Pitt had a myriad of problems facing Navy in Monday's Military Bowl. The largest, however, was trying to stop Midshipmen quarterback, Keenan Reynolds. Reynolds was supposed to be good, but against the Panthers in a 44-28 win, he was great.
The Navy quarterback's primary job is running the option and he did that to near perfection. Making the decision to keep it, pitch it (and if so where), etc., is what can make the option so hard to run. Much is made of the difficulty in defending it but it's not an easy thing to run, either. Reynolds' decision-making was good all day long and as a result, Navy piled up a whopping 417 rushing yards.
If you need to get an idea of just how many that is, just look at what the Midshipmen have done all year. Coming into the game, they were third in the nation in rushing with 319 yards per contest. Today, they topped that by about 100 against what was supposed to be a better team than they faced most of the time. Reynolds had 144 yards on the ground, but that's only part of his impact since it's up to him to find the right player in position for the most yards. Safe to say, he did that most of today. It's unfair to discount what the running backs did there as they had good days as well, but Reynolds is the catalyst.
As I mentioned in the recap, Reynolds was effective as a passer, too. Even though Navy dominated on the ground, they still threw more than they typically did. Reynolds had a season-high 17 attempts, completing nine of them for 126 yards. He wasn't a great passer, obviously, but was adequate considering his typical production. Reynolds added a passing touchdown while not throwing an interception.
One thing that Navy did right in the air was that they established the pass somewhat early. Three of his completions and 54 yards came on their first two drives. That sort of forced Pitt to respect Reynolds a little bit as a passer and may have made covering the option a little more difficult.
Reynolds also made some key throws and four of his completions came on third down. Two of them were converted into first downs, allowing Navy to eat up more clock and resulted in touchdown-scoring drives. The other two weren't quite first downs, but gave Navy 4th and short opportunities on a crucial drive that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth. One particular throw, a 15-yard completion on 3rd and 17 really helped break the back of the Panthers. The drive ate up a lot of time, and extended their lead from ten points to 17.
The Navy quarterback also made his impact felt on a trick play where he added a 47-yard reception to his already big day. That grab was key as it gave him the team lead in receiving yardage as well. At the end of the day, Reynolds was the team's leading passer, rusher, and receiver. In all, he had four touchdowns and no turnovers.
Pitt knew coming into today that they weren't going to stop Reynolds completely. What they needed to do, however, was slow him down a little and force him into a few mistakes. That didn't happen and the result was a 16-point loss.
Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.