The Armed Forces Bowl didn’t get a whole of love from the talking heads this season. It’s understandable as to WHY nobody expects much from this game. Middle Tennessee is a team with a long name and little national clout and Navy runs the triple option – which is really boring to watch.
Even though those who are trying to sell you on Baylor and UCF being a good matchup don’t have positive things to say about it, I feel this year’s Armed Forces Bowl could be a good one. The Blue Raiders and the Midshipmen have 16 wins between them coming in. Sure, they aren’t necessarily playing the best competition (Navy’s strength of schedule is 99th, Middle Tennessee’s is 119th according to Phil Steele), but they’ve done the most with what they’ve been given.
The key to this game – which is the key to MOST games involving a triple option offense – will be how the Blue Raider defense responds to that potent Midshipmen rushing attack. Navy averaged 322 yards on the ground this season, led by the insanely underrated freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds (1,260 rushing yards for 29 touchdowns). On the flip side, Middle Tennessee’s defense gave up 185 rushing yards a game on the year – which was good for 83rd in the FBS.
While that seemingly gives Navy the edge, the Blue Raider defense flexes its muscle in the turnover department forcing 31 on the season (good for 5th in the country). Navy doesn’t necessarily cough the ball up too much, but Middle Tennessee linebacker T.T. Barber leads a bend-don’t-break unit that hits its opponent hard and often.
On offense, we don’t really know what we’re going to see from Middle Tennessee. They have a fifth-year senior QB in Logan Kilgore, but they really kept the ball on the ground during their final four games of the season. The Blue Raider backfield has featured a lot of guys this season, but sophomore standout Jordan Parker is finally healthy and ready to carry the load.
Navy’s defense is mediocre by most standards. They held opponents to only 215 passing yards a game this season, but they also gave up an average of 186 rushing yards and allowed nearly 26 points a game. Luckily for them, their offense is built on dominating time of possession and keeping the ball out of their opponent’s hands.
Navy is favored by anywhere from 6.5 to 8 points depending on where you look. While I anticipate a Midshipmen victory I do expect Middle Tennessee to cover that and make it an interesting game – certainly one worth watching on a Monday morning.
Official prediction: Navy 34, Middle Tennessee 31
Interesting note: Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is from Antioch, TN – which is a short drive from Middle’s campus. Reynolds actually participated in a Blue Raider camp early in the recruiting process, but never heard anything more from the staff.
Another item of note: Middle Tennessee faced Georgia Tech’s triple option last season. An impressive gameplan from defensive coordinator Tyrnoe Nix coupled with an incredible rushing performance by current St. Louis Ram Benny Cunningham gave the Blue Raiders a 49-28 victory on the road. Nix is still around this season as are 10 of the defensive starters that took down the Yellow Jackets.
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