Memphis Tigers Travel to Naval Academy for Key AAC West Game Saturday

By Don Wade

What’s not to like about a trip to Hawaii? If you’re the Navy Midshipmen, a lot. Despite going to Hawaii early to make the adjustment to the time change, Navy spotted the home team a 28-0 lead before losing 59-41 last weekend.

University of Memphis Coach Mike Norvell (center) runs warm-up drills before the start of the Tigers' game against the Mercer Bears at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1. (Daily News/Jim Weber)

When the Midshipmen returned to practice on Tuesday to begin preparations for Saturday’s game against the University of Memphis in Annapolis, Maryland, their pads were still in route.

Not until Wednesday did quarterback Malcolm Perry say he was starting to feel like himself again.

“Coming back kind of caught me,” Perry said of adapting to the Eastern time zone again.

Not that anyone wearing Tiger blue was concerned.

“They don’t care we traveled all that way,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “They don’t care that we got whupped.”

There was no hiding what Hawaii’s offense did to Navy. Of the Rainbow Warriors’ 522 total yards, 436 came through the air. Quarterback Cole McDonald threw six touchdown passes and two Hawaii receivers tallied more than 160 yards in receiving.

While this edition of the Memphis Tigers doesn’t have Anthony Miller at wide receiver or a veteran quarterback in Riley Ferguson – grad transfer Brady White will make his second Memphis start at QB – the Tigers did show off their own offensive firepower in a season-opening 66-14 romp over Mercer that included a 56-0 lead at halftime.

Tigers defensive back T.J. Carter (2) and Bryce Huff celebrate after Carter ran in an interception to score during the University of Memphis Tigers' game against the Mercer Bears at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1. (Daily News/Jim Weber)

“Their skill players are challenging everywhere,” said senior Navy safety Sean Williams (Cordova High School). “The team’s very talented regardless of big names (that left). You just gotta hold respect for what they did even though Mercer’s not the most equal opponent.”

Niumatalolo has said do not expect to see personnel changes on defense despite the team’s poor showing.

“It’s one game,” the coach said.

Besides, the Midshipmen were heartened by pulling to within 10 points in the second half as Perry and the offense found a rhythm.

Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said Perry could have done some things better in the first week, but he accepted the bulk of blame for the offense’s sluggish start. The offense did not commit a turnover, however. Last year when Memphis beat Navy 30-27 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, they committed five – or the most since making six in 2002 versus Boston College.

“The losses (of yardage), that was really the play-calls,” Jasper said of the first-half ineffectiveness at Hawaii. “We ran the wrong protection for some certain looks.”

Said Perry: “We got off to a slow start, but we did some great things and moved the ball. We didn’t get down. We kept pushing.”

Perry, a junior, is the starting quarterback after playing three games there last season and nine as a slot back. Wherever he lines up, he’s dangerous. His 8.6 yards per carry last year was a school record.

Against Hawaii, Perry had a 75-yard TD run.

“He’s one of the most dynamic players in our conference,” said Memphis coach Mike Norvell. “You’ve got to get him down. If he gets an open field, there are not many people that are catching him.”

And what’s going through Perry’s mind when he sees an open field in front of him?

“It feels good to be in space,” he said. “If that’s where I’m at, we’re in good position as an offense.”

The winner of this game will be in very good position in the West Division of the American Athletic Conference, too.

“It’s a good amount of pressure,” Williams said. “Good implications and bad implications on both sides.”

Williams’ hope is that there will be a benefit to the loss the Midshipmen suffered in so-called paradise, a set-up for a much better performance on Saturday against his hometown team.

“It was an eye-opener,” he said. “So we’re looking to take advantage that we caught such a good team at the beginning and sharpen our tools for the rest of the season.”