Sunday, December 27, 2015

Navy faces Pitt in the Military Bowl

Navy (10-2) will take on Pitt (8-4) in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Monday, December 28.  The game will be played at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD, the home field of Navy.

The Military Bowl will be a matchup of a great rushing team against a great run defense.  The Mids are ranked number three in the country in rushing, averaging 319 yards per game.  The Panthers counter with the number 20 ranked run defense giving up a mere 126 yards per game.  This battle should ultimately decide the outcome of the game.

Pitt holds a 22-14-3 record against Navy dating back to 1912.  The two teams have split the last four meetings with the Mids winning the last time the two teams met in Annapolis in 2013.

The Military Bowl will be Navy’s 12th bowl appearance in the last 13 seasons.  Before the current streak, the Midshipmen had gone to just nine bowl games in its history.  Navy comes into the game looking for a school-record 11th victory.  A win over the Panthers would give the Navy senior class 36 wins and tie the school record with the class of 1909.  They would also be the first class in school history to win three bowl games.

The #21 ranked Midshipmen are led by prolific senior quarterback, Keenan Reynolds who finished fifth in this year’s Heisman Trophy voting.  Reynolds has scored 85 career rushing touchdowns, the most rushing touchdowns in Division I history and the second-most total touchdowns in FBS history.

Reynolds needs two touchdowns to tie and three touchdowns to break the FBS record for total touchdowns held by Kenneth Dixon of Louisiana Tech (87) and two rushing touchdowns to become the first player in NCAA history to have three seasons of scoring 23 or more rushing touchdowns in a season.

Reynolds has rushed for a school-record 4,415 yards in his career and has the third-most rushing yards in NCAA history for a quarterback. He is 65 yards behind West Virginia’s Pat White for second and 80 yards behind record-holder Denard Robinson from Michigan.

For Pitt to be in the game they will need to contain Navy’s triple option offense led by Reynolds and fullbacks Chris Swain and Quinton Ezell.  The three ball carriers have accounted for 37 rushing TDs this season.  Pitt faced a triple option team in Georgia Tech earlier this year and won 31-28 on a 56-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt with 1:11 left in the game.

Navy’s offense is more polished and quicker version than the one run by Georgia Tech.

The Pitt defenders will have to play a disciplined defense to not get beat by a surprisingly effective Navy passing game.  Reynolds has thrown for 1077 yards and seven touchdowns this season – five of them to junior wide receiver, Jamir Tillman. 

Pitt’s offense is led by junior quarterback Nate Peterman.  Peterman has thrown for 2150 yards and 19 touchdowns and his favorite receiver is junior Tyler Boyd.

Boyd leads the team with 85 receptions and six touchdowns.  The Military Bowl could be Boyd’s last game in a Panther uniform as he’s debating declaring for the NFL draft after the season.  Only a junior, Boyd has become Pitt’s career leader in both receptions (248) and receiving yards (3,308).

Tight end J.P. Holtz has 24 catches for 350 yards and four touchdowns.

Freshman running back Qadree Ollison has been the surprise contributor on the offensive side of the ball this season.  Ollison got his first action of the season in the season opener when James Connor and Chris James both went down with injuries.  Ollison ran for 207 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries in that game against Youngstown State.

Ollison leads the Pitt rushing attack with 1084 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Pitt became the first school in ACC history to sweep the league Rookie of the Year awards. The media voted redshirt freshman tailback Qadree Ollison Offensive Rookie of the Year while freshman safety Jordan Whitehead was voted Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Navy’s rush defense is ranked number 34 nationally, giving up just 138 yards per game.  Defensive Coordinator Dale Pehrson’s defense has forced 24 turnovers this year.  With the offense’s efficiency in protecting the football, the Mids have the best turnover ratio in the nation.

Navy has five players with 60 plus tackles this season including senior Will Anthony who also has 7.5 of the team’s 22 sacks and three forced fumbles.

Pitt has three players with 60 or more tackles, led by Jordan Whitehead with 99.  Ejuan Price leads the Panthers with 11.5 sacks and Avonte Maddox has three of the team’s 10 interceptions. 

Both teams like to run the football and will shorten the game with their ball control offenses.  That means that every possession will be important in this game.

The keys to winning the game for both teams are simple – control the opponent’s ground game, avoid turnovers, and don’t give away yards with penalties.  The team that is most successful in these three areas will win this very even matchup.

Festivities for the Military Bowl will kick off at 11:30 with a parade from Annapolis City Dock to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.  The F-18 Hornets from Oceana, VA will perform the fly-by and Miss America Betty Cantrell will sing the National Anthem.

Game time is set for 2:30 and will be televised on ESPN.

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