Match-up: Pittsburgh (ACC) vs. Navy (AAC)
Spread: Navy (-4)
When: Tuesday, December 24th, 2:00 PM
Where to Watch: ESPN
The Panthers had a very good season under first year head coach Pat Narduzzi, who has brought a new attitude to this football program. Coming over from Michigan State after being the Spartans defensive coordinator, there were high expectations for Narduzzi in his first year on Oakland Avenue, and he certainly lived up to the hype. The Panthers reached the 8-win mark for the first time since 2010, thanks to their 27th ranked defense and a more balanced offense. Despite losing star running back James Connor to an MCL tear in his knee early in the season and a rotation at the quarterback position, this Pitt offense fared pretty well this season. The Panthers scored 20 or more points in 10 out of their 12 regular season games.
Players to Watch
Tyler Boyd (WR): The electrifying junior wideout who many have compared to former Pitt star Larry Fitzgerald, had a solid season for the Panthers. However, the numbers indicate he had a better sophomore season, as he had nearly 400 more receiving yards. He’s still had 85 catches this season for 873 yards, so still a productive season for Boyd. He will be the primary target in this offense and someone Navy will have all sorts of issues matching up with. This will likely be Boyd’s final collegiate game, as he plans to apply for early entry into the 2016 NFL Draft.
Juan Price (DE): The senior from Rankin, PA had an outstanding season for the Panthers, in which he led the ACC in sacks with 11.5 including five sacks vs. Louisville. He’s been a disruptive force on the Pitt defensive line, and while a bit undersized (6’1″ 250), he’s still very difficult to block one-on-one.
How Pitt Can Win the Game
They must dominate the time of possession. This is the only way Pitt can win this game. In order to win the time of possession battle, the Panthers have to win the line of scrimmage battle up front with their offensive line and run the football effectively. They also need to find creative ways to get Tyler Boyd the ball in space. If they can do these things, they have a chance. But that’s their only chance.
It was a phenomenal season for the Midshipmen, as they reached the 10-win mark in their first year in the American Athletic Conference. The 2015 Navy team was probably the most talented team the Midshipmen have had in quite some time, as they were as big and physical up front as they have ever been. Oh yeah, and their quarterback Keenan Reynolds was pretty darn good too, as he set the all-time NCAA Division 1 record for total touchdowns, so it’s been a pretty special career for Reynolds to say the least.
Players to Watch
Keenan Reynolds (QB): Do I really need to explain this? Keenan Reynolds is the best quarterback in Navy history minus Roger Staubach, and he’s been virtually unstoppable all season long. Navy is 2nd in the nation in turnover margin as they have turned the ball over just seven times all season. Reynolds’ efficiency is a big reason why, and he will be a one-man wrecking crew in this game, despite going against a solid Pitt defense.
Chris Swain (FB): Swain is an absolute monster at 6’1″ and 250 pounds, and he’s been the lead blocker for Reynolds all season. He even added over 900 yards on the ground at 5 yards per carry clip, and that’s special for a fullback. I know he’s in a triple-option offense, but Swain is a beast and will be a difficult matchup for the Pitt defense.
How Navy Can Win the Game
Do what they do. Run the triple-option to a tee and take care of the football. It will be a difficult task for Pitt to prevent Reynolds from making explosive plays on the ground and potentially through the air.
Final Score Prediction: Navy wins 42-24
Photo Credits: http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-football/2015/10/31/navys-keenan-reynolds-deserves-respect-after-tying-career-rushing-td-record/
Christian Reilly- @CReillyTV