In a primetime Labor Day matchup, BYU will kick its season off on the road against Navy on Monday night. The game will be televised on ESPN at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and Allison Williams on the call.
The Cougars will take on the Midshipmen for just the third time after more than a three-decade hiatus. The series is currently split at 1-1. The last contest took place in 1989 in Annapolis with the Cougars earnings a 31-10 victory. In the win, Ty Detmer threw for 353 yards and two touchdowns. Detmer’s 353 yards was the second game amidst a streak of 24 consecutive regular season games where he threw for 300+ yards — still an NCAA record.
After six consecutive winning seasons, Navy fell hard in 2018, as the Midshipmen won just three games. The program bounced back with an 11-2 record and a Top 25 finish in 2019. The 11-win season matched the school record for victories, which included a 20-17 victory over Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl.
Meanwhile, BYU is coming off a 7-6 season in what was a very inconsistent and up-and-down year. After starting out 2-1, with big wins over Tennessee and USC, the Cougars lost three in a row, including bizarre losses to Toledo and South Florida.
As an independent, combined with season cancellations by the Pac-12, Big Ten, and Mountain West Conferences, BYU’s schedule has been completely overhauled. The Cougars currently have an 8-game schedule with possible additions likely coming according to BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe.
Date: Monday, September 7
Time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Announcers: Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit, Allison Williams
Location: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (34,000) — Annapolis, Maryland
Playing at home, Navy opened up as a two-point favorite over BYU. However, that line has slowly dropped despite the fact that BYU lost Matt Bushman, its All-American tight end, to a season-ending injury last week. Right now, the game is listed as a pick’em with bettors expecting a matchup between two evenly matched teams.
Despite losing four of its top receivers, including the absence of Bushman, the Cougar offense should still take a step forward with the return of nearly everyone else. At quarterback, Zach Wilson returns for his junior season. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound dual threat quarterback was named the starter over sophomores Baylor Romney and Jaren Hall. Wilson is 100% healthy now after missing nearly two months last year with a thumb injury. The sophomore looks to top last year’s numbers after throwing for 2,382 yards, 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 62.4 percent completion rate in nine games.
While the Cougars are stacked at quarterback, they are pretty thin at running back with the departure of freshman Bruce Garrett and the season-ending injury to JUCO transfer Hinckley Ropati. Luckily, junior running back Lopini Katoa returns. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back rushed for 423 yards (5.6 yards per carry) as a freshman and followed it up with 358 yards (4.2 yards per carry) last year. Sophomore Sione Finau, who led the Cougars in rushing last year with 359 yards (6.2 yards per carry), is still coming back from an ACL injury he suffered towards the end of last season. Tyler Allgeier, who has played on both sides of the ball the last two years (running back and linebacker) is listed as the No. 2 back. The other option includes sophomore Jackson McChesney who showed his potential after Finau went down. In two games, the speedster still managed to rush for 274 yards and two touchdowns.
Despite losing its top 4 receivers from last year, Wilson will still have a lot of playmakers around him with the likes of Gunner Romney and Dax Milne. The two combined for 52 catches for 662 yards and four touchdowns. Even with the departures, Wilson will still have a lot of options as more than 15 players had at least one catch last season.
Lastly, BYU’s quarterbacks should have plenty of time in the pocket this year with an offensive line unit that has 115 combined starts. The two most notable players are left tackle Brady Christensen and center James Empey. Both were listed in Pro Football Focus’ top returning linemen for the 2020 season are have been named on a number of watch lists.
The Midshipmen have been nearly unbeatable in home openers under head coach Ken Niumatalolo. Over the past 12 years, Navy has won 11 games and has outscored its opponents 226-53.
But that streak will be in serious jeopardy as they go up against arguably their most difficult test in years for a season opener. Navy is also breaking in a new quarterback in Dalen Morris. The senior takes over for Malcolm Perry, who was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the seventh round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
While Perry rushed for 2,000 yards last year, Morris won’t likely have to replicate that performance with the return of its running back duo in Junior Jamale Carothers and Nelson Smith. Carothers rushed for 734 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, while Smith ran for 571 yards and seven touchdowns.
Last year, Navy led the nation in rushing offense with a school-record 360.5 yards per game and rushing for 52 touchdowns. The Midshipmen finished the year with a school-record 4,687 rushing yards.
Prediction: BYU 27, Navy 20
Both programs have done well in season openers over the years. Navy has the advantage of playing at home, however, with limited capacity due to COVID-19 and with an inexperienced QB making his first career start, the Midshipmen will keep things close for four quarters, but will eventually come up short.
Winning big games on the road seems to be BYU’s style under head coach Kalani Sitake and that should continue. With an experienced group, including players who skipped going to the NFL to have a big senior season, the Cougars should take care of business in Annapolis.
The Cougars tend to play well against inexperienced players, evident by last year’s game against USC. The key for BYU will be keeping its defense off the field for Navy’s long drives.