2013 Bell Heli. Armed Forces - Navy 24, MT 6
Navy 24, Middle Tennessee 6
Basically … Keenan Reynolds ran for two short touchdowns and DeBrandon Sanders ran for a 41-yard score as Navy too an early lead and never trailed. The defense bent, but didn't break outside of allowing two Cody Clark field goals in the first half from 43 and 24 yards away. The Midshipman offense controlled the game and the clock holding the ball for close to 37 minutes with a running game that cranked out 366 yards and converted 8-of-14 third down chances. The Blue Raiders threatened late, but Logan Kilgore was picked off by D.J. Sargenti to snuff out any last gasp comeback hopes.
- Navy QB Keenan Reynolds completed 3-of-7 passes for 19 yards, and ran 20 times for 86 yards and two scores to finish the year with 31 rushing touchdowns.
- Middle Tennessee QB Logan Kilgore completed 19-of-33 passes for 218 yards and two picks
- Middle Tennessee SS Kevin Byard made a game-leading 14 tackles
- Middle Tennessee LB T.T. Barber made seven tackles with a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
- Navy LB D.J. Sargenti made seven tackles with a pick and a tackle for loss. - Middle Tennessee WR Kyle Griswould caught nine passes for 106 yards
- Navy FB Noah Copeland ran 11 times for 59 yards.
Middle Tennessee (8-4) vs. Navy (8-4) Dec. 30, 11:45, ESPN
Here's The Deal … Navy has become very good at extending its season, but not so great at ending it with a win.
The Midshipmen have remarkably qualified for a bowl game in all but one of the last 11 years, 2011. However, they're just 1-5 in the postseason since 2006, failing to cap campaigns with an exclamation point. The Academy heads to Fort Worth on a four-game winning streak that would have been six had the team been able to close the door on Notre Dame on Nov. 2. Navy has beaten a team from the Big Ten (Indiana) and a team from the ACC (Pitt), while capturing another Commander-in-Chief's Trophy by defeating rival Army for a 12th time in a row.
Middle Tennessee is back in a bowl game after feeling as if it got snubbed at this time last year. The Blue Raiders went 8-4 in 2012, but the Sun Belt Conference didn't have enough automatic bids to accommodate all of its eligible members. In its debut with Conference USA, though, the program had far fewer issues getting scooped up by an interested bowl game. Middle Tennessee hasn't lost since Oct. 12, kicking off a winning streak that began with a stirring, last-second upset of eventual East Division champ Marshall.
Players to Watch: Those searching for darkhorse Heisman contenders in 2014 ought to watch Navy QB Keenan Reynolds very closely on Monday morning. He has a much higher ceiling than the typical option sparkplug. In just his second season out of Antioch, Tenn., Reynolds has already accounted for 37 total touchdowns, including 29 on the ground to set a single-season NCAA record for quarterbacks. He's rushed for more than 1,000 yards and thrown for 1,000 more, operating Ken Niumatalolo's system to near perfection. This is Reynolds' chance to introduce himself to a much larger audience.
Looking to slow down the Navy running game will be an undersized Middle Tennessee D led by LB T.T. Barber and SS Kevin Byard. Barber has been the program's biggest surprise of the season, going from a wide-eyed rookie to the most consistent Blue Raider on defense. He leads the team with 112 tackles, using his range and speed to add 10.5 stops for loss, three sacks, three picks and two forced fumbles. Byard is the unit's enforcer, a 5-11, 216-pound thumper who'll impersonate a linebacker against this week's opponent.
Middle Tennessee may not run the option, but it wants to establish the ground game as well. The Blue Raiders are third in Conference USA rushing, averaging 207 yards a game and nearly five yards per carry. They'll hit the Midshipmen with a wave of capable backs that includes Jordan Parker, Reggie Whatley and Jeremiah Bryson. Middle Tennessee also boasts a veteran behind center, Logan Kilgore, who's been starting games since 2010. That balance and breadth of talent are key reasons why the Raiders averaged more than 40 points in the second half of the regular season.
The Navy defense will be put to the test at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The Mids' strength is at linebacker, which ought to help provide support against the Middle Tennessee ground game. Seniors DJ Sargenti and Cody Peterson have made 238 tackles between them, and neither is ever too far from the ball. Navy might have to stack the box with bodies, daring Kilgore to go up top, yet providing much-needed support for a front wall that'll have problems with G Josh Walker and the Blue Raider O-line.
Middle Tennessee will win if … it outgains Navy on the ground.
The Blue Raiders' formula for success is a simple—run the ball well and the wins will follow. When they grinded out at least 200 yards this fall, they were 7-0. Under 200 yards? Just 1-4. Middle Tennessee has to control the line of scrimmage, wearing down the Navy defense and putting Kilgore in a spot to succeed on timely throws to receivers Tavarres Jefferson and Marcus Henry. The Blue Raiders harbor enough backfield depth to be inserting fresh legs in the huddle deep into the final quarter.
Navy will win if … Reynolds fulfills his destiny as the best player in the stadium.
No, Reynolds doesn't have to be otherworldly, like he was in the San Jose State game, but he does have to be effective with the ball in his hands. It's no coincidence that in Navy's four losses this season, the sophomore ran for just 144 yards, averaging a paltry two yards a carry. In the program's eight wins, he normed well over five yards a touch, putting his team in a position to extend drives on third downs. Reynolds cannot be ordinary for his Mids to be victorious, because the program just doesn't have enough other options to pick up the slack.
What Will Happen: Middle Tennessee has had a month to prepare, but it still won't be enough time to stop Reynolds.
Navy actually has the advantage of being off for only 16 days, because it gets a break, but will still be in game speed and game mode. The Blue Raiders, on the contrary, may have lost all of the momentum they'd secured in November. Reynolds will dominate the spotlight, accounting for at least three scores as his national profile continues to blossom. Middle Tennessee will put up a valiant effort before its worn out defense runs out of steam—and stops—in the second half.
Prediction: Navy 34 … Middle Tennessee 24
Line: Navy -6.5 o/u: 56
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