WHO: Navy (6-6) vs. Virginia (6-6)
WHAT: The 10th Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland
THE SKINNY: Navy will get a chance to play a home game in the bowl season, but this is just about the perfect matchup the Military Bowl would have hoped for. With one team from Maryland and the other from Virginia, the Military Bowl should have quite a lively atmosphere this season as the Midshipmen play at home against the improving Virginia Cavaliers from the ACC.
Virginia became bowl eligible for the first time since 2011 in the second season under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. While the Cavs still have a good amount of room to improve on offense, quarterback Kurt Benkert has thrown for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. Virginia will need to have a good showing from their quarterback against an average Navy pass defense if the Cavaliers are to win their first bowl game since 2005.
The key for Navy will be milking as much of the clock as possible and wearing down Virginia’s defense. Malcolm Perry made a splash in the Army-Navy Game as Navy’s quarterback and looks to continue to grow as Navy’s starting quarterback in the Military Bowl leading the Midshipmen with their signature option offense. Don’t expect Abey to throw a pass too often, but when he does he will have to be careful not to make a mistake. Virginia’s defense has a couple of first-team All-ACC players in linebacker Micah Kiser (this year’s Campbell Trophy winner) and safety Quin Blanding that could pose trouble for Navy.
Virginia has seen an option offense before this season, and that one worked out well for them. Virginia took a 40-36 victory against Georgia Tech in the second half of the season. This one could develop into a similarly high scoring game, but don’t count on that being the case. Navy will work to keep this one a little lower scoring with the hope of being able to sustain some long scoring drives in the second half on their home field. In the end, however, Virgina may have a few more big plays go in their favor.
THE PICK: Virginia 27, Navy 23
A week after getting embarrassed on the big stage by Miami, No. 8 Notre Dame (9-2) responded by holding off an upset bid from rival Navy (6-4). Notre Dame had to gut this one out, as we have come to expect from these two teams over the years. An incomplete pass on fourth down by Navy turned the ball over to the Irish in the final minutes and Notre Dame escaped with the win.
The play was a running back pass, and Navy appeared to have the play they were hoping for. But the pass intended for Tyler Carmona from Darryl Bonner was probably a split second late and just off the mark as it fell to the ground with the game on the line.
Navy took a 17-10 lead on the Irish in the third quarter after working a nearly eight-minute drive while running 15 plays to travel 72 yards. The drive ended with a touchdown pass from Zach Abey to Craig Scott from 12 yards out on third-and-goal. The lead did not last for very long, however, as Notre Dame answered with a much quicker offensive series. Brandon Wimbush completed a 30-yard touchdown to Kevin Stepherson to tie the game just five plays later.
The Wimbush-to-Stepherson struck again for the go-ahead touchdown on their next offensive series, after Navy missed a field goal.
Wimbush ended his day with 164 passing yards and two touchdowns with 41 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. Running back Josh Adams moved into fifth place in the school record book for the most all-time rushing yards as he rushed for 106 yards on 18 carries. Adams still appears to be on the Heisman Trophy’s radar. Notre Dame’s ability to make big plays helped to overcome a draining day for the Navy offense. Navy held the football for 42:42 in the game, leaving Notre Dame the football for fewer than 18 minutes. Navy quarterback Zach Abey led Navy with 87 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown (Anthony Gargiulo also had 87 rushing yards, but no touchdowns) as the Irish gave up 277 rushing yards.
Notre Dame will wrap up the regular season on the road next week against Stanford. After that, the Irish will wait to hear their bowl fate. Notre Dame is still in firm position to be selected for a New Years Six bowl game, although a shot at playing in the playoff appears to still be an incredibly long shot with little time to spare.
Navy will also be on the road next week for one more conference game. The Midshipmen take on Houston on Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving. Navy will not play for the conference championship game, but they will play one more game before the bowl season with the annual Army-Navy Game in Philadelphia on Dec. 9.
The key for Navy to score a win on the road against Notre Dame is simple. Work the clock as much as possible and get points at all costs, and capitalize on any mistakes by the Irish. So far, so good? Almost.
Navy is tied with Notre Dame in Notre Dame Stadium at halftime, 10-10. Navy took advantage of a turnover by the Irish special teams unit, but the defense could not hold off a few big plays in the final minute that led to a Brandon Wimbush rushing touchdown to draw the game even at 10-10 just before halftime.
Chris Finke fumbled a punt to give Navy the football at the 39-yard line on the Notre Dame side of the field. Navy then marched 39 yards over 11 plays to take a 10-3 lead with a Zach Abey touchdown push.
Navy has held the football for just over 20 minutes in the first half, which means everything is going according to plan. It will be important for Navy’s defense to avoid giving up some big plays against the Irish. Big plays allowed Notre Dame to move down the field into position to the game just before halftime.
Notre Dame running back Josh Adams moved up the school record book by becoming the fifth-leading rusher in school history in the first half.
Notre Dame still has plenty to be playing for a week after an embarrassing loss at Miami. If Notre Dame has an advantage, it is the depth and strength the Irish should be able to take advantage of in the second half. But if Navy can keep working the clock, utilizing that advantage may not be effective.