The Navy Midshipmen were struggling in the midst of their 2021 season when they faced the Cincinnati Bearcats.
By Matt Zemek
Last year’s Cincinnati team, as you know, reached the College Football Playoff and became the first Group of Five champion to break the playoff barrier. Given how good that Cincinnati team was, a mediocre 2021 Navy team figured to have zero chance against those Bearcats.
The Midshipmen fought Cincinnati for four quarters and made the Bearcats sweat.
That reality provides the backdrop for this season’s reunion between the programs in Cincinnati. The 2022 Bearcats are still in the hunt for the Group of Five championship, but with two losses on the season, it’s clear this year’s group is nowhere near the 2021 UC team in terms of overall quality. Navy is once again struggling this season, much as it did in 2021. The memory of last year’s close game is a reminder that Navy can turn this game into a fight. Let’s see what the Midshipmen specifically need to do against the Bearcats:
1 – Muck it up
Sometimes, a team needs to win pretty, or at least, it wants to win pretty: Big plays, beautiful execution, precise offense, flowing athleticism. Navy was the team which wanted to win pretty when it had Keenan Reynolds or Malcolm Perry at quarterback. Now it’s a very different reality for the Midshipmen, who need to make this game ugly and hope they can emerge from the chaos with a win. Forcing turnovers, halting Cincinnati drives, and carving out yards whenever and however possible are the foundational, central components of a winning formula.
2 – Fourth downs
Navy failed to beat Temple in regulation – and needed overtime to beat the Owls – for many reasons. One of them was that the Midshipmen were stoned on a 4th and 2 play late in regulation when trying to finish off the game. That play was run into the teeth of a stacked tackle box. Navy has tried to challenge the middle of opposing defenses this season in short-yardage situations, even though teams were loading up the box with bodies to stuff that straightforward attack. It’s true that Navy’s ground game has not been unleashed in any direction this year (outside the tackles as well as between the tackles), but the Midshipmen would seem to need fourth-down plays which can get yardage on the perimeter more than up the middle gaps. Navy will almost certainly have to convert multiple fourth downs if it wants to apply significant game pressure on Cincinnati in this contest.
3 – Opportunistic defense
Navy did beat Temple last week, but it dropped an interception in the end zone shortly before making its final defensive stand. Cincinnati’s offense is much weaker this year than it was in 2021, so the chances of getting a few takeaways are good for the Midshipmen. They simply have to take advantage and catch (or pounce on) a ball when it is there for the taking. The Mids have to be ready in those precious moments on Saturday in Ohio.