Each week, I’ll (hopefully) talk to a beat writer who covers Duke’s opponent. Today we have Bill Wagner, who covers the Midshipmen for Capital Gazette Communications, which includes the Annapolis, Md., newspaper, The Capital. Links to his work can be found here. Bill is also on Twitter at @BWagner_CapGaz.
1. It's not often we talk government operations while talking sports, but that happened last week when there was talk that the government shutdown might wipe out the Navy-Air Force game. How much of a distraction has that situation been for the team, and at this point do the Midshipmen think it's back to normal as far as football goes? Has the shutdown noticeably impacted the Navy Athletics department as a whole?
There was talk of not playing Air Force-Navy because the government shutdown would not allow any government funds to be used to cover costs associated with the game. USAA stepped in with a $250,000 donation to Air Force that helped cover travel costs etc. Naval Academy Athletic Association is a private entity that uses all private funds and has never used a nickel of government funds to finance athletics. Navy coaching staff did a good job of keeping the team focused on preparing as though the game was going to be played and it didn't seem to me that either team was distracted by the week's events.
2. Duke head coach David Cutcliffe was asked specifically about Navy QB Keenan Reynolds in his weekly press conference. Based on the 19-7 loss to Western Kentucky, in which he was knocked out in the second quarter, it seems like he's rather vital to offensive success. What are his strengths?
Keenan Reynolds is a special player and has proven that time after time since taking over as Navy's starting quarterback. He has been instrumental in numerous victories and is just a winner and big-time playmaker. Reynolds possesses amazing poise and composure, which in turns instills confidence in the entire offense. He can make plays with both his arm and feet and is very heady.
3. Speaking of strengths, Navy ranks 22nd nationally in scoring defense, surrendering an average of 17.8 points per game. Who are some of the defensive players the Blue Devils should be particularly aware of?
Navy defense has actually played quite well. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green has a bend-but-don't-break philosophy and the Midshipmen have executed that to perfection this season. Opponents have driven the ball on Navy, but come away with few points to show for it. Nose guard Bernie Sarra, outside linebacker Chris Johnson, inside linebacker Cody Peterson and cornerback Parrish Gaines have been the top performers so far.
4. Cutcliffe pointed out that Navy has gone bowling in nine of the last 10 years. D you expect them to extend that streak to 10 of the past 11? What do you think the ceiling is for this team, record-wise?
I do believe Navy will post the requisite six wins to earn another bowl berth. Navy has a contract to appear in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth and I expect that bid will be sewn up before the season-ending showdown with Army. Based on results so far, I think this team is capable of finishing 8-4. I think Toledo, South Alabama and Army are definite wins while Duke, Pittsburgh and Hawaii are toss-ups. If Navy wins a couple of those toss-ups, it's eight wins.
5. Vegas thinks this will be a close game—as of Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., the line is Duke -3. What does Navy have to do to win? And feel free to offer a prediction if you have one.
I do believe it will be a close game and so much depends on which team can set the tone. I don't see Duke stopping Navy's triple-option rushing attack, but I also see the Midshipmen struggling to stop the Blue Devils. Navy counts on stiffening in the red zone and forcing field goals instead of touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Navy offense is very good at finishing drives with touchdowns. Duke cannot trade field goals for touchdowns. As always, turnovers will play a big role. Navy has not committed many turnovers this season so Duke had better take care of the ball. Navy 28, Duke 21.
Thanks to Bill for his time. Check back tomorrow for my preview and prediction for the Duke vs. Navy game.