After what has to be seen as a largely disappointing season Navy has one last shot at redemption. The loss to Army was a brutal one – one of many games that played out that way over the latter half of 2017 – but a Military Bowl victory over Virginia would send the Mids into the long offseason on a positive note.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Slow down Kurt Benkert
Navy has faced some elite passers in 2017 and in their bowl game the Mids are getting another quarterback that has been very good this year.
Kirt Benkert may not have a lot of name value outside the ACC, but he has passed for over 3,000 yards with 25 touchdowns and just eight interceptions through 12 games this season. That ties him for first in the conference in touchdown passes (with three other players) and he was the deciding factor in Virginia’s biggest win of 2017, an out of nowhere upset of ranked Boise State.
Benkert has the ability to keep Virginia in this game no matter how well Navy plays. Their passing defense has been average – the Mids are ranked 61st against the pass giving up 221.7 yards per game – so someone in that defensive backfield needs to step up and slow Benkert down.
Use home-field advantage as an advantage
There aren’t that many schools that get the chance to play their bowl game on their home field. Navy has that chance in the Military Bowl and it is a huge advantage that they need to make the most of.
The clue that this is important should come in the way that NFL franchises strive for a whole season to secure home-field advantage in their playoffs. There is a routine about playing at home that players get used to. They aren’t in an unfamiliar city in unfamiliar hotel beds. Instead, they can prepare as if this were any other game.
The home fans are also a big part of this advantage. Odds are that Navy would have a crowd advantage over Virginia no matter what city this game was played in – with the exception of Charlottesville – but at home the Mids advantage will be more sizeable than anywhere else. That crowd noise will spur Navy on to a victory.
Crush the running battle
Out of all the bowl games in 2017, this is the one with the biggest rushing discrepancy. The Mids are outstanding when it comes to running the ball. Virginia isn’t just bad, they are awful.
The numbers here speak for themselves. Navy rushes the ball for 343 yards per game at an average of 5.52 yards per carry and has scored 35 touchdowns on the ground. It is worth noting here that both the average yards per game and the number of total touchdowns feels like it would have increased – and increased substantially – if Malcolm Perry had been the quarterback all season long.
Virginia – on the other hand – rushes the ball for 67.8 yards per game. That is only good for 125th out of the 129 FBS teams. The Navy rushing defense hasn’t exactly been a brick wall in 2017, but the unit is certainly capable of dealing with Virginia’s weak rushing approach.
It should also be remembered that the one time the Cavaliers faced an offense akin to Navy’s in 2017 it did not go all that well for them. Georgia Tech rushed for 220 yards and three touchdowns against Virginia in a game in which the Cavs escaped with a 40-36 win. Navy has the ability to roll for 300 plus yards and win the rushing duel by over 200 yards on Thursday.