After a six-season hiatus from postseason play, Virginia returns to a bowl game when they take on Navy in this season's Military Bowl in Annapolis. This will be the Midshipmen's second appearance in the game in three seasons where they will play on their home turf at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"I think it's a perfect game for us," Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "It gives any fan that wants to support us ... there are really no constraints."
Virginia (6-6, 3-5) started the season 5-1 but flip flopped and finished the season 1-5 including a 14th-straight loss to in-state rival Virginia Tech to close out their regular season. Despite stumbling down the stretch, the Cavaliers seem to be ahead of schedule under their second-year head coach after winning just two games last season. A four-win improvement plus earning a bid to the school's 19th bowl game all-time, seems to have Virginia on track for a bright future.
"What he's done at Virginia is not surprising, the turnaround he's had there," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said about Mendenhall. "He's a phenomenal football coach but even a better person."
Mendenhall has had success against the triple option attack that Navy will feature as he owns an 8-2 record against like opponents in his career. That record includes a 40-36 win over Georgia Tech this season.
Navy (6-5, 4-4) will enter the game with the nation's third-ranked rushing offense as the Midshipmen have tallied 3,822 yards and 34 touchdowns on the ground this season. Virginia has struggled with their run defense this season despite boasting two of the best tacklers in the country in Micah Kiser and Quin Blanding. The Cavaliers surrender 178 yards per game on the ground and will have to tighten that up in order to pick up their first bowl win since 2005.
While the Midshipmen don't throw the ball much, the Virginia secondary which has been one of the best in the ACC if not the country this season, will plan to play closer to the line of scrimmage and use their tackling ability to control Navy's running game. Safety Quin Blanding is Virginia's all-time leading tackler and one of the best at his position in the nation. Blanding and a young secondary could prove key in helping contain quarterback Zach Abey, who leads his team in rushing.