He's averaging 44.8 yards per punt and he's placed 27 of his 69 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. As far as kickoffs go, Ben Vroman has shown great range with 17 of his 66 attempts resulting in touchbacks. However, a Utah kickoff cover unit that has been shaky at times has it work cut out for it working against Navy KOR Campbell. Campbell has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this year including one against Army in the season finale.
Navy PK Joey Bullen connected on a 51-yard field goal attempt against Army but he lacks ideal range and he doesn't consistently connect on field-goal attempts beyond 40 yards. P Greg Veteto is averaging 36.1 yards per attempt and he's placed four of his 21 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. More important, the Midshipmen have not covered punts well this year and they face dangerous PR Richards who returned a punt for a touchdown earlier this year.
Utes' QB Johnson is inconsistent, so expect him to make drive-ending mistakes that keep Navy within striking distance. It's also worth noting that this game isn't really being played at a neutral site because San Diego is home to a naval base. This should give the Midshipmen a slight edge in terms of noise level and momentum. However, Utah's superior talent, stronger kicking game and the departure of Navy head coach Paul Johnson will be too much for the Midshipmen to overcome in the end. While new head coach Ken Niumatalolo has excellent option experience, Johnson called his own plays and did an excellent job of adjusting during the game, as well as knowing exactly when to call the rare passing play. It will be tough for Niumatalolo to fill those shoes in his first ever game as a head coach.
Prediction: Utes 35, Midshipmen 28