Keenan Reynolds will look to put a final exclamation point on his record-setting career as he leads the Navy Midshipmen against the Pitt Panthers in the Military Bowl. Reynolds now sits two touchdowns behind Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech for total touchdowns scored in a career with 85, and he will look to catch Dixon in what will be a final home game for the Navy seniors. Reynolds would also move ahead of Dixon in points scored for a non-kicker in FBS history with two touchdowns, and he sits 81 yards away from breaking Denard Robinson's all-time rushing record for a QB as well.
Navy will also look to earn their 11th win for the first time in program history and end the season ranked in the top 20 for the first time since 1963. Pitt is looking to finish their season on a high note under first year head coach Pat Narduzzi and send star receiver Tyler Boyd out with a victory if he decides to forego his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft. These two programs are familiar with each other as this will be the 40th meeting between them, with the last coming in 2013 where Navy came out on top 24-21.
When Navy has the ball:
The numbers would seem to favor Navy heavily on the offensive side of the ball. Both teams have a desire to limit opponent's possessions and control the time of possession. However, Pittsburgh's defense has done a poor job this season limiting explosive plays, specifically in the run game. While they are a top 25 team in rushing yards per game, they have given up 21 plays of 20 yards or more on the ground. This can be seen in the Rush IsoPPP discrepancy above.
The biggest overall gap when Navy has the ball could be in the ability to finish drives, where Navy ranks 12th in the country to Pittsburgh's 111th.
Of note, Navy is first in the country in points per possession. This comes back to the efficiency of their offense which ranks fifth and their ability to finish drives.
The ability of first team All-ACC defensive end Ejuan Price to make plays in the backfield will be a huge factor in whether or not the Navy offense is able to get into an efficient rhythm and finish drives. Price has 19.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks on the season, and he will have to continue to be a disruptive force for Pitt to have success in this one. Another playmaker to watch is co-ACC rookie of the year Jordan Whitehead. He leads the Pitt defense in tackles as a freshman and has been sensational in his first season with the Panthers.
While Pitt has a top 25 rushing defense in yards per game, the advanced stats seem to tell a different story. Look for sustained drives that result in several long runs throughout the day when Navy has the football.
When Pittsburgh has the ball:
The advanced statistics would once again seem to favor Navy when Pitt has the ball. However, the one area in which Pitt seems to have a decided advantage is efficiency. Just like Navy, Pitt will try and be methodical in their drives, capitalizing on their efficiency and limiting the amount of possessions of their opponent. Both teams have been successful in this regard this season, which could result in a fast moving, low possession game.
The biggest discrepancy on this side of the ball is explosiveness in which Navy has been very effective at limiting the big play this season while Pitt has struggled to pick up yardage in chunks.
An area in which Pitt could look to capitalize is in the passing game. While Navy has been pretty successful at limiting big plays in the passing game, they rank 106th in the country in pass success rate. This is where do-everything first team All-ACC receiver Tyler Boyd must take advantage and help his team.
While the Navy defense has shown up time and time again this season, Boyd and co-ACC rookie of the year Qadree Ollison will probably find some measure of success and keep this game tight into the fourth quarter.
Advantage: Slight to Navy
This should be a really good game between two excellent programs. Between the two of them, the only loss that did not come at the hands of a top 25 program was Pittsburgh's loss to Miami their last time out. While the advanced statistics throw almost every category Navy's way, expect a hard fought battle that will probably come down to who is able to capitalize on the limited number of possessions throughout the contest.
Prediction: Navy 24-Pitt 20
Prediction: Keenan Reynolds ties Kenneth Dixon with 87 career total touchdowns in his final game as a Midshipman, setting the all-time points scored record (non-kicker) and career QB rushing yard record in the process.