The Navy Midshipmen get to face the No. 2 team in the United States this weekend. It figures to be an uphill battle for the Mids, but it’s also the kind of challenge any athlete, any team, and any coaching staff love to prepare for. The odds aren’t on Navy’s side, but as the Midshipmen prepare for this supreme challenge, there is certainly plenty to learn for the road ahead this season. Let’s see what Ken Niumatalolo’s team can focus on in this contest:
1 – Learn the lessons
Navy is a four-touchdown underdog in this game. The Midshipmen should do everything they possibly can to win, but they have to be realistic about the challenge in front of them. One important point to absorb as kickoff approaches is that if Navy can learn to do a few things better as a result of seeing how Cincinnati goes about its business, that learning approach could pay dividends against Army in December. It’s important for Navy to use this game as a learning tool and a vehicle for teaching, instead of simply treating it as a game in which it will be hard to win. Good students, good athletes, learn from how the best in the business go about their tasks. There is something to learn from studying Cincinnati under Luke Fickell. Navy needs to be open to those lessons in this game and translate that wisdom into November results against a softer portion of the schedule.
2 – Fourth-down fortitude
Navy is a massive underdog, as noted above. The Midshipmen have no reason to play this game cautiously. It is true that failing a few times on fourth down invites the very real possibility of a blowout, but if teams are playing to win, they will risk a blowout for the chance to be competitive. Punting the ball more often might mean Navy won’t get blown away by Cincinnati, but it will also reduce the Midshipmen’s chances of actually winning the game, since they will refuse opportunities to gain first downs and keep the ball. Punting increases the chances of losing by 17 points instead of 31, but it doesn’t improve the odds of actually winning. Navy needs to go all-out, even if that means there’s a better chance of a blowout in the event the Midshipmen fail on fourth down.
3 – Strong first quarter
Navy came from 13 points down to beat UCF. It will not come from behind (not from a big deficit; maybe a 3-0 deficit in the first quarter) to beat Cincinnati. The Bearcats are too tough, too physically strong, too well coached on defense, to allow a big comeback akin to the UCF game. Navy has to take advantage of Cincinnati’s propensity to start slowly. The Bearcats were a bad first-quarter team in September. While they have improved in October, it remains that they aren’t always sharp at the start of games. Navy has to pounce and create the game tempo it wants. A bad first quarter will mean a very long day for Navy.