Navy can clinch a bowl game for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons with a win against Southern Methodist Nov. 11.
However, the Midshipmen (5-3 overall, 3-3 American Athletic Conference) are still trying to determine who will lead their triple-option offense.
Starting quarterback Zach Abey (Archbishop Spalding) is battling a shoulder injury he suffered against Temple Nov. 2. Abey also suffered a concussion against Central Florida Oct. 21.
"Zach has played tremendously hard for us and done a lot of good things," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "He is definitely banged up. We're at a critical part of the season, and hopefully he gets healthy. Zach is a tough kid and has done a good job of getting treatment, but he's human and they hit him hard."
If Abey cannot play, Navy will rely on backup quarterback Garret Lewis to help end the team's three-game losing streak. Lewis, a junior, has been impressive in limited action this season and threw a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns during the 34-26 loss to Temple.
Lewis is also dual threat that can seamlessly run Navy's offense.
"If my number is called, I'm ready to go," Lewis said. "Our scout team does a really good job of playing at a high pace. So going against the scout team really prepared me well."
The Midshipmen face a tough test against SMU (6-3, 3-2). The Mustangs lead Navy by a .5 game for third place in the AAC's West Division.
SMU quarterback Ben Hicks leads a balanced attack. He has completed 202 of his 342 passes for 2,588 yards and is ranked 14th nationally with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. The ground attack is led by back Xavier Jones, who has 700 yards on 123 carries (5.7 yards per carry) with six touchdowns. Braeden West has also played well with 468 yards on 59 carries, while Ke'Mon Freeman has nine rushing touchdowns.
Regardless of who plays quarterback, the Midshipmen will have to do better protecting the ball. SMU has forced 19 turnovers, tied for the 15th-most in the country. The Mustangs will also be looking for a measure of revenge after being dismantled on their home field by Navy, 75-31, last season.
"We have to go to Navy, a team we have not fared well against in each of my two years here," SMU head coach Chad Morris said on the weekly AAC conference call. "Matter of fact, we were absolutely embarrassed at our place last year. It was a very disappointing loss, especially when we had a chance to win one of our last two to become bowl eligible and were unable to do that."
Navy will honor its 34 seniors prior to kickoff. That class is currently 33-15 (.688) during their careers, four victories away from tying the school record for wins by a senior class and five from breaking the record with three regular-season games remaining.
Navy, however, is just looking to get a win against the much-improved Mustangs.
"SMU always has one of the best offenses in the country and scores a ton of points. Defensively, they're playing really hard," Niumatalolo said. "I'm just impressed with their team right now. They're playing well on offense and getting a ton of turnovers on defense."
Photo Credit: Alex Edelman/PressBox