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2017 Military Bowl: What to know about Virginia’s opponent, the Navy Midshipmen

NCAA Football: Navy at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve celebrated the Virginia Cavaliers being selected for their first bowl game since 2011. You’ve read about why you should go to the game, and maybe you’ve even bought your tickets. Now it’s time to find out more about UVA’s opponent: the Navy Midshipmen.

The Basics

Navy plays in the American Athletic Conference, and are currently 6-5 (more on this in a minute). Their head coach is Ken Niumatalolo, who is 83-46 in his ten seasons at the helm in Annapolis. He’s also pretty funny:

This year’s Military Bowl—played in the Middies’ home stadium—is Navy’s sixth straight bowl game and 14th in the past fifteen seasons; ironically, the one year they missed was 2011, the last time Virginia played in the postseason.

The Schedule

2017 Navy schedule

Fri, Sept 1 @ FAU W 42-19
Sat, Sept 9 vs Tulane W 23-21
Sat, Sept 23 vs Cincinnati W 42-32
Sat, Sept 30 @ Tulsa W 31-21
Sat, Oct 7 vs Air Force W 48-45
Sat, Oct 14 @ Memphis L 30-27
Sat, Oct 21 vs #20 UCF L 31-21
Thu, Nov 2 @ Temple L 34-26
Sat, Nov 11 vs SMU W 43-40
Sat, Nov 18 @ #8 Notre Dame L 24-17
Fri, Nov 24 @ Houston L 24-14
Sat, Dec 9 vs Army*

Navy started hot, ripping off five straight wins to open the season. A close win over rival Air Force was the last time they’d taste victory for a while though, as tougher competition in Memphis and UCF—both top-20 teams in the final CFP rankings—would both pick up wins at Navy’s expense.

And of course, there’s one game left for the blue and gold: the storied clash with Army that stands alone as the pageantry-filled finale of the regular season.

The Players

Zach Abey, QB – Each year, there is no player quite like a Navy starting quarterback. Keenan Reynolds took the reins for four years and finished his Annapolis career as the NCAA’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. Abey is now the man under center after a year backing up Will Worth. He’s averaging better than five yards a carry, racking up 1,382 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground so far this year. Navy famously takes to the air practically never: Abey’s 30 completions for the season are less than Kurt Benkert posted in two games in 2017. Abey does have 7 touchdowns through the air to complement those 14 rushing, but has thrown 7 interceptions to match.

Malcolm Perry, SB – Perry plays the “slotback” role at the edges of the flexbone formation (as opposed to the “B-back” role that lines up behind quarterback). And he is faaaaaaaaaaaaaast. Just when Navy punches a team in the gut four or five times in a row with B-back dives, they’ll get it to Perry on the edge and let him go. It works pretty well: Perry is logging almost 9 yards a clip with 8 touchdowns. He’s also one of Abey’s favorite targets in the Midshipmen’s limited passing game, with 300 yards and 2 touchdowns on 12 receptions.

Micah Thomas, LB – In what will be a familiar sight for Virginia fans, Navy’s odd-man front defense is led by a linebacker named Micah. Thomas is a senior and is the team’s second-leading tackler with 56 so far. Where Thomas really shines is in pass coverage: he leads Navy with three interceptions, and two more passes defended.