Rest assured that Virginia’s Quin Blanding, Micah Kiser, and Kurt Benkert are playing in the Military Bowl. Despite being seniors projected somewhere in the range of rounds three through five of the 2018 NFL Draft, they will not be going the route of some other pro prospects by skipping a bowl game. Blanding, a safety, has four interceptions in 2017. Kiser, a linebacker, has made more than 130 tackles this season. He is listed as probable with a thumb injury. Benkert is going back out there despite slinging passes behind a patchwork offensive line (30 sacks, 31 QB hurries). Navy, for that matter, has no such issues and will also be at full strength.
Virginia Cavaliers (6-6 SU, 6-6 ATS, 5-7 O/U) vs. Navy Midshipmen (6-6 SU, 5-5-2 ATS, 4-8 O/U)
NCAAF: Thursday, December 28, 2017 at 1:30 p.m. EST
The Virginia Cavaliers have lost five of their six games heading into the Military Bowl against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md. on Dec. 28. Thanks to a strong start to the season, however, Virginia managed to qualify for the postseason with an even 6-6 record. The Midshipmen have dropped six of their last seven contests following a heartbreaker against Army in the regular-season finale.
Back to bowling
The Cavaliers are in their first bowl game since 2011. It certainly did not take long for second-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall to turn things around even though Virginia went 2-10 in his first season at the helm. This year the Cavaliers boast wins over Boise State, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech. Their reward is a date with Navy, which has a regular-season date with Army on Saturday. It is a rivalry game that Mendenhall watches–along with many others–on an annual basis, but now he will be scouting it with a keen eye.
“I watch it every year,” he assured. “I have a former player who is the defensive line coach at Navy, Shaun Nua, who I tried to hire here.
“This is a defining moment for those players who have worked tirelessly to accomplish this goal of returning Virginia to a bowl game,” Mendenhall added. “Seeing the joy on the faces of these players when they became bowl-eligible after the Georgia Tech win was an incredible moment. The only members of our team who have been to a bowl game are three graduate transfers.”
That 40-36 victory over the Yellow Jackets on Nov. 4 marked the first time in 2017 that UVA went up against an option offense. This bowl game, of course, will be a second such occasion. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo was current Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson’s offensive coordinator when Johnson was with the Midshipmen and he was promoted to head coach when Johnson bolted for Tech. In their defeat of GT last month, the Cavaliers limited the Jackets to 220 rushing yards on 4.2 yards per attempt (Tech averaged 307.4 yards per game and 5.4 yards per rush this season).
Navy rolling under Niumatalolo
Niumatalolo became the first head coach in the history of the Army-Navy rivalry to win his first eight games at the other’s expense. His 8-0 streak against the Cadets to begin his career with the Midshipmen came on the end of a 14-game overall winning streak in the rivalry for Navy dating back to 2002. It finally ended last year, when Army prevailed 21-17, and the Cadets got the best of Navy once again in a 14-13 thriller on Dec. 9. Niumatalolo is 4-2 in his last six games against Air Force and is 14-6 lifetime against those two service academies. In his 10th season commanding the Midshipmen, Niumatalolo also boasts three victories over Notre Dame and has led Navy into the top 25 at various points in each of the last three seasons. He has taken them to nine bowl games (10 before this month over) and has won four of those bowl games. The 52-year-old is 83-48 lifetime at Navy, giving him the most wins of any head coach in the program’s history.
“His success speaks for itself,” senior co-captain and running back Darryl Bonner said. “He tells us he knows how to win, and he’s proven it. We just follow his lead.”
“The most important thing coach Niumatalolo has done is teach us to be better men,” senior co-captain and linebacker D.J. Palmore added. “He always emphasizes our life outside of football and after football. He makes sure we do the right thing, and he’s always got our back. I appreciate that, because I don’t think I would have gotten that at another school.”
The Virginia Cavaliers are:
- 2-7-1 ATS in their last 10 games after allowing more than 200 rushing yards in their previous game
- 2-8 ATS in their last 10 games after rushing for less than 100 yards in their previous game
- 4-0-1 Under in their last five games after gaining less than 275 yards in their previous game
The Navy Midshipmen are:
- 4-0 ATS in their last four bowl games
- 17-6-3 ATS in their last 26 games on fieldturf
- 5-2 ATS in their last seven games on Thursdays
Virginia has run into serious trouble since beginning the season 5-1. It is 1-5 in its last games and most recently got shut out by Virginia Tech. Navy is averaging 343.0 yards per game on the ground (second in the FBS behind only Army) and quarterback Zach Abey leads the way with 1325 yards and 14 touchdowns. Running back Malcolm Perry is on fire with a pair of performances with at least 250 rushing yards in his last three games. Virginia is 2-7-1 ATS in its last 10 after allowing more than 200 rushing yards in its previous outing and 2-8 ATS in its last 10 after rushing for less than 100 yards in its previous outing. The Midshipmen are 4-0 ATS in their last four bowl games, 17-6-3 ATS in their last 26 on fieldturf, and 5-2 ATS in their last seven on Thursdays. Expect those trends to continue.
Pick: Navy Midshipmen -3.5
Virginia scored at least 28 points in four of its first five contests. It has been held to fewer than 28 points in five of its last seven games and one of the two aberrations was exactly a 28-point performance (in a 44-28 loss to Miami). The under is 4-0-1 in the Cavaliers’ last five after gaining less than 275 yards of total offense in their previous outing, 5-2 in their last seven after rushing for less than 100 yards in their previous outing, 29-13-1 in their last 43 after allowing less than 170 passing yards in their previous outing, and 5-2 in their last seven on Thursdays. It is also 5-2 in the Midshipmen’s last seven non-conference contests, 8-2 in their last 10 neutral-site contests, 7-3 in their last 10 on fieldturf, and 16-7 in their last 23 following a loss. Look for this one to stay under the total.