The Navy Midshipmen had two weeks to recharge before renewing their rivalry with Cincinnati in a key American Athletic Conference game in Annapolis, Md., Sept. 23.
The Mids are looking to improve to 3-0 and stay atop the AAC West Division. Navy and the Bearcats have not played since 1956, when the Midshipmen came away with a 13-7 victory.
This matchup features Navy's high-powered, triple-option offense against Cincinnati's stingy defense. The Midshipmen have the added advantage of playing at home, where they have won 14 consecutive regular-season games, including nine in the AAC.
"Defensively, I'm really impressed," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said about the Bearcats. "A very athletic, physical team that plays hard and runs to the ball. Schematically, they are very sound. Coach [Luke] Fickell has established his culture, and they're playing tough, hard-nosed football."
Cincinnati is 2-1 on the season with its loss coming against No. 8 Michigan. The Bearcats had a spirited performance last week against Miami (Ohio), scoring 15 consecutive points late in the fourth quarter for a 21-17 victory. The Bearcats limited Miami to 14 first downs and 70 rushing yards.
"It's an incredible program win," Fickell said in his weekly conference call.
The Bearcats will face a bigger challenge against Navy's offense, which is averaging 426 yards per game. Junior quarterback Zach Abey (Archbishop Spalding) continues to get better running the attack. Abey leads the team with 343 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He has also thrown for a pair of scores.
During a 23-21 victory against Tulane Sept. 9, Abey had 240 total yards and threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Carmona. That was the longest touchdown pass by a Navy quarterback since 2010, when Ricky Dobbs found Greg Jones with an 85-yard strike against Arkansas State.
However, Abey admitted after the game he has to do a better job protecting the ball. During the first two games, he has played a part in all four of the Midshipmen's turnovers, with two fumbles, an interception and a muffed exchange on a snap from the center.
"I think we made a lot of mistakes," Abey said after the Tulane game. "A lot of that is on me. We made plays when we had to, but we had a lot of missed opportunities. I made a lot of bad decisions."
The Mids have the talent to overcome some miscues. The Bearcats, though, will look to pounce on those types of mistakes. Navy hopes the extra week to prepare will make a positive difference.
"We used last week to try to get healthy and focus on ourselves a little bit," Niumatalolo said. "We just wanted to use the week to get better fundamentally and also try to recover a bit and get ready for this tough stretch."
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