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Temple faces the challenge of containing the Navy triple option

The Owls have successfully defended against the triple in the last two meetings with the Midshipmen.

Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (10) runs the ball during the annual Army-Navy football game at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. TIM TAI / Staff Photographer
Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (10) runs the ball during the annual Army-Navy football game at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. TIM TAI / Staff PhotographerRead moreTim Tai

When Temple visits Navy for an American Athletic Conference game Saturday, the Owls will be facing a struggling team, but one that poses a major challenge with its triple option.

In these pass-happy times in college football, Navy still runs the triple. The Midshipmen (2-3, 1-1 AAC) have had more of their trouble on defense, although last week the offense was held in check in a 35-7 loss at Air Force.

Temple (3-3, 2-0) has had success in defending the triple option the two most recent times the teams have met. The first came in the 2016 AAC championship game when the Owls won, 34-10, at Navy. Last year, Temple turned its season around with a 34-26 win over the Mids at Lincoln Financial Field. In that game, the Owls limited Navy to 136 rushing yards on 18 carries.

This year, Navy is second in the nation among Football Bowl Subdivision schools in rushing, averaging 310.4 yards. (Georgia Tech, another triple-option team, leads with 373 yards per game.)

With Navy the only triple-option team on Temple's schedule, the Owls began preparing for it in the spring.

"We do a good job making sure it is an emphasis throughout the year," coach Geoff Collins said about working on defending the triple option. "We had periods where we focus on Navy during spring ball. We had periods during the preseason to try to help somewhat, but once it is there live in person, it is very different than what you try to simulate."

The key for Navy in the triple option is the quarterback. Navy has employed three QBs, but the main one is Malcolm Perry, who last year against Temple was playing slot back. Perry had quite a game against the Owls with five receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. He ran five times for 23 yards and threw a 5-yard touchdown on an option pass. Last December, he returned to Philadelphia as a quarterback in Navy's 14-13 loss to Army and rushed for 250 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown.

In the triple option, the quarterback has the choice of handing off to a fullback who usually dives up the middle, pitching it to one of two slot backs, or keeping the ball.

A quarterback has to have good ballhandling skills, which Perry possesses.

This season, Perry has rushed for 584 yards (5.6 average) and six touchdowns. He has completed only 7 of 22 passes for 142 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but when the 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior has the ball, he must be accounted for.

"He is able to make plays outside of the framework," Collins said. "He executed it at a high level, and he is such a dynamic athlete that he can make the special plays even when you do have it defended soundly.".

Temple at Navy

When, where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Navy Marine-Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md.

Record: Temple 3-3, 2-0 American Athletic Conference; Navy, 2-3, 1-1.

TV/Radio: CBS Sports Network/1210 AM, WPHT.

Coaches: Temple, Geoff Collins (second season, 10-9); Navy, Ken Niumatalolo (12th season, 86-50).

Series history: Temple leads, 7-6. The most recent meeting was the Owls' 34-26 win over Navy on Nov. 2, 2017 in a game that turned around the Owls season.

Three things to watch

A game against the Midshipmen is always about defending against the triple option. Even though Navy has had trouble finding consistency, the Mids are No. 2 nationally in rushing offense, averaging 310.4 yards. In last season's 34-26 win over Navy, Temple did a great job against the triple option, limiting the Mids to 136 yards on 52 carries. Navy could use as many as three quarterbacks, but the key is Malcolm Perry, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior who was a receiver the last time the teams played. Perry has rushed for 584 yards (5.6 avg.) and six touchdowns and has explosive speed and the ability to get to the outside. Perry is such a big part of the offense that nobody else on Navy has rushed for 200 yards, although five players have 100 or more, including backup quarterback Lewis Garret, who has rushed for 127 (3.6 avg.) and three touchdowns.

Temple has scored 31 or more points in four straight games. Navy is allowing 33.4 points per game, 101st among Football Bowl Subdivision schools. One of the reasons for Navy's struggles has been a lack of big plays on defense. The Midshipmen are 129th and last in tackles for loss, averaging 2.6. Temple, on the other hand, can strike quickly. Junior Isaiah Wright is a big-play performer at receiver or on special teams. Last week, he returned a punt 59 yards for a touchdown and scored on a 19-yard touchdown pass. With Navy having just six sacks, Temple quarterback Anthony Russo could get ample time to throw, which could lead to some big plays.

Temple has a scored at least one non-offensive touchdown in every game this season. The Owls have scored five TDs on special teams and three on defense. This type of aggressive play also has taken some pressure off the offense. Special teams coach Ed Foley and defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker preach this aggressive approach that has led to the eight scores.