Navy (9-3) vs. Boston College (9-3), When -- Today, 1 p.m.
Site -- Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
TV/Radio -- ESPN/1090 AM, 1500 AM, 1430 AM, 107.7 FM
When Navy has the ball -- The Midshipmen have virtually sealed their third NCAA rushing title in the past four years, so it's no secret that Navy needs to run the ball effectively out of its triple option to upset the Eagles. That means sophomore QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada needs to play much better than he did in a 26-14 victory over Army, when he missed numerous option reads and threw the ball poorly in easily his worst performance since taking over for injured Brian Hampton two months ago. Losing FB Adam Ballard in the Army game hurt, but Eric Kettani and Matt Hall are solid backups who need room to get started in the massive middle of the Boston College defense, ranked 13th against the run. The Mids must put together some long drives to keep Boston College QB Matt Ryan on the sidelines, and Navy probably will not survive without big plays on the outside from SBs Reggie Campbell and Shun White. It also needs Kaheaku-Enhada to get the Eagles to respect Navy's nearly nonexistent passing game. A trick play or two could be in the cards.
When Boston College has the ball -- The Eagles have changed their skin by becoming more of a passing team, behind first-team All-ACC QB Matt Ryan, the 6-foot-5 junior with strong NFL credentials. The Eagles have averaged 117.9 rushing yards and still think they can play smash-mouth ball with Navy's undersized front seven, although the Mids have been pretty consistent in limiting the running game. Ryan and WRs Kevin Challenger, Tony Gonzalez and Brandon Robinson - they have combined for 117 receptions, 1,378 yards and 11 TDs - present man-to-man matchup problems and will look for the seams in Navy's zone coverages. Ryan is excellent at spreading the ball around and refusing to lock in on receivers. The Mids must get pressure on Ryan with pass rushers such as LBs David Mahoney and Tyler Tidwell and DE John Chan, but that's easier said than done against a huge Boston College line and a QB with a quick release. It's hard not to envision the top offense in the ACC scoring at least 30 points today.
Special teams -- Navy has played 124 games without returning a punt for a touchdown - the longest drought in the country - and 107 games have passed since the Mids took a kickoff back for a score. Today would be a great time to end either streak, and don't be surprised to see Campbell returning punts as well as kickoffs. Navy's kicking game is decent. K Matt Harmon, 7-for-10 on field-goal attempts, has good range and has been solid kicking off. P Greg Veteto has compensated for a modest 38.4-yard average by placing 10 kicks inside the opposing 20. Boston College has suspended K Ryan Ohliger, but he had lost his job to Steve Aponavicius (6-for-9 on field goals), who has not missed from inside the 40. DeJuan Tribble (punts) and Jeff Smith (kickoffs) are dangerous return men.
Coaches -- Boston College's Frank Spaziani is running a team for the first time as head coach, since Tom O'Brien left to take over at North Carolina State early this month. Spaziani, who worked with O'Brien at Navy under George Welch from 1975-1981, has spent most of his career coaching defense and has done quality work as the Eagles' defensive coordinator since 1999. Paul Johnson continues to guide the Mids to great success after turning the program around a year after his inaugural season in 2002. Johnson's current senior class, like Boston College's, has a 35-14 record. He has taken the Mids to an unprecedented fourth straight bowl game and has them in position to win their third straight postseason game, another first.
Keys to the game
The Kaipo factor -- Kettani and Hall need to establish things inside from the FB position. Campbell and White need to break off some big plays outside. But Navy's chances mainly boil down to Kakeaku-Enhada's ability to run the option smoothly, and hurt the Eagles with a handful of passes. If he turns in another Army-like performance, this could get ugly.
Stopping the run -- Navy has not thrown the ball with any consistency all year, and Boston College knows it must be disciplined and patient to allow its size and athleticism to contain the Mids' ground game. The Eagles' front seven is big, fast and physical. Their extra preparation time should boost their chances of beating the option.
Hold the lines -- Navy will be under much duress along the line of scrimmage. The BC offensive line averages over 300 pounds and features 6-8 senior T James Marten and 6-7 junior T Gosder Cherilus, who will make it difficult for the Mids to put heat on Ryan. Navy's cut-blocking skills will be put to perhaps their most severe test against an athletic LB group and a huge line, led by tackles Ron Brace (335 pounds) and B.J. Raji (340).
Get the ball back -- The Midshipmen have forced nearly two turnovers per game. They most likely will need at least a pair today, since every Navy possession figures to be precious. Senior ILB Rob Caldwell and senior OLB David Mahoney have forced a combined five fumbles this season.
What to do about Ryan? -- Putting pressure on Boston College's excellent QB is a high priority, but Ryan is so quick with his release that he doesn't take many sacks. The Eagles will put the pressure on Navy's secondary, which figures to mix some pressure man with lots of zone. Senior CB Keenan Little has been solid all year for the Mids, but with all of the Eagles' threats down the field, safeties Jeremy McGown and Jeromy Miles must come up big.
Navy prides itself on overcoming size and speed advantages, and the Mids have their hands full today against a team that beat six bowl teams in 2006. If Navy can force turnovers and get good games out of Kaheaku-Enhada and his offensive line, it might spring an upset. But it probably won't happen.
Boston College 34, Navy 20
East Carolina W, 28-23
Massachusetts W, 21-20@Stanford W, 37-9
Tulsa L, 24-23, OT@Connecticut W, 41-17
@Air Force W, 24-17
Rutgers L, 34-0
Notre Dame L, 38-4@Duke W, 38-13
@Eastern Michigan W, 49-21
Temple W, 42-6
Army (@Phila.) W, 26-14
BOSTON COL. (9-3)
Opponent Result@Cent. Michigan W, 31-24
Clemson W, 34-33, OT
BYU W, 30-23, 2OT
@N.C. State L, 17-15
Maine W, 22-0
Virginia Tech W, 22-3@Florida State W, 24-19
Buffalo W, 41-0@Wake Forest L, 21-14
Duke W, 28-7
Maryland W, 38-16
@Miami L, 17-14