The Navy Midshipmen have struggled this season, much as they did last year.
By Matt Zemek
This year’s team, however, was able to score a significant victory over UCF, and it came very close against the Cincinnati Bearcats, a top-five team in the country.
There is a real sense that Navy – thrown way off balance by the pandemic and going through a cycle in which its offensive line play has not been up to standard – will be able to bounce back in 2022 and return to a bowl game, exactly where the Mids expect to be every December.
Part of that process – ramping up for 2022 and restoring a sense of normalcy within the program – is this next two-week stretch before the Army game. Navy needs to win these next two games, beginning with Saturday’s home date against East Carolina. Two wins here would create confidence for the Army game. Beyond that, two wins in late November would restore an expectation of success in Annapolis. Let’s look at what Navy needs to do versus ECU:
1 – Take away one of Holton Ahlers’ strengths
East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers is a crafty signal-caller who can make plays from the pocket and outside it. He isn’t dazzlingly fast, but he is a capable scrambler. He isn’t an elite passer, but he has played well against good defenses in the past. He lit up Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati defense a few years ago. When at his best, he is a dangerous offensive force. Some quarterbacks play in such a way that an opposing defense has to take away the running game and force the quarterback to pass. Ahlers doesn’t quite fit that profile. Navy would probably be happy as long as it forces Ahlers to be one-dimensional, whether that is the run or the pass. The balance and diversity in his game make Ahlers tough to defend. Making him a one-note QB, running or passing, would improve Navy’s odds and give the Midshipmen a better chance of containing the ECU offense.
2 – Shut down the big play on either side of the ball
East Carolina struggled against South Florida but turned that game around with a timely interception. The Pirates have lived on the right side of the margins this season. Taking away big plays will reduce those margins and turn them in Navy’s favor. Navy is built to win games with its patience and steadiness. Avoiding one lapse or breakdown has to be a central priority.
3 – Defensive line must feast
The Navy defensive line, as it studies film of ECU’s win over Memphis, will note that the Pirates gave up six sacks and threw two interceptions. That’s Memphis’s defensive line, not Cincinnati’s. If Memphis can do that, Navy can do something similar. If Navy gets two picks and six sacks, the odds are very good the Mids will win this game.