The Mids were simply outclassed by Notre Dame on Saturday in San Diego. Navy was down 27-0 at the break, before improving in the second half but still losing by more than three scores. The 44-22 loss shows how far Navy has regressed in 2018, but an immediate chance for some level of redemption occurs this week at the Mids travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bearcats.
Here are the three keys:
Stop Michael Warren
Navy sees a lot of offenses in the AAC that are keyed around passing the ball early and often, with wide open spreads and tons of three and four wide receiver formations. That is not how Cincinnati plays its football.
The Bearcats are similar to the Mids in that their offensive identity is based around the running game. The star of the show on the ground is Warren, a true freshman from Toledo, Ohio, who has rushed for 863 and 12 touchdowns so far this season.
The 5-foot-10, 212-pounder is a powerful and effective back behind the Bearcats strong offensive line. If Warren gets a crease, then he is going to be hard to the Mids to corral in the open field. The best bet to stopping him is to crowd the line of scrimmage, giving no lanes for Warren to burst into the secondary.
Sean Williams needs to make plays
It is not often in the three keys that we single out a defensive back for their playmaking ability. It is even rarer when that defensive back is making those plays by forcing fumbles instead of being an interception machine. That, though, is the level of Williams’ play this season, and especially over the last three games the Mids have played.
Williams leads the entire FBS in forced fumbles with five and he is on a streak of causing fumbles in three straight games. With Navy having lost five on the bounce, some of his efforts are going unnoticed, but his play is a bright spot on this otherwise underwhelming Navy squad.
Run like its 2017
These two programs have traveled in entirely different directions since the end of the 2017 season. Cincinnati finished last year 4-8, but they enter this game with a 7-1 record, their only loss coming in overtime. Navy, as mentioned earlier, has lost five straight.
In 2017, however, the Mids rumbled all over Cincinnati. The team rushed for 569 yards – the most allowed in the history of Cincinnati football – as Navy picked up a 42-32 win. On the flipside, Cincinnati rushed for just 59 yards.
Navy was able to dominate because of the speed of the triple-option attack and the high level of accuracy with which the offense was operated. That speed/tempo/accuracy equation has not been working in 2018, but maybe this is the week where the pieces finally fall into place.