Clash of offensive styles between Pitt, Navy in Military Bowl
Two second-place teams (Pittsburgh in the ACC Coastal division, Navy in the AAC West) collide in this bowl that’s sure to feature some interesting football. Pittsburgh finished with an 8-4 record, while Navy ended the year 10-2.
The Military Bowl, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 28, features a clash of styles on offense, with Pitt running an offense that is largely pro-style in nature, while Navy rely on their triple-option attack, an offense that was once in vogue, but now exists only in isolated colleges around the nation.
It won’t be lacking for interest, either, in scheme or players, with both sides featuring multiple game-breakers and highlights in waiting. Navy’s Keenan Reynolds became the NCAA’s all-time leading rushing touchdown scorer this season, while Tyler Boyd is likely the best offensive player to come out of Pitt since Larry Fitzgerald in 2004.
Players to watch
Tyler Boyd, WR
A top-15 WR in the nation this season in PFF grade, Boyd comes into the game having been an excellent weapon for Pittsburgh this season, even if other receivers have amassed greater yardage. Boyd has caught 73.9 percent of the passes thrown his way this season, and has five games in which ha has notched double-digit receptions. He isn’t the most dynamic athlete in the game, but his precision and polish are more than enough to ensure he gets open and finds space when needed. He is the biggest receiving threat in this offense, and will be a player Navy need to concentrate on if they want to limit the offense.
Nicholas Grigsby, LB
The 30th-ranked LB in the nation, Grigsby has a positive grade in every facet of the game and is a key part of the Pittsburgh defense. This is a unit that is going to need to play disciplined, assignment football if it is going to have success against Navy’s option attack, and Grigsby’s ability to read and react correctly is going to be important. He also features as a pass-rusher on the blitz, and has generated 22 total pressures and three sacks this season on just 90 blitzes. Navy doesn’t pass as much as most teams, but when they do, getting quick pressure up the middle will ensure they don’t complete any big bombs down the field
Keenan Reynolds, QB
The NCAA’s all-time leading rushing touchdown scorer, Reynolds was a player that many wanted to see at the Heisman ceremony in New York, and somebody that has taken huge steps forward in his play this season. Only Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. had a higher rushing grade among quarterbacks this season, and he forced 24 missed tackles on his way to scoring 21 touchdowns and topping 1,300 yards at a 5.8 average. Reynolds is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands, and at his best, is just good enough of a passer to punish teams that overcommit to the run. He is the player Pitt has to shut down to limit this offense.
Will Anthony, DL
Another player to take big strides this season, Anthony has been the standout on this defense for some time, but this season became not just “good for Navy,” but legitimately good on a national scale. Anthony was our fourth-highest graded interior defender this season, and is a disruptive force against both the run and pass. He spent the game against Army living in the backfield, and almost single-handedly wrecked the team’s rhythm for much of the game. He hasn’t had a single negatively-graded game this season, even when going up against an offensive line as formidable as Notre Dame’s, and only has one game in which he recorded no pressure at all. Anthony is still the best player on Navy’s defense, but he has become one of the best players in the country, too.
Navy’s season wasn’t a million miles away from real success, and their only losses have come to Notre Dame and Houston, two teams that spent much of their time at the sharp end of the AP rankings. Add in the unusual offense, and I think they take away the win to round out an excellent season.