Navy finished its regular season in disappointing style with a 21-17 loss to Army in Baltimore.
PASSING OFFENSE – D
This was always going to be a hellaciously tough spot for sophomore quarterback Zach Abey. With senior phenom Will Worth going down with a broken foot against Temple, it was up to Abey to attempt to continue the Mids 14-year streak against Army in his very first start as a college player. He was facing the best Army defense that the Mids have come up against in years while trying to rally a side that looked out of gas half way through the second quarter due to the exertions of a long season.
On this day Abey was simply not up to the task. He finished the day 6 of 10 passing the ball for 89 yards and no touchdowns. It was, however, the two costly interceptions that really put Navy in trouble as the Mids then had to try to claw back a 14-0 Black Knights lead. Both picks were just bad throws, but Abey was a talented high school player and he will come back stronger next year.
RUSHING OFFENSE – F
The passing offense next got started, so it was going to be up to the rushing game to carry the load. Navy though could get nothing going on the ground and the 26 carry for 112 yards performance is almost three times less yardage than the team averages on the season. Again it is easy to point fingers at Abey, but he got no help here. Navy was marching on the opening series of the game, before a Shawn White fumble on the tail end of a 14-yard run gave the Black Knights the ball and the momentum.
The most shocking aspect of the Mids running day is that there were only seven times when Abey was not the one running the football. Every one of those carries was to a fullback as no Navy slotback was credited with a rushing attempt for the game. That shows that Army was shutting down the edges, forcing Abey to beat them himself. The one bright spot was the quarterback’s electric 41-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, but one big play on offense was never going to be enough to keep the streak intact.
PASSING DEFENSE – A
The Navy passing defense was the unit that came out of this contest with the most credit. It is fair to say that the passing defense wasn’t tested all that often, but when Army did try to attack through the air the Mids were ready.
The biggest play in the passing game came at the end of the first quarter with the Black Knights up 7-0 and driving into Navy territory. Army quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw dropped back to throw and looked to have an open receiver breaking to the outside around 20 yards downfield. At the moment of the pass it looked like a certain completion, but Navy safety Sean Williams dropped off of his assignment to get in the passing lane and make a spectacular interception. Navy gave up just 35 yards passing on the day.
RUSHING DEFENSE – C
This looked a lot like the tired, beaten up defensive rushing unit that we all feared heading into Saturday’s contest. The Navy defense was on the field for over 40 minutes of the game and when a defense is exposed to the triple-option attack for that long it is amazing that Navy gave up just 21 total points to the Black Knights.
The problem here was that Navy just couldn’t get Army off of the field. The Black Knights had 23 first downs for the game, while the Navy offense gave the defense zero rest as the Mids only had eight first downs of their own. This disparity was even greater early in the contest as at one point the first down count was 14-1 in favor of Army.
The Black Knights played this one smart and knowing that the Navy defense was overworked the coaching staff concentrated on pounding the ball inside with fullback Andy Davidson (28 carries) and slotback/fullback Kell Walker (16 carries) upping their usual workload. Quarterback Bradshaw had just nine carries as Army combined to tote the rock 70 times for 316 yards and three scores on the ground.
SPECIAL TEAMS – C-
The grade here is almost entirely based on a Navy special teams mistake at the start of the second quarter that cost the Mids seven points. Alex Barta punted well for the majority of the game, but with the Mids on their own 31-yard line and down 7-0 he shanked a punt that traveled just 15 yards before sliding out of bounds. It is an easy mistake to make when kicking a ball as it sliced off of the side of his boot, but you just cannot give Army a short field like that when the defense is already tired. The Black Knights took full advantage to take a 14-0 lead and give Navy a mountain to climb in the second half.
COACHING – C+
Ken Niumatalolo gets some credit for sticking with his quarterback and coaching him up in a game that could have quickly got out of hand in the first half. The Mids were able to come back from a 14-0 deficit to take the lead 17-14, but then the time of possession really began to tell as the Navy defense could not get a stop on Army’s final touchdown drive.
The grade though is lowered massively because of a strange decision Niumatalolo made when Navy had their final chance to win the game. Facing fourth and four at their own 40-yard line with 4:07 to play in the game, Niumatalolo decided to punt rather than go for the first down to extend the drive. Navy had just one timeout left at this point, so just one Army first down essentially ends the contest. With the Navy defense on the very last of its energy reserves, going for the first down seemed like the better option at the time, something that was confirmed when Navy never touched the ball again.
OVERALL – C-
There is no real way to dress this up as it was just an awful performance from Navy at the worst time of the season. The Mids were crushed by injuries and fatigue and the difference in rest between the two squads was obvious from the outset. With Abey at quarterback, it is hard to see exactly what more Niumatalolo could have done to give Navy a chance to win the game late on, but losing to Army for the first time since 2001 is going to sting for a while.