SQ Military Bowl Preview

This year’s Military Bowl will feature two physical, run-heavy teams as Pittsburgh (ACC, 8-4) faces off against #21 Navy (AAC, 10-2). The game will be held on Monday, December 28th at 3:30 pm EST and will be broadcast on ESPN. Both teams have had incredible breakout season, and each will be looking to cap off their year with an impressive bowl win.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Keenan Reynold’s Heisman campaign - Navy QB Keenan Reynolds' stellar season has been well documented. His 85 career touchdowns were the most all time, until Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon recently scored his 87th in the New Orleans Bowl. With one game left to go in Reynold’s career, he’s got a great shot at getting that record back. 

Reynolds has enjoyed a spotlight this year that is focused on military academy players. During Heisman voting time, he made waves as the fan vote leader with 47% (Derrick Henry was far behind with 29%). In the actual Heisman voting, Reynolds finished fifth, ahead of big name players like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Ezekiel Elliot. For a player on a low-profile team, that is certainly a huge achievement. 

Pitt’s success without James Conner - When James Conner went down in the season opener with an injury, it looked like Pitt’s season was over. Instead, they’ve gone 8-4, finished second in the Coastal Division, and have all around had a very successful year. Three of their losses have come against highly ranked opponents in Iowa, North Carolina, and Notre Dame. 

Pitt has faired well without Conner, with their run game being their strongest asset. Qadree Ollison has filled in nicely as the featured back, rushing for just over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the passing game, Nathan Peterman has played very consistently, completing 61.4% of his passes for 2150 yards and 19 scores with just five interceptions. Pitt hasn’t blown anyone away with talent but they’ve played consistent good football all season, and thats how they’ve managed such a great season. 


Pat Narduzzi’s first Bowl game - Narduzzi has had a pretty good season in his first year at Pittsburgh. To finish it off, he’d love to get a win in his first bowl game as a head coach. He enjoyed great success as defensive coordinator at Michigan State, and he has given Pitt’s defense new life as head coach. He will surely be leading Pitt in many more bowl games to come.

Key Stats

319.2 - rushing yards per game by Navy. Its no secret that Navy’s rushing attack is one of the best in the nation. They run an option offense, and they run it well. In this game they will look to establish dominance with their ground game early. One other huge benefit of the option offense is the ability to control the clock and pace of the game. When its working well, the option offense has the power to completely take over games.

126.1 - rushing yards per game allowed by Pitt. That number is good for 20th in the nation. Against an elite rushing attack from Navy, Pitt’s run defense is going to have to play perfectly in order to have any chance of stopping the Midshipmen. In the last game against an option team (Georgia Tech) however, Pitt gave up 376 yards rushing and three scores on the ground. Hopefully they know what to expect this time, and can perform better. 

9 - games won by Navy by double digits. To be fair, Navy doesn’t exactly face top-notch talent every Saturday, but still this many double digit wins are impressive. Those nine games also include a 25 point domination of then-ranked No. 13 Memphis. Navy has not only played very well all season, but they’ve also been firmly control. This is the result of a fully-functioning option offense and a surprising solid defense.

Key Players

Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy - The powerful Navy run game operates exclusively through Reynolds, and his performance is the key to a Midshipmen victory. He’s has seven 100 yard rushing games this season, and six multiple rushing touchdown games. If he can have a big day, it will be a long game for Pitt. On the other hand if he is contained, Navy doesn’t have a lot of other options offensively. Reynolds is absolutely the crutch of Navy’s potential victory. 


Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt - Boyd has had a pretty average season so far, but that doesn’t take away from his immense talent. This matchup seems centered around the teams' running games, so a breakout game from Boyd could give Pitt a great advantage. If Boyd can get in the end zone at least once, Pitt’s chances will skyrocket. If, however, the Navy defense can shut down Boyd and the quick, deep score threat he provides, they can make Pitt’s offense one-dimensional. Simply put, Pitt needs Boyd to perform well in this game to give their offense some much needed depth. 

Why Navy Wins

As is common with option teams, Navy will win if Pitt allows them to stick to their gameplan. If they can keep pass attempts to a minimum and the rushing game racks up the yards its designed to, Navy will be hard to stop. It is almost a guarantee that Keenan Reynolds will get in the end zone, and a strong likelihood that he will do it multiple times. In the end, the option offense has a great ability to suffocate opponents, and that's exactly what Navy wants to do here. 

Why Pittsburgh Wins

Pitt has a more well-rounded attack than Navy, even though their passing game sometimes leaves something to be desired. The Panthers’ rushing attack has been great all year, and Tyler Boyd is always a threat through the air. With more offensive options Pitt has breathing room to adjust their gameplan if needed, a luxury that Navy doesn’t really possess. Pitt can pound the ball if they are ahead, and can also throw the ball if they need to come from behind. 

Prediction

This game will be close, and it will be physical. Both teams love running the ball and both teams play very solid defense. Ultimately, I think Navy’s option attack will be too much for Pitt to handle. Navy will stay ahead all game, and force Pitt to throw the ball more than they’d like to. One or two bad posse ssions or turnovers will doom Pitt. 

Final Score: Navy 31, Pittsburgh 24

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