The Navy Midshipmen are the proud owners of the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy for 2019 and the coming offseason. They snapped their three-game losing streak against Army. They won 10 games in the regular season.
The 2019 Navy journey far exceeded preseason expectations after the 3-10 nightmare of 2018. Now the Mids face Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. Kansas State is a good team which should provide a significant challenge for Navy, and yet after a 10-win season, this isn’t the sexy bowl matchup a high-achieving team deserves. Let’s look at what Navy has to do in this game, beginning with a familiar bowl-game theme.
1 – Motivation
One could make the argument that the United States Naval Academy should never have to worry about its students being motivated for any activity or task. Fair enough. Yet, after the euphoric win over Army, a trip to the Liberty Bowl against Kansas State might not get the blood pumping the way a game against, say, Baylor or Utah might have done. Playing another 10- or 11-win team with a higher national profile might have given Navy a shot of adrenaline when the bowl matchups were announced. I doubt Kansas State elicited the same reaction. Nevertheless, Navy’s first task is to mentally refuel and fill the tank for Kansas State. If Navy thinks its season has already run its course through 12 games, this 13th game won’t produce a victory. Navy regularly deals with the short turnaround to the bowl game due to Army-Navy coming so late in the season. The Midshipmen will have to do that one more time before this prosperous decade of football ends for the Men of Ken.
2 – First down
Navy wants to get into third and two or third and one on offense, so one can make a perfectly logical argument that third-down distances to make for a first down will be the defining statistic in this game on both sides. Kansas State has a very balanced offense, averaging 191 rushing yards per game and 186 passing yards per game. Both offenses want to get the defenses guessing. Predictability is the last thing these two offenses can afford to be. Third-down conversions are the “money” statistic for a lot of offenses, but this game will turn based on how each team fares on first down, which sets up subsequent play calls and determines how much freedom the two offensive coordinators will have on second and then third down. First downs will have a domino effect on the rest of this game.
3 – Offensive X-factor
Malcolm Perry ran for over 300 yards against Army. Kansas State will be consumed with stopping Perry. This makes the Liberty Bowl a game in which another Navy skill player needs to rise to the forefront. Who will it be? Perry will have to hit some big pass plays, yes, but which Navy runner can shoulder the load if KSU takes Perry away in the ground game?