The Mids capitulated against Cincinnati on Saturday as they lost 42-0 in what has to go down as the worst performance of the Ken Niumatalolo coaching era. Things get no easier for Navy in the short term either as they must now travel to take on No. 11 UCF, one of just four undefeated teams in the entire FBS.
Here are the three keys:
Find some first half production
Navy is mired in the middle of a six game losing skid. A loss at UCF on Saturday would mark the Mids first seven-game losing streak since way back in 2002. In order to turn around the recent run of dismal performances, Navy must start the game faster.
The Mids have been shut out in the first half in the last two games, first by Notre Dame and then here by Cincinnati. The result of both these situations was giant holes that the Mids option attack would struggle to get them out of even if it was firing on all cylinders, something the offense hasn’t done once in 2018.
Navy, with Zach Abey making his first start of the season at quarterback, produced just 57 total yards in the first half and never looked like scoring. The quarterback play has been an issue, but the level of play from the whole offense, and specifically the offensive line, has been as bad this season as it has been at any point this century.
Stop McKenzie Milton
Navy has to face a legitimate star at the quarterback position when they line up against Milton and the Knights on Saturday.
Milton is a likely Heisman Trophy finalist and he will find himself more and more in the discussion for the award if UCF keeps winning. After missing the game two weeks ago, Milton was once against sensational on returning to the lineup against Temple. He threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another in the 52-40 win, with UCF needing all of his production to counter balance a defense that gave up 670 yards of offense to the Owls.
While Milton looked healthy enough it was noticeable he took more hits than normal. The Navy defense has not been good over the last month, but for the Mids to have a shot in this one they will have to stop Milton dominating the game.
The Mids play a superior team on the road this weekend when they travel to Orlando. To have any chance of winning the Mids need to find a way to create extra possessions and the easiest way to achieve that is by winning the turnover battle.
This is one of the few areas where Navy has actually been pretty decent in 2018. The Mids rank 18th in the nation in turnover margin as they have gained 17 turnovers on the season and lost just 11. The problem facing Navy is that UCF is even more efficient and safe with the football as they rank second in the country in the category, with 20 turnovers gains and just six lost.
That +14 margin is something that the Mids will have to eat into if the offense is going to have a chance to put points on the board against a stout UCF defense.