Start Time: Thursday, December 28th, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. EST
Location: Navy-Marine Corps. Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland
All-Time Series: Navy leads, 28-11
Last Meeting: 9/10/1994. Virginia won, 47-10
Betting Line: Navy -1, O/U 55
Virginia Cavaliers Outlook (6-6)
Bronco Mendenhall has the Cavaliers back in a bowl game for the first time since the 2011 in what many felt could be a lost year for them before the season started. It was an incredible feat to get back to postseason play, but they have to feel slightly disappointed as well after finishing with a 6-6 record. Virginia got off to a blistering 5-1 start to the season, highlighted by a 42-23 win on the road at Boise State.
That obviously means they finished the season with a 1-5 mark, but if there is something positive to take away from that stretch, it’s that the win came against Georgia Tech, another triple option team. The Cavaliers rank 36th in total defense and 5th in red zone defense. However, they’ve allowed just over 178 yards per game on the ground, and Navy boasts the No. 2 rushing offense in the country at 343 yards rushing per game. Keep an eye on linebacker Micah Kiser and safety Quin Blanding, who finished No. 1 and No. 2 in tackles in the AAC and both were named first-team all-conference. Both will be playing at the next level in the near future.
Virginia’s offense is led by senior quarterback Kurt Benkert, who threw eight interceptions compared to 25 touchdowns this season. He will be going up against a Navy defense that fails to apply a consistent pass rush, which should give Benkert and his playmakers Olamide Zaccheaus and Doni Dowling the opportunities to make plays. The passing attack makes up for the Cavaliers’ struggle to run the ball, ranking 125th out of 129 FBS teams in rushing offense.
Navy Midshipmen Outlook (6-6)
Ken Niumatalolo knows exactly what Bronco Mendenhall and the Cavaliers are going through. They too started the season with an impressive 5-0 start, only to lose six of the last seven games. The win over SMU made Navy bowl eligible, but they have finished the season with three-straight losses. Granted, those losses came to three solid programs: Notre Dame, Houston and rival Army.
The Mids’ triple option is boring to some, but it’s proven to be effective. They’re the nation’s No. 2 rushing offense and may have found their most dangerous option at quarterback yet. Zach Abey was the starter for much of the season, but Malcolm Perry saw most of the action against Army and was explosive with the ball in his hands. Perry had 30 carries for 250 yards in the rivalry game, and now has 1,068 yards on just 122 carries this season. That’s an absurd 8.8 yards per carry. The Cavaliers defense will have their work cut out for them trying to stop Perry.
There is no reason to talk about the Mids passing game so let’s jump to the defense. They rank in the middle of the pack in just about every defensive category - 64th in pass defense, 62nd in rush defense and 58th in total defense - but struggle to generate turnovers, ranking 101st in the country. What Navy losses in overall talent, they make up in discipline, finishing ninth in the nation in fewest penalties committed. In order to come up with the victory, they’ll have to limit the damage Benkert creates through the air.
Some are favoring the Mids simply because it is a home game for them. Virginia isn’t too far away - 155 miles separate Charlottesville from Annapolis - and the Cavaliers are looking for their first bowl win since 2005. Meanwhile, it’s the sixth-straight bowl game for Navy and 13th in the last 14 years. The two teams haven’t played since 1994, and Virginia is currently sporting a five-game winning streak between the two programs.
However, all good things must come to an end. It does not matter how much time you have to prepare for Navy’s offense, they will have new wrinkles of their own to implement in the time off. Let’s also not forget that they’ve been in action more recently than UVA. Perry will be too much for the Cavaliers defense to contain and the defense will do just enough to give Navy another win in the Military Bowl.
Navy 33 - Virginia 30