ANNAPOLIS, Md. – SMU head coach June Jones frets about preparing his defense to face an offense it will only see once this season.
"It's just a hard offense to stop. Nobody executes it better or is more disciplined," Jones said.
Meanwhile, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo worries about stopping a high-powered passing attack that Jones has pioneered and perfected over the course of a 25-year coaching career.
"June knows this system better than anyone. He knows how to install it, how to teach it. I'm not surprised that he has SMU executing at a high level," Niumatalolo said.
Teams with dramatically contrasting offensive styles will meet Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Host Navy (3-2) is renowned throughout college football for its patented triple-option offense that has led the nation in rushing five times since 2003.
Jones is recognized as the country's foremost practitioner of the Run-and-Shoot and has SMU (4-2) running the system effectively in just his third season at the helm.
Both offenses were clicking on all cylinders last year when the schools engaged in a back-and-forth shootout in Dallas. SMU piled up 376 total yards while Navy countered with 399 total yards and escaped with a 38-35 overtime victory.
"I kind of have a feeling this will be more of a low-scoring game," Jones said. "Both teams are playing very well defensively and it's the third straight year we're playing each other."
Quarterback Kyle Padron and running back Zach Line lead an SMU offense that is averaging nearly 30 points and 415 yards. Padron, who owns a 9-3 record since taking over as the starter last season, is the trigger man of a passing attack that ranks 27th nationally with 265.5 yards per game.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore has completed 58 percent of his passes attempts for 1,564 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"The most impressive thing about (Padron) is his mechanics. You can tell he is very well-coached. He is always precisely on key with his mechanics. He does a good job of looking defenders off so you don't know where he's going with the football and has a great release," Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. "This quarterback has all the throws. He can throw the deep corners or the sideline outs. He also has a great understanding of the offense."
However, Line has added a new dimension to the SMU offense this season by rushing for 552 yards and five touchdowns. The bruising 6-foot-1, 235-pound sophomore has proven extremely effective on the goal-line with his ability to run over defenders.
"This is by far the best offense we will have seen and presents our biggest challenge to date," Green said. "We know they can dial up big numbers in the passing game with the way they stretch vertically and horizontally. At the same time they pose a multiple threat because they can run the football. That ability to run the football opens up the passing lanes even more."
Senior quarterback Ricky Dobbs orchestrates the Navy offense, which has sputtered at times this season despite producing 374.8 yards per game. The Midshipmen have moved the ball effectively between the 20-yard lines, but struggled to score and rank 98th nationally with just 19.6 points per game.
Navy entered last Saturday's contest at Wake Forest ranked 118th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools in red zone efficiency, having managed just seven touchdowns on 19 trips inside opponent's 20-yard line.
However, the Midshipmen corrected that problem by scoring touchdowns on all four of their forays into the red zone with Dobbs rushing and passing for two scores each.
Navy will be without the services of starting fullback and second-leading rusher Vince Murray, who suffered a sprained knee last Saturday. Fortunately, the Midshipmen have an experienced replacement in junior Alexander Teich, who started the initial six games of last season.
SMU is seeking to snap a 19 game non-conference road losing streak, which began way back in 1998. The Mustangs are just 1-6 against the Midshipmen since 1995.
GANSZ TROPHY: Navy and SMU now play for the Gansz Trophy, named in honor of the man who had a strong connection to both schools. Frank Gansz played and coached at Navy then later served as an assistant at SMU.
Gansz, widely regarded as one of the finest special teams coaches in NFL history, was starting his second season at SMU under current head coach June Jones when he died on April 27, 2009.
Former President George W. Bush, a Dallas resident, presented the Gansz Trophy to Navy after it defeated home-standing SMU 38-35 last year. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo confirmed this week that legendary former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil will present the traveling trophy this year. Gansz served as special teams and tight ends coach under Vermeil when the latter led the St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects day in fifth paragraph to Saturday instead of "today.")