Armed Forces Bowl
Middle Tennessee St vs. Navy
The scene shifts to Fort Worth, Texas on Monday where the Navy Midshipmen (8-4) will notch their 10th bowl appearance in the last 11 years taking on the Middle Tennessee St Blue Raiders (8-4) out of Conference USA. Navy finished second in the FBS in rushing on the strength of the traditional triple option. while MTSU finished 6-2 in C-USA play after making a living out of the competitive Sun Belt.
When the Middies do execute the passing game namely on long third down conversion attempts, Keenan Reynolds (65/121 1038 8 TD 2 INT) showed efficiency despite using his feet as the main ingredient for success. Navy led the nation with 708 rushing attempts or an average of 59 per game.Navy averages 322 yards per contest on the ground, losing just 4 fumbles all season. Reynolds (280-1260 4.5 29 TD) leads 8 backs who have gained at least 200 yards this season. Ball security is obviously critical to any productive offense, but especially a run-centric one like Navy’s. MTSU has done a decent job against the run this season, allowing 185.8 yards rushing per game, but the Blue Raiders know full well that Navy’s triple option represents a unique challenge.
Logan Kilgore (197/322 2289 16 TD 11 INT) will have to be efficient throwing the ball downfield as well as receive protection from a balanced yet limited ground game. Top target Tavarres Jefferson (41-532 5 TD) scored a TD in his final 3 games and will test Navy's secondary. Marcus Henry (36-528 3 TD) and Kyle Griswould (36-359 4 TD) will also have to play key roles in the receiving core especially if this game turns into a toe to toe shootout. Jordan Parker (145-741 5.1 6 TD) will have a tough task in matching the success of the Navy ground attack, but the Blue Raiders have enough balance to compete despite not using the run as their primary strength. Reggie Whatley (93-631 6.8 3 TD) wasn't much of a factor held out of the end zone in the final 2 months, so it will be essential for Kilgore to be accurate and make big plays if they operate the offense at a quick pace like Navy.
The Blue Raiders finished the season averaging 31 points, 207 passing yards and 208 rushing per game. You cannot get much more balanced than that. However, even though Navy's offense is predicated on the run, teams have had a hard time stopping the option, which has allowed the Midshipmen to average an impressive 34 points per game. MT finished the regular season ranked fifth nationally in forced turnovers with 31, and third nationally in fumble recoveries with 16. However they are ranked 99th against the run. the Midshipmen own the country’s 59th-ranked scoring defense, allowing 25.9 points per game and senior LB Cody Peterson (124 Tackles) is this unit’s standout. This game could honestly come down to who has the ball last.
The pick: Navy -6.5 (bought half, one gyro)
totals lean: over 56.5 (two gyros)