Programs that are used to playing in bowl games will square off for the first time as No. 23 Navy takes on Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., on Tuesday.
Navy, which traveled to Memphis aboard the New England Patriots’ team plane, will be appearing in its 15th bowl game in the past 17 years. Kansas State will make its ninth bowl appearance in the past 10 seasons. Both teams missed the postseason last year.
The game will be a contrast in styles, although not as much as it would be if Navy (10-2) were facing just about any other school from the pass-happy Big 12 Conference.
The Wildcats, under first-year head coach Chris Klieman — who led North Dakota State to four FCS championships in the past five years — average 189.0 yards per game on the ground and 185.7 yards through the air.
Kansas State (8-4) is led on offense by junior quarterback Skylar Thompson, an honorable mention All-Big 12 pick. He has set career highs in passing yards (2,191), touchdowns (12) and completions (167) this season and has been one of the more effective running quarterbacks in the Big 12. The Wildcats spread the ball around, with three running backs rushing for at least 250 yards and three players with at least 250 receiving yards.
The balance has Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo concerned.
“There’s always the euphoria of making the bowl game,” Niumatalolo said. “Then, you see your opponent and you’re like, ‘Oh, crap.’ We know we have a great challenge.”
Navy, meanwhile, runs an always-tricky triple-option offense, led by senior quarterback Malcolm Perry, who has rushed for 1,804 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, making him Navy’s all-time single-season rushing leader. His 2,831 yards of total offense also set a Navy season record.
Perry is coming off a record-breaking performance against Army in which he rushed for 304 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in Navy’s 31-7 victory. His 304 yards rushing were the most in the history of the Army-Navy game.
Navy leads the nation in rushing, averaging a school-record 363.7 yards per game, which is the most nationally since Army averaged 369.8 in 2012.
“It’s a real big challenge,” Klieman said of handling Navy’s offense.
“It’s had us up late at night and doing a lot more game-planning, probably taking away a little bit from the developmental side of things we want with some of the younger guys. (It’s) a new formation that we’re trying to get everybody aligned to. This is foreign territory. We haven’t faced this in a long time.”
Both teams are looking to cap off strong rebuilding campaigns. The Wildcats have improved by three games from last year’s 5-7 campaign. Klieman’s eight victories were the most by a first-year head coach in school history.
Navy has improved by seven wins over 2018 — the biggest improvement in the country — with one game remaining. The Midshipmen were 3-10 in 2018.
The Midshipmen last played a Big 12 team in the 2009 Texas Bowl, when they rolled over current SEC member Missouri, 35-13.
K-State is 3-2 all-time against service academies, going 3-0 against Air Force and 0-2 against Army.
Both teams are making their second appearance in the Liberty Bowl, carrying 0-1 records into the game at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Navy has won four of its last five bowl games. Kansas State is looking for its third straight bowl win, which would be the longest streak in school history.
–Field Level Media