As the college football season continues its extravagant and engrossing farewell tour with a bevy of postseason affairs, fans and pundits alike will be continually be treated to one thrilling contest after another en route to the penultimate games of the College Football Playoff. A battle of two polar opposite programs, the Cavaliers will attempt to crush the prolific rushing attack of the Midshipmen with their formidable defense. The Military Bowl begins at 1:30 PM E.T. and will air on ESPN.
Although the well-disciplined Midshipmen are unabashedly one-dimensional in their offensive approach, it has been a deadly one trick pony that has worn down opposing defenses on several occasions (343 RYPG). Led by a quarterback in Zach Abey, who has more rushing yards (1325) than passing yards (805), the Midshipmen are perfectly set up to run-wild with a triple-option offense that is exhausting to shutdown when it is running smoothly. However, Navy will need their inconsistent defense to prevail during at least a few drives if they hope to win out over a well-balanced Virginia program.
Unlike Navy, Virginia plays a much more conventional style of football in that they rely upon a solid defense (26.7 PAPG) and a fairly potent passing game (257.3 PYPG) to help them seal the deal. Incredibly, quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown for more than one interception only once this season while throwing two touchdowns or more in all but four games this year. Yet, for everything the Cavaliers do well when it comes to passing the football, they struggle mightily when it comes to running the football consistently and effectively (98.8 RYPG).
Without question, this underrated matchup will be incredibly intriguing to watch mainly because both programs implement completely different strategies and styles to their advantage. While Navy’s relentless triple-option offense should not be underestimated, the Cavaliers have the defense and a trustworthy quarterback that will allow them to outscore Navy by a fair margin when all is said and done.
Prediction: Cavaliers 34 Midshipmen 24
-14:48. Virginia gets its first points of the game via their special teams. Joe Reed scampers for 98 yards on the opening kickoff.
-11:08. Navy overcomes a 3rd & 16 by running the football at the teeth of the Cavaliers defensive line.
-8:43. Navy answers the Cavaliers opening kickoff touchdown by methodically utilizing their triple-option offense. Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 7
-7:22. Cavaliers Quarterback Kurt Benkert sacked for a massive loss. Navy forces a three and out, will start their second drive on their own 45-yard line.
-5:20. Personal foul penalty called on Midshipmen erases an electric 31-yard option run.
-4:18- Midshipmen continue to abuse the Cavaliers defense on the edges. Malcolm Perry dashes for 22 yards and Navy’s second touchdown of the day. Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 14
-1:07: Kurt Benkert throws an errant, incomplete pass. Cavaliers promising drive sputters in enemy territory. Punt by the Cavaliers results in Navy having to start their next drive from their own 1-yard line.
-0:00. Undaunted by their poor field position, the Midshipmen continue to pound the football at the Cavaliers defense.
Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 14
-15:00. 143 yards of total offense for Navy through one quarter (all yards accumulated via running game).
-12:56. Cavaliers get a much-needed stop on defense and force Navy to punt from deep within their own territory.
-11:37. Cavaliers continue to struggle on offense. Kurt Benkert throws an ill-advised deep ball on 3rd & 20 and it is intercepted by Midshipmen defensive back Sean Williams.
-9:56. Virginia’s defense gets another big stop on third down! Navy is now struggling to run the ball effectively outside of the numbers.
-7:05. Virginia attempts to convert a 4th & 4 at Navy’s 30-yard line and fails to do so. Kurt Benkert is looking a bit flustered when attempting to find his open receivers (5 of 14 passing so far).
-5:47. Navy’s rushing offense continues to attack a worn out Cavaliers defense. Malcolm Perry rushes for 33 yards.
-3:12. Malcolm Perry continues to be the Midshipmen’s go-to playmaker on offense. He rushes for 19 yards and a touchdown. Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 21
-2:54. When it rains it pours. Cavaliers running back Joe Reed fumbles and loses the football to Navy at their own 36-yard line.
-1:39. Navy strikes again. Zach Abey rushes for a one-yard touchdown. Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 28
-0:33 Virginia attempts a 48-yard field goal. The kick is short off the leg of A.J. Mejia.
-0:00 Passing game continues to be abysmal for the Cavaliers as halftime begins (Kurt Benkert: 8 of 20 passing for 69 yards).
Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 28
-11:42. Cavaliers successfully stifle a Midshipmen rushing attack that has been practically unstoppable today.
-11:03. Just like that, the Cavaliers muff a punt return and give the Midshipmen the ball right back on their own 10-yard line.
-9:46. Navy easily rushes the football on a power run by Zach Abey for five yards and a touchdown. Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 35
-6:32. A dead ball personal foul penalty on the Cavaliers prevents them from sustaining what appeared to be an efficient offensive drive.
-1:57. No Malcolm Perry? No Problem. Zach Abey rushes for another touchdown to put the Midshipmen up big over the Cavaliers. Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 42.
-0:00. Navy continues to roll against the Cavaliers. Virginia will need a miracle of epic proportions to come back in this contest.
Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 42
-11:11. The Midshipmen keep rubbing salt in the wound of the exhausted and outmatched Cavaliers. Zach Abey rushes for one yard and a touchdown. Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 49.
-0:00. And that’s that. The Midshipmen completely dominate the Cavaliers to win the Military Bowl.
Score: Cavaliers 7 Midshipmen 49
Aside from an opening kickoff return for a touchdown, the Virginia Cavaliers were dreadful on both offense and defense in this contest. Cavaliers quarterback Kurt Benkert (15 of 34, 133 passing yards, one interception) was woefully inaccurate and was constantly under pressure from a Navy defense that used complex blitzes to fluster the veteran passer. Despite losing starting quarterback Malcolm Perry in the third quarter, the Midshipmen rallied around their back up and former starter in Zach Abey (13 carries, 88 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns). From there, Navy’s fresh defense kept the Cavaliers offense off-balance while the Midshipmen’s offense continued to run the football relentlessly. Simply put, it was a dominating effort by the Midshipmen, who effectively controlled this game from start to finish.