Knights look to extend winning streak to 22 games when they host the struggling Midshipmen
With last week’s 52-40 victory against Temple, No. 11 UCF extended its nation-leading win streak to 21 games. At 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the AAC East, first-year head coach Josh Heupel has done well to sustain the momentum the Knights carried over from the perfect 2017 season, and they are primed to appear in a second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl.
An embattled Navy (2-7, 1-4 AAC) team travels to the Sunshine State in the midst of its worst season in seven years. The Midshipmen haven’t won a game since Sept. 15 against FCS opponent Lehigh, and with last week’s loss to Cincinnati, Navy will miss out on playing in the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Last year’s meeting between these two teams was the first, and UCF earned a 31-21 win in Annapolis in a hard-fought contest that saw Navy trail the Knights by just three points in the fourth quarter.
Navy at UCF
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: UCF -25.5
Three Things to Watch
1. UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton
While Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray have been mentioned as the current quarterback front-runners for the Heisman, Milton’s contributions this season have been more than enough to earn him a spot in the Heisman conversation.
Through eight games this year, Milton has thrown for 2,109 yards to go with 19 touchdowns and five interceptions. Milton is averaging 301.3 yards passing per game, which is good enough to rank him No. 10 in FBS. In passing yards per completion, Milton’s 15.51 yards are third nationally.
Against Navy last year, Milton was 17-of-33 for 312 yards and three touchdowns. Milton should produce big numbers against a Midshipmen defense that ranks No. 102 in passing yards allowed (255 yards per game).
2. Navy’s fumble-causing defense
While 2018 has been disappointing by most metrics, one bright spot for Navy this season has been its propensity to cause and recover fumbles. The Midshipmen have recovered 10, which ties them at No. 6 in FBS, which is a stark improvement from last year, when they tallied only nine fumble recoveries.
Safety Sean Williams has forced a nation-leading five fumbles this year, while defensive back Michael McMorris and defensive ends Josh Webb and Jarvis Polu have recovered two fumbles apiece.
Through eight games, UCF is one of two teams in the country that has lost just one fumble. Mississippi State, which has yet to lose one, is the only team to rank above the Knights.
3. UCF’s dynamic offense
Former Knights head coach Scott Frost is no longer in Orlando, but the UCF offense is still humming. In 2017, UCF’s 48.2 points per game led all FBS programs. This year, the Knights are averaging 45.4 points per game, which puts them at No. 6 nationally. UCF has scored 48 touchdowns and nine field goals for 363 total points.
The Knights have also been efficient in the red zone this year. In 38 trips to the red zone, UCF has netted points on 34 attempts (.919), which is good enough to rank the Knights No. 14 nationally in red zone offense. Navy is allowing 36.2 points per game to opponents.
UCF will close the regular season against Cincinnati (8-1, 4-1 AAC) and South Florida (7-2, 3-2). Wins against both squads would go a long way in raising the Knights’ national profile, but they’ll first have to make sure they don't look past struggling Navy. UCF’s offense is among the nation’s best, and it should post big numbers in front of a home crowd Saturday afternoon.
Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has been dynamic during his time in Annapolis, but this year has proven to be challenging for the 11th-year coach. The Midshipmen travel to Orlando on a six-game losing streak, and no postseason bowl awaits. Navy played UCF close last year, but the Knights shouldn’t have any problem with getting past the Midshipmen this go round.
UCF should easily extend its win streak to 22 games and head into its last two regular-season games with momentum.
Prediction: UCF 41, Navy 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.