Navyand Kansas State, two teams that had relatively successful seasons, will wrap up their 2019 campaigns on Tuesday in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis. The Navy Midshipmen roll into town on the back of a big win over Army that earned them the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and locked up a 10-win season. Kansas State comes in with an 8-4 record, outperforming the expectations many experts had for the Wildcats in the preseason.
This game will feature two of the best coaching minds in the game. Navy's Ken Niumatalolo is respected around the country for being able to keep a service academy program competitive year in and year out, often putting a better product on the field than what many Power 5 programs produce.
Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman brought the winning culture with him from FCS dynasty North Dakota State, and as a result, the house that Bill Snyder built appears to be in good hands.
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Navy (10-2) vs. Kansas State (8-4)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 31 at 3:45 p.m. ET
Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (Memphis, Tenn.)
Spread: Navy -2.5
When Navy Has the Ball
Malcolm Perry. That's it. He is the Navy offense. Imagine if instead of going to USC and playing running back, Reggie Bush went to Navy and played quarterback. That's Perry. He's smart, quick, shifty, and explosive. And he runs the Navy offense like a fighter pilot at Top Gun. He's dangerous, and it only takes one hole or defensive miscue for him to burn opponents with a long run. Just to diversify the play-calling a bit, Navy will also hand the ball off to Jamale Carothers or Nelson Smith — two capable backs who have combined for more than 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground.
The Navy offense has success because it's not something opposing teams see very often, and they usually only have a week to prepare for it. Misdirection and precision execution add to the degree of difficulty of stopping Navy's option-oriented attack.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
The Wildcats run a conservative, balanced offense led by a traditional dual-threat quarterback. Skylar Thompson is the triggerman for the Kansas State offense, and he can hurt you through the air and on the ground. He has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes against teams outside the Big 12, so it's likely you'll see him look to exploit athletic mismatches against the Navy secondary early and often.
In the event that Navy is stronger against the pass than anticipated, the Wildcats have no issues letting Thompson or their stable of quality backs pound the ball behind a technically sound offensive line. That offensive line will be dealing with one of the better interior linemen they've faced all season in Navy nose guard Jackson Pittman. If Kansas State can prevent Pittman from disrupting the backfield, the Wildcats shouldn't have any issues moving the ball on the ground against the Midshipmen.
Three FBS teams — Notre Dame, Memphis, and Air Force — were able to keep Malcolm Perry under 120 rushing yards. Navy lost two of those games and nearly lost the third. That's the obvious key to stopping Navy: stop Perry from running free. It's also easier said than done, as only the best coached, most disciplined defenses Navy faced this season were able to contain Perry.
The Kansas State defense has the athletes and discipline to play the kind of assignment football needed to contain Perry. The Wildcats may not shut him down altogether, but they will limit him and the Midshipmen offense enough for the Kansas State offense to be able to control the tempo and the scoreboard.
Look for another clean win from Kansas State behind three weeks of preparation by one of the best up-and-coming coaching staffs in the country.
Prediction: Kansas State 34, Navy 20
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.