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At First Glance: Previewing Pitt's next opponent, the Navy Midshipmen (Military Bowl)

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Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It's bowl game time. Pitt wraps up its football season on Monday with a matchup against Navy in the Military Bowl. Here's a look at the Midshipmen.

Record/Schedule

Ranked No 21 in the nation, Navy has had a successful season, going 10-2 this year. The team's lone losses have come against Notre Dame and AAC champion Houston. Navy's biggest win was over 9-3 (and then No. 13 ranked) Memphis, 45-20.

Common Opponents

Pitt and Navy both faced Notre Dame and were unsuccessful. The Panthers wound up a little closer in the end, losing by 12 points to Navy's 17, but it could be argued that the Midshipmen were more competitive. Pitt fell behind early 21-3 at halftime, then 42-17 before two touchdowns in the final five minutes made the score more respectable. Navy trailed by only three points at halftime before fading in the second half.

Most Recent Game

Navy defeated Army, 21-17 in their final regular season game.

Standouts

The big star, obviously, is quarterback Keenan Reynolds, but we'll get to him in a minute. After Reynolds, fullback Chris Swain is the team's next leading rusher with 909 yards and ten touchdowns. The Midshipmen don't pass much, but when they do, they mostly look to receiver Jamir Tillman. Tillman has exactly half (27) of the entire team's receptions (54) and more than half of the receiving yards with 540 of them. He also has five of the team's eight receiving touchdowns. Also worth noting that guard E.K. Binns was also an All-AAC First Team performer.

Defensively, senior defensive end and All-AAC First Teamer Will Anthony leads the way with 7 1/2 sacks (third in the AAC).

Under Center

Reynolds is possibly the best rushing quarterback in the nation and it's there where he does most of his damage. Earlier this season, he broke the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns in Division I. The record, ironically, has actually been broken already. You can bet that he'll want it back and anytime the team is near the goal line you can probably look for them to at least give Reynolds a crack at scoring. On the year, he has 21 rushing touchdowns and 1,229 rushing yards (3rd overall in the AAC).

While Reynolds is impressive in the option running the ball, don't look for him to throw very much. He's passed for fewer than 100 yards in eight of the team's 12 games and four times, he had fewer than five attempts. Navy is going to run, run, and then run some more. A few trick plays wouldn't surprise me since it's a bowl game, but Reynolds is not going to beat you with his arm. It's worth pointing out that he's a capable passer as evidenced by the 316 passing yards he had against Houston. But that game wasn't the norm as it was a shootout with the Cougars putting up 52 points and Navy playing catchup most of the time.

Strengths

Obviously, Navy beats teams on the ground with the option. They are third in the nation with 319 rushing yards per game. The Midshipmen, however, do more than that to win games. Perhaps most importantly is that they almost always win the turnover battle. Navy is second in the nation with an advantage of forcing 1.42 more turnovers per game than their opponent. Heavily disciplined, too, the Midshipmen are first in the nation with only about three penalties per contest. Navy controls the clock with its ground game, doesn't make mistakes, and forces more turnovers than they give up. That simply wins a lot of games. As if that weren't enough, Navy also converts on fourth downs, leading the nation as they've made 22 of their 24 attempts in that area.

Defensively, you can argue that Navy is underrated as well. There's not only the turnover factor, but the team excels in run defense (32nd in the nation) as well. And giving up only about 21 points per game, the Midshipmen rank 26th in the nation in scoring defense.

Additionally, Navy gets it done in the red zone as well on both sides of the ball. Defensively, allowing points only 77% of the time ranks them 23rd in the nation. On offense, they're third in the country, getting points a little more than 94% of the time.

Weaknesses

As previously mentioned, Navy doesn't throw the ball much. They're almost dead last (126 out of 127 teams) in passing offense with about 92 yards per game. And while the Midshipmen are pretty good against the run, they are only 72nd in the nation in pass defense, allowing about 230 yards per contest. The Navy defense has also been bad on 3rd down, allowing opponents to convert about 47% of the time (ranks 117th in the nation).

Prognosis

Going into this one, Pitt looks to be at a little bit of a disadvantage. Navy not only gets the game 'at home', but also has a dynamic player in Reynolds. The Panthers have done okay in the past against Navy, but facing an option this year against Georgia Tech, weren't real effective at slowing them down on the ground (the Yellow Jackets had 376 rushing yards). And given the big advantage in the turnover battles they've enjoyed against opponents this year, it can't be expected that they'll come out and give the game away, either.

I do think Pitt can do a little passing the ball, but I'm also not encouraged in the running game as Navy has been pretty good there. When you add it all up, this looks like a difficult game for Pitt. Certainly not unwinnable as the benchmark against Notre Dame indicates, but the Panthers look like slight underdogs here.

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