Preseason Preview: Navy vs. Pittsburgh

We are up to the seventh installment in our breakdown of Navy's football opponents throughout the 2013 campaign. Next up is the second ACC foe of the season, but yet a team who has yet to play an ACC game at this point. Read on and all will be revealed.

We are up to the seventh installment in our breakdown of Navy's football opponents throughout the 2013 campaign. Next up is the second ACC foe of the season, but yet a team who has yet to play an ACC game at this point. Read on and all will be revealed.

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 26; 1 p.m. EST

WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (Annapolis, Md.) LAST SEASON: 6-7 (3-4 Big East, 5th place in Big East; Lost 38-17 to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl)

CURRENT PRESEASON RANKING: Not Ranked

SERIES HISTORY: Pittsburgh leads, 22-13-3. (Last meeting: Pittsburgh 27, Navy 14, 2009)

OFFENSE: The folks in Pennsylvania will be hoping that a change of scenery will be just the boost they need to get out of the state of mediocrity they find themselves in. The Panthers are bouncing to the ACC after a Big East run which was derailed in the last year or so by the turmoil surrounding the head coaching position. With Paul Chryst, the former Oregon State offensive coordinator, beginning his first full year in charge there is hope that the Panthers will push on from here.

The first job for Chryst is to sort out his quarterback situation. With veteran starter Tino Sunseri having moved on the likely starter is a 6-5, 230 pound prototype of a quarterback who has been a prodigy, a future star, a bust, a transfer (twice) and a forgotten man. Now the former Rutgers Scarlett Knight and Arizona Wildcat will have a program to call his own. Tom Savage has an arm which may be among the three strongest in the country, but he can be wildly inaccurate and has all the mobility of Peyton Manning. He can however be a difference maker in this offense.

At the skill positions the main issue the Panthers face is one of depth, or the total lack of it. Senior wide receiver Devin Street had 73 catches for 975 yards last season. Throw in a quarterback with a gun like Savage and a huge season could be on the cards. The problem is that with no other viable threat at wide out Street is going to be double teamed on every play. One of the young guys on the roster is going to have to step up to make Street the every down threat that he can be.

Conclusion: This is definitely a work in progress as the six head coaches in three years all had different styles and offensive ideas. The pro system Chryst wants to run is the best fit for his players, but the lack of explosiveness on the field will be an issue. Add in that the offensive line looks set to include two freshmen and a converted defensive lineman and you can see the issues Pitt are having. As long as Navy doesn't allow the rocket armed Savage to get comfortable in the pocket they should be able to shut this offense down when it matters.

DEFENSE: With all the issues on offense the Panthers will be glad to know they have a defense that will keep them in most games this fall. The centerpiece of the defense is senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a true All-American at whatever level you look heading into his final season. Last year he was a one man show at times, destroying offenses to the tune of 64 tackles an amazing 18.5 of which were for a loss. If he plays to potential there is every chance he is the best defensive lineman in a league which also includes the stars at Florida State and Virginia Tech.

He will be ably joined in the middle of the Pitt line by nose tackle Tyrone Ezell, who himself had 39 tackles (7 for a loss) last fall. Those two will be enough against the lower tiers of completion, but the Panthers will need to get more from their defensive ends. With the havoc being caused inside you would expect Pitt ends to be in double digit sacks by the end of the year, but unless there is a jump in production from the likes of Bryan Murphy and Devin Cook, then a steady pass rush is still a major concern.

Conclusion: With a solid line backing corps and a secondary where the only potential hole is at free safety this defense really could be the real deal in 2013. The Mids best bet to attack this defense is to work the option to try to take advantage of the Panther defensive ends. The tackles are so good that Navy is going to have plays, and maybe even series, where the fullback dives are just not there. The offensive linemen are going to be made to work hard in this one to get to the second level and provide the platform for big plays.

Other Factors: The Panthers were a missed field goal away from ruining Notre Dame's season last year. With Kevin Harper now graduated to forever rue that miss there is an open competition at the kicking spot which will play out until the start of the season. Matt Yoklic will be one of the best punters in the ACC, but the return game is nothing to write home about and shouldn't overly trouble the MIds.

Conclusion: The 2012 Panthers were every bit the team struggling to find direction. They lost to an FCS opponent, beat an FCS opponent, lost to UConn, beat Rutgers, took Notre Dame to triple overtime and suffered three multiple-game losing streaks. That isn't easy to do in the space of 12 games. The hope for Pittsburgh is that this season sees the team play like one with more stability in charge and that they can turn some of the ugly losses into ugly victories. Navy better be prepared for a battle here because the Pitt defense will keep them in the game, especially if the offense has started to fire by this point in the season.

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