ORLANDO - Navy’s offense struggled so far in 2021, but the Midshipmen played solid defense for much of the first three games despite being placed in poor situations multiple times. As the Navy offense improves, so too will the defense as it will not be on the field as long or as often.
There will be a few key performers for the Midshipmen that can make plays if the Knights do not stay assignment sound. The Midshipmen will not be the fastest, nor will they be the biggest, but few teams will come close to matching their enthusiasm for football or their hustle.
In short, UCF needs to play clean and sound football to be successful against Navy’s defense.
Navy holds the No. 59 position for rush defense by allowing 134.7 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. Considering Navy already played Air Force, another triple-option team that runs the football, that’s a good job of run defense overall.
Marshall ran for 101 yards, Air Force ran for 176 yards, and Houston garnered 127 rushing yards. UCF possesses more talent than most teams in the trenches, and that’s where the Knights will probably be at their best.
Top Front Seven Performer
The stalwart amongst the Navy defense would be senior linebacker Diego Fagot, a player that led Navy in tackles in 2019 with 100 tackles, and then again during the shortened 2020 season with 72 stops.
He’s a really good all-around player. UCF needs to account for Fagot no matter where he lines up before the snap of the football.
UCF’s offensive line versus the front seven of Navy. If the Midshipmen fail to be consistent with their run defense, look for UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn to pound the football and make Navy adjust.
Navy will likely take chances with run blitzes, stunt defensive linemen to create havoc in the backfield, and slant their line after the snap of the football.
The objective would be simple: create tackles for loss. Navy does not possess the size and depth to handle UCF’s offensive line one-on-one across the front line. It should be an interesting chess match.
Navy’s lack of defensive line size could force the need for an extra defender to come down out of the secondary and play closer to the line of scrimmage. Fagot, for instance, is listed at 6’3”, 240 pounds. He’s pretty close to being as big as some of the interior defensive linemen.
At the least, there will probably be moments where the Navy defensive coaching staff needs to adjust alignments and place an extra defender in the box. This would be ideal for UCF because it would make the passing game decision much easier for Mikey Keene.
The Midshipmen stand at No. 70 nationally with 223 yards allowed per game. As noted above, Air Force prefers to run. Thus, this national passing statistic would be higher had Navy played a more traditional offense instead of Air Force. The Falcons threw 10 passes and completed only three for 49 yards.
To start the season, however, Marshall truly out performed the Navy through the air. The Thundering Herd passed for 363 yards and one touchdown. The Midshipmen did intercept two passes, however.
Top Players in the Secondary
So far in the 2021 season, multiple players made some plays, but no one big-time player. It’s an experienced group led by seniors at cornerback and a safety that seemingly finds the football no matter where he starts the play.
Cornerback Jamal Glenn leads the defensive backs with 17 tackles and fellow cornerback Michael McMorris earned 14 tackles, as well as forcing two fumbles. At safety, Kevin Brennan already intercepted one pass, while recording 12 tackles.
Pass Rushing by Committee
There will not be any one player that UCF needs to focus its attention towards when it’s an obvious passing down. More of a team effort creates Navy’s pass rush, with nose guards Donald Berniard, Jr. and Clay Cromwell recording one sack and one-half a sack each so far.
Fagot recorded one sack, as did McMorris from his cornerback position. The other person to reach the sack board would be defensive tackle J’arrius Warren with one-half a sack.
Just two interceptions and a disturbing one fumble recovered despite the first three opponents placing the football on the ground five times. Those lost opportunities could haunt the Navy defense, and the team overall, if that trend continues versus UCF.
Navy allowed 33.3 points per game thus far, but the defense should probably be considered better than that statistic. The Navy defense stayed on the field too long versus Marshall and Air Force because of how poorly the offense played in those games.
Against Houston, Navy allowed 384 total yards. That’s good, especially when considering the era of football that’s currently taking place. If Navy could hold UCF to under 400 yards, that would be considered a job well done.
Marshall generated 363 passing yards alone, and not to mention the 101 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns as well. Look for the Midshipmen to be far better in the red zone against UCF than it played against Marshall, but the Knights should be able to run the football for well over 150 yards and still find their way into the endzone as well.
The Navy defense should not be considered stout, but it’s a typically tough-minded group that should be respected. Do not mind the average points per game allowed. Navy’s offense is likely as much responsible for that statistic as the defense, in all honesty.
It might be hard for Navy to keep UCF below 35 points, but the Knights will need to earn each yard. Navy will be as physical a football team as UCF plays this season.
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