ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Nobody runs it better in big-time college football than Georgia Southern and Navy.
The Midshipmen (4-5) lead the nation in rushing with an average of 350.4 yards per game. Georgia Southern (8-2) tops that, but because the Eagles are in the transition phase from the Football Championship Subdivision, their lofty 386.5 yards average does not count in the FBS rankings.
Georgia Southern quarterback Kevin Ellison has run for 945 yards and 11 touchdowns, not quite as much as running back Matt Breida, who has 1,224 yards rushing and 14 scores.
"This is probably the best option team I've seen on tape in all my years of coaching. Just very well-coached with great schemes," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "These guys have scored a ton of points against a lot of people. They have guys breaking long runs against Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, which shows the kind of speed they have."
Some things to know about the teams:
DIFFERING STYLES: Georgia Southern and Navy take different approaches to achieve the same results. The Midshipmen use the triple-option and the Eagles employ a zone option attack.
"There's lots of different ways to skin a cat," Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz said. "Philosophically, we both believe that running the football is the way to go. You have to adapt to your personnel and I think both systems do a good job of that."
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds, the trigger man of the Navy offense, has run for 686 yards and 11 touchdowns despite missing two games with a knee injury. Fullback Noah Copeland leads the Midshipmen with 740 yards rushing.
SHARED CONNECTION: These two programs share a bond that begins with Paul Johnson, who was head coach at both Georgia Southern and Navy.
It was Johnson who first installed the triple-option at Georgia Southern under head coach Erk Russell. The Eagles captured consecutive Division I-AA national championships (1985, 1986) using the unique system before Johnson departed to take the same position at Hawaii.
While directing the Rainbows to record-setting offensive numbers, Johnson had a pair of intelligent quarterbacks he kept on as graduate assistants. When Johnson was hired as offensive coordinator at Navy in 1995, he brought Niumatalolo and Ivin Jasper with him.
Johnson would leave Navy to become head coach at Georgia Southern, where he earned national titles in 1999 and 2000. He returned to Annapolis in 2002 as head coach and laid the foundation that has enabled the Midshipmen to post winning records in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
SENIOR DAY: Before the opening kickoff, Navy will honor 26 seniors playing their final home game. It is an accomplished class that has a 26-21 record, captured two Commander-in-Chief's Trophy championships and has gone to two bowl games.
"It's a good class that has won a lot of games for us. I'm just hoping that we finish strong for them. I would love nothing better than to see these guys go out the right way, especially for their senior game," Niumatalolo said.
NO PASSING FANCY: Navy ranks 123rd out of 125 FBS teams in passing yardage with just 94.6 per game. Georgia Southern isn't much better, producing an average of 107.7 passing yards.
Both teams, however, often produce big plays on the rare occasions they throw. The Midshipmen average 18.1 yards per reception with Reynolds and backup quarterback Tago Smith combining for seven passing touchdowns. The Eagles average 15 yards per catch with Ellison tossing five touchdowns.
COMMON OPPONENT: Both teams have played Texas State this season. Navy won 35-21 in San Marcos on Sept. 13 and Georgia Southern pulled out a 23-21 road win last Saturday.
Smith filled in for the injured Reynolds and led Navy to 469 total yards against Texas State, including 352 on the ground. Georgia Southern was limited to season-lows of 227 rushing yards and 268 total yards.