For weeks I wondered why there wasn’t more Las Vegas line-movement related to Navy’s crazy-good defense in 2019. Instead of seeing the Midshipmen for what they have appeared to be – the 1st Flexbone team with an exceptional D-unit to come along in over a dozen years – ‘cappers continued to value Navy in much the same respectful-yet-limited way that Army and Air Force are viewed by Sin City.
But you’ll often find that odds-makers aren’t just twiddling their thumbs. Often, the point spreads on college football revolve around gridiron scenarios that haven’t happened yet…but are bound to at some point. As per Navy, I knew in late summer that Malcolm Perry was likely to get hurt in a game or 2 if not knocked-out for long stretches of the season. Coach Ken Niumatalolo made the unorthodox decision to put 1 of his slightest, most injury-prone runners back at QB, and Perry has paid it back with electrifying TD carries, an improved passing arm, and steely confidence in the clutch.
Just because the QB is healthy doesn’t mean the defense will remain healthy. Bookmakers and gamblers haven’t been racing to take the Under in Navy games (though maybe they should have) because as astoundingly-well as the Midshipmen defense has played to this point, there’s always the specter of injuries to threaten a thin roster.
Navy built-up a sizable lead vs Tulane last Saturday, and looked to all the world like it would cover a (-3.5) spread. But minor wounds slowed down a brutish LB corps and a fast secondary, and the Green Wave exploded for 24 2nd-half points. It took a field goal from talented PK Bijan Nichols to seal the deal for the Mids in closing moments.
Despite that anxious episode, the 6-1 Midshipmen are being handicapped like a real powerhouse for a road date this Friday. Of course…it helps when your opponent is 2-6.
Who: Navy Midshipmen at Connecticut Huskies
When: Friday, November 1st, 8 PM EST
Where: Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field, East Hartford, CT
Lines: Navy (-27) at UConn (+27) / O/U Total: (56)
It could be argued that Connecticut’s signs of life in the opening weeks of 2019-20 were simply a product of opponents’ vulnerabilities. Illinois was still learning how to win games – any games – when beating UConn by 8 earlier this year. UCF and South Florida have each faced different sets of problems. The squads that have it all put together and forged winning campaigns from the get-go, like Tulane, have been spanking the Huskies pretty good. Willie Fritz’s team scored like clockwork and allowed UConn only 134 yards passing in a 49-7 victory.
But since then, the latter program’s vital signs have gotten stronger. Connecticut QB Jack Zergiotis had a better performance (along with the defense) in a 24-17 loss to Houston, and UConn scored its maiden win over the FBS in ’19 with a 56-35 win over 1-7 Massachusetts last Saturday.
Navy’s defense won’t be too vulnerable, though. The bruises suffered by key players like Nizaire Cromartie during the Tulane contest were short-lived. Only LB Tama Tuitele is listed questionable for the Mids this week.
Meanwhile, it feels like it’ll be impossible for Connecticut to stop a Naval Academy offense led by Malcolm Perry, who willed the team over Tulane despite lots of momentum going the Wave’s way:
After Tulane tied the score at 38 with 1:01 remaining, it was Perry who put Navy in position to attempt the game-winning field goal. The Midshipmen started the final drive at the 25-yard line and the speedy quarterback sparked hope with runs of 9 and 10 yards. Perry purposefully spiked the ball to stop the clock with 22 seconds and that gave the offensive coaching staff time to regroup and come up with a play. It turns out the best play was Perry improvising as he dropped back to pass, couldn’t spot an open receiver then took off.
In typical fashion, Perry weaved his way downfield making multiple defenders miss with lightning-quick cutback moves. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior’s spectacular 21-yard run brought the ball to the 33-yard line, which was close enough for Nichols. “The thought process was to keep the ball in number ten’s hands. Let’s make sure Malcolm has a chance,” Niumatalolo said. “Just like against Air Force, Malcolm willed us down there to at least give (Nichols) a shot.” Perry then picked up two additional yards while making sure the kick would come from the left hash mark.
Passionate, talented *and* smart – that describes Navy football in a nutshell. However, I’m not sure that a rising O/U total of (56) accurately reflects the chances of a big point total in Hartford.
It’s UConn’s turn to have another frustrating week on offense, and Navy has been working to limit hard contact when Perry goes down. He’s the lifeline of an academy team which will be looking forward to Notre Dame.
I don’t see Navy scoring more than enough points to win this scrum comfortably as a healthier defense comes into its own again in a likely 38-12 or 35-7 result.
Take the Under for a winner at UConn.