Virginia football fans have waited SIX years for this moment to occur, as they are scheduled to face the Navy Midshipmen in the 2017 Military Bowl sponsored by Northrop Grumman.This game is set to be played in Annapolis, Maryland, exactly where Navy has played their home games this season, which gives them a significant home game feel. But Charlottesville, Virginia is not a hike from Annapolis, as Virginia is expected to have a huge following and support group at this game. It has been more than a decade since Virginia has won a bowl game, while Navy has been bowling for 13 of the last 14 years. Both teams have dropped their last two games and are striving to bring back their school’s a huge Christmas present coming into 2018.
As of Sunday December 10th, the spread is set at minus one in favor of Virginia, so expect a back and forth battle that is grinded all the way to the end. Below is my preview of both teams that utilize totally different offensive schemes.
The Virginia offense is led by senior quarterback Kurt Benkert, who has thrown for 3,062 yards and 25 touchdowns. He has been a true benefactor for Virginia’s football team, pulling off an early-season road stunner against Boise State and winning three important ACC games among North Carolina, Duke, and Georgia Tech. Benkert has put this Virginia team on the map, with his poise in the pocket and making smart decisions in pressure situations. His protection of the ball and awareness has prevented him from losing the ball and getting sacked often. He is now up against the 75th ranked Navy defense, that has shown to be spotty against the pass. In Navy’s matchup against Houston, Navy allowed 227 passing yards and only forced six incompletions out of a sophomore quarterback. If he can find his top two receivers, Olamide Zaccheaus and Andre Levrone, this team can find success.
Defensively, Virginia is ranked 66th in the nation, allowing 26.7 points per game. This team is led by senior captains Quin Blanding and Micah Kiser, who are both projected to be drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. Linebacker Kiser has cemented himself into Virginia football history, recently winning the Campbell Trophy as college football’s top scholar-athlete. He was one of 13 finalists from all levels of college football who received an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship. As the winner, his scholarship is now increased to $25,000.
Kiser has been the key difference maker to a resurgent Virginia team, leading the ACC in tackling in each of the last three seasons. He compiled 132 tackles and five sacks in leading Virginia to the postseason. Free safety Blanding has also been seen all over the field with his tackling and chase down ability, passing Jamie Sharper as UVA’s all-time record holder in career tackles. This season he was ranked second in the ACC in tackles, slotted after Kiser.
Both players have earned All-American honors and have continued to show leadership to the younger guys in the locker room.
Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is most frequently credited for the innovation of the triple-threat option offense that is a brand of football that is uncommon to all fans. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo was an assistant with Johnson and brought along the offensive scheme to Navy’s football program. It focuses on clock management, as they run nearly the entire time and give the opposing team fewer possessions during a game. Even teams with higher talent have to make great use of every possession they get because Navy will suck up every second of the clock to put teams on their toes. Navy’s rushing offense was ranked second in the nation, averaging 5.52 yards per carry and accumulating over 4,100 yards on the ground. Virginia’s run defense is ranked 78th in the nation, allowing 180.1 ypc, which bodes well for a run-heavy offense.
On defense, they have elected to man-to-man coverage as the cornerstone of a more aggressive defensive strategy. Navy was forced to make adjustments especially in a pass-friendly American Athletic Conference, which consist of teams that employ spread-passing attacks that feature four and five receivers. So far, they have seen decent success, ranking 58th in the country, mainly due to their ability to control the clock.
Virginia hasn’t won a bowl game since 2005, while Navy has vast experience with bowl games, reaching bowl games for the last decade except 2012. Their last bowl win came in the Military Bowl in 2015 against the Pittsburgh Panthers 44-28. Virginia has lost a lot of steam, getting shutout at home against in-state rival Virginia Tech, and dropping consecutive games before that. Navy has also lost three straight games, losing last week to Army 14-13 in a game they were favored in.
Virginia has a lot more to play for, especially since leaders Blanding and Kiser want to leave this school with a bowl win under second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall. They will take uncharacteristic risks and do everything in their power to squeak out a win. Virginia prevails 28-24