Winners and Whiners Preview – Central Florida hopes to sink Navy today

By Ben Hayes

Navy and UCF are ready to lock up from Annapolis on Saturday at 3:30pm ET in AAC action. UCF has struggled even though they are 2-1. The defense has been awful are they allowed 42 points in their last game on the road facing Louisville (42-35 loss).

Navy might be the best opponent right now for UCF, though they showed some signs of hope last week when they fell at Houston 28-20 as a 20-point underdog.

These two teams have not faced each other since 2018 (UCF won 35-24 as a 23.5-point fave).

Where was the D?

Central Florida is coming off a bye and they certainly needed it. Offense has not been an issue for Gus Malzahn in his first season in Orlando. It’s been his defense that allowed 310 yards in the air and 191 on the ground against the Louisville Cardinals that has been its Achilles’ heel. But they ended up losing that game on a Dillon Gabriel pick-six. Not only did the Knights lose that game, but they lost Gabriel to a broken collarbone as he was injured on UCF’s final play as they attempted to score a TD using a bunch of laterals with time expiring.

That means that talented offense will now be in the hands of freshman Mikey Keane. Gabriel threw for 818 yards with three picks and nine TDs with a 68.6% completion rate.

“He’s gotten almost equal reps,” Malzahn said on “Early in fall camp, early in the season, you want to give your 2′s a lot of reps and we’ve done that. That’s really beneficial now.”

Keane has thrown just 7 passes and has completed four for 55 yards in garbage time. To make matters worse, leading rusher Isaiah Bowser (268 yds, 5 TDs) is listed as questionable with a knee injury. Johnny Richardson stepped up in that Louisville loss and rushed for 101 yards on just nine carries.

On the season, the offense averages 554.7 yards per game (3rd), 302.3 passing yards (20th) and 252.3 rushing yards (10th). They also rank sixth in the nation with 44.7 points per game. That will be tough to duplicate without Gabriel, so the defense has to step up. Take away their 63-14 win over FCS Bethune-Cookman, UCF has allowed 73 points in their tough games against Louisville and Boise State. The good news is that the run defense has been pretty good overall, allowing 78.3 rushing yards per game (12th). The run defense struggled against Louisville, but they did allow just 20 yards on 20 carries against Boise State. That defense will be tested against Navy’s triple-option offense.

More quarterback issues?

Navy played their best game of the season against Houston last week. That’s not saying much considering they were crushed by Air Force and Marshall by a combined 72-10 in their first two games. After a bye week, they traveled to Houston and jumped out to a 17-7 lead. The change at offensive coordinator (head coach Ken Niumatalolo now calls plays) appeared to be working. Quarterback Xavier Arline played well early on, rushing for a 40-yard score, and was able to move his team.

But in the second half, Navy’s offense was held down by the Cougars and the defense gave up 21 points to a powerful Houston offense. Arline, a 5-9, 176-pound sophomore, might get the start again. He has rushed for 171 yards (3.4ypc) with two scores and has thrown for 109 yards in three games. That’s not good enough, but he is getting better running the offense. The Mids could also go back with Tai Lavatai (6-2, 210) who injured his knee in the opener against Marshall. He does give the offense more size and is supposed to be a better passer.

There are really no mysteries to beating Navy. Slow down that option and you should win if you have a solid offense. Handicapping this game is different because I have to figure out whether UCF can slow that triple-option down and over the 16.5 on the road. Also, whether Arline is the guy moving forward or if “Coach Ken” decides to move with Lavatai.

For Navy to be effective against UCF and most AAC teams, they need to rush for at least 250 yards. They average just 191.7 yards (42nd) and 255.3 yards per game overall (127th). Defensively, they aren’t awful as they allow 357.7 yards per game overall (66th) and 134.7 yards on the ground (59th). THey dod allow 223 yards (70th ) in the air and that’s a concern in this one.

Full-Game Side Bet

Navy is always undervalued. I figured this line would be close to 10 or 12 considering Gabriel is out. Asking a freshman quarterback in Keane to put up 40+ points against a solid Navy defense is asking a lot. He might be as good as Gabriel at some point, but this is not the game. Now, Navy’s quarterback issues still concern me, but Arline showed some flashes against Houston in the first half. He is a small, but quick and athletic quarterback, which is what they like (Malcolm Perry?). Navy should able to move the ball on the ground and whether they finish drives is another story. At least, they will be able to possess the clock and keep the Knights’ offense off the field for the most part. They will cover this number with ease.

Prediction: Navy +16.5

Written By Ben Hayes , “Ben the Pen”

Ben has been a sports writer for over 30 years, dabbling in college and pro basketball, college and pro football, baseball, college lacrosse, minor league baseball and even college gymnastics. He’s also been involved in the gaming industry for nearly 30 years and has been looking to beat the books since he was 13! Ben has had great success in handicapping college football, the NFL, college basketball, the NBA and MLB for 25+ years.