Revenge has been brewing. For a long time. 61 years to be exact. The amount of time the Cincinnati Bearcats have been waiting to avenge its last loss to the Navy Midshipmen is old enough to hold an AARP membership.
If you don’t know, UC and Navy are set to square off in Annapolis, Maryland as fellow American Athletic Conference members this Saturday. The game will be the first played between the two programs since 1956. So obviously, following last week’s Battle for the Victory Bell, the rivalry hype will not be as high this weekend, but this is still an important game for the Bearcats, as it serves as their league opener. At 2-1, UC has done enough to have a winning record through three games. It took a miracle against Miami to make that happen, but a win is a win is a win, so we’ll take it.
Navy already played its first AAC game, narrowly slipping past Tulane at home last weekend. The Midshipmen, who are a yearly lock for eight wins, or at least they have been for the last decade plus, are 2-0 entering their third game.
It finally happened. It wasn’t for an entire game, but during the second half of the Battle for the Victory Bell, the offense actually looked fairly good. Not great, but better than the flaming garbage truck that Hayden Moore had been driving for the first two and a half games. Moore, who struggled mightily in the first half, ended up throwing for 222 yards and a touchdown, with the bulk of that yardage coming in the final 30 minutes. However, he also threw two picks, which gives him a total of four on the season. His 22-of-43 passing rate wasn’t awesome either, but it at least elevated his season mark to above 50 percent. In all, it was not a good game from Moore, but there were some glimpses of promise. Let’s cling to those while we can.
If Moore has turned a corner its because of Kahlil Lewis. The junior wideout caught seven passes for 83 yards and a touchdown against Miami (all in the second half) and now has 153 yards and three scores this season. Lewis has scored three of the team’s six offensive touchdowns and has been the most reliable receiver on a team that has far too many drops. Thomas Geddis has leap-frogged Devin Gray as the second option in the passing game, but Gray was too good last year to be so invisible all season. This should be a get right game for him.
During last week’s game, there were some good things to be taken from the rest of the backfield, which showed it can at least survive without Mike Boone. The normal starter was out last week with an ankle injury, which still has him listed as questionable for the Navy game. Gerrid Doaks and Michael Warren are the backup options and the duo have been pretty good, with each averaging more than four yards per carry. Doaks is the better all-around back right now and should get more touches.
Although its only been two games, Navy has been pretty good at defending against the run, even after playing a run-heavy team like Tulane. The Midshipmen have allowed 115.5 yards on the ground and kept Tulane to 191 on 46 carries. That means Doaks and Warren will both be challenged, especially if the UC offensive line continues to be pushed around like it has been the last few weeks.
Navy isn’t your everyday offense. One of just a few teams in the country that still utilizes the triple-option, Navy is going to run, run, run. It ran for 194 yards on 52 carries against Tulane and has 120 attempts in two games combined, which is more than SMU, East Carolina and Cincinnati, who have all played three contests. Even with such a reliance on running the ball, which everyone knows is coming, the Midshipmen are still a top 50 offense based on S&P+.
The players to watch in the scheme are quarterback Zach Abey and fullback Chris High. Abey is in his first year as the starter, and he just ran for 108 yards against Tulane. High is a bruising kind of back that has more speed than you might think. Joshua Walker and Darryl Bonner are other players who will factor into the offensive gameplan, which will only throw as a last resort, especially since Abey has completed just 31.8 percent of his pass attempts (7-of-22) and been intercepted twice.
Marquise Copeland and Kevin Mouhon just proved last week that the defensive line isn’t messing around anymore, which is an excellent sign prior to this game. When the Bearcats are on D, they will need to attack the line of scrimmage and pick up TFLs like James Woods picks up candy. Copeland and Mouhon combined for 5.5 last week and should be aided by Cortez Broughton a bit more this time around.
Tackling machine Jaylyin Minor (31 stops, 2.5 for loss) will help from the linebacker post, but the Bearcats will be a bit weaker at linebacker in the first half. Perry Young will miss the first 30 minutes due to a targeting penalty he was ejected for against Miami.
Three Numbers That Matter
61 - Years since UC and Navy met up on the football field. Navy won the last meeting 13-7 in 1956.
10.33 - Jaylyin Minor is one of only two players in the American Athletic Conference to be averaging more than 10 tackles per game.
17 - UC has not been very good on third down, converting only 34.69 percent of its attempts (17-of-49) into first downs.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - Cortez Broughton, DT
The junior defensive tackle was an All-AAC second-teamer last season and much was expected of him entering 2017. However, he has had a pretty quiet start to the season. If UC is going to stop Navy’s running attack, Broughton needs to be more disruptive up front.
Navy - Zach Abey, QB
Abey will have the ball in his hands more than any Navy player by a long shot. While that is not big news considering he is a QB, Abey plays the position in a totally different way.
With bowl appearances in 13 of the last 14 years, Navy is a program that is just humming along. It’s offense will be a real challenge for a solid defensive group at UC and may overpower an improving front seven, but I’d expect the Bearcats to hold their own. Once again, it will be on the offense, and Moore specifically, to move the ball effectively and score because the defense won’t always be able to bail them out. Navy 24 Cincinnati 10