While Ken Niumatalolo will be staying with the Mids for the foreseeable future, this game will be the last at Navy for record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds, long-time defensive coordinator Buddy Green and for the rest of the Navy class of 2016. With a home crowd behind the Mids and all the comforts of staying in an area they know with locker rooms that are familiar this is a great chance for Navy to take down an ACC foe.
Here are the keys that will bring a bowl game victory the way of the Mids:
1) Slow down Qadree Ollison
When 2014 ACC Player of the Year James Conner went down for the season with a knee injury in week one of the season there were fears that Pitt would fall apart. This was a team that was to be based around Conner’s unique skill set, his blend of speed and power, and his ability to break tackles and lead the team. The Panthers though showed that they had the ability to succeed with the next man up as Qadree Ollison has been a stunning, and welcome, surprise.
The freshman tailback exploded onto the scene in 2015 and has rushed for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns the season. The usage of Ollison in the bowl game will be interesting, however, as Pitt will have a different coordinator than the one that they have worked with for most of this year. Jim Chaney moved with Kirby Smart to Georgia and it will be seen how much the 69th ranked scoring offense in the country (28.3 points per game) will do without him behind the play sheets.
2) Rush the ball successfully
The Navy running backs should be licking their lips at the prospect of this game given what Georgia Tech did to the Panthers earlier this season. The Yellow Jackets rushed for 376 yards and three touchdowns at an insane 9.4 yards per carry. Yes, Pitt won the game, but that was absolutely nothing to do with the way that the defense played.
The Navy running game is much more polished than the Georgia Tech version at this point, mainly due to Reynolds running the show, and the Mids average 319.2 yards per game on the season. Reynolds and fullback Chris Swain are an outstanding one-two punch that should be able to control the tempo of the game behind the Mids experienced and often dominant line. If Navy can get anything close to the offensive production that the Yellow Jackets did then it is hard to see Pitt winning the game.
3) Win the turnover battle
In any Bowl Game between two evenly matched teams turnovers are going to be a huge factor. Navy has forced a turnover in 18 of its last 19 games and the Mids have totaled 24 turnovers defensively on the season which is the 22ns best mark in the nation. Perhaps even more impressively, Navy has turned the ball over itself just seven times (the top mark in the country), an astonishingly low number for a triple option team where the quarterback is faced with multiple reads on every play. That means the Mids turnover margin is +1.42 and is the second best in the country. If the Navy defense can give the Mids offense an extra possession or two on Monday then the game will be the Mids to lose.