Navy lost a shootout to Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl.
PASSING OFFENSE – B
Given how bad the passing attack was against Army it was easy to imagine quarterback Zach Abey being reeled in against La Tech. Instead, the Mids came out firing, with Abey putting the ball in the air often to test a Bulldogs secondary that the coaching staff clearly thought was vulnerable to the pass.
By and large, Navy had success throwing the ball against La Tech. Abey missed a touchdown pass early when he overthrew a streaking slotback down the middle of the field, but he shook that off and went on to have a solid day passing. He completed seven of 12 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, and there were a number of other occasions where Abey was looking to pass first before taking the ball down and scrambling for yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE – B
The Navy rushing attack was very effective against the Bulldogs. The Navy offense put up 25 first downs and held the ball for 28 minutes and 29 seconds of the game. In this time the Mids were able to rush for 300 yards and batter the La Tech defense into submission.
Navy found the balance it had lost against Army, while still making the quarterback the focus of the attack. Abey rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and on the one play he missed after being shaken up, backup quarterback Malcolm Perry sprinted 30 yards for a touchdown. Chris High was the other big playmaker on the day, making the most of his seven carries by gaining 46 yards and a producing couple of scores.
The only issues Navy had running the ball were on the first two possessions of the game. Opening with a fumble, then being forced to punt, put the Mids behind the curve in their quest to outscore the Bulldogs.
PASSING DEFENSE – F
This looked like a mismatch on paper and it was proven to be the case as La Tech passed all over the Mids defense. Senior quarterback Ryan Higgins completed just under 75 percent of his passes for 409 yards and four touchdowns and he was rarely pressured in the pocket as he picked the Navy defense apart.
Higgins forms part of a trio of terrific offensive players for the Bulldogs alongside wide receivers Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson. Taylor just went off against Navy, catching 12 passes for a crazy 233 yards and two touchdowns. Henderson wasn’t bad either as he caught 10 balls for 129 yards and two scores of his own. The two were mismatches all game long as Navy was never able to determine a plan to cover both on the same play.
RUSHING DEFENSE – B+
The Navy passing defense may have been awful, but at least the rushing defense was on point against La Tech. The Bulldogs rushed for just 88 yards on 33 carries, with Navy stonewalling key rusher Jarred Craft, holding him to just 63 yards on 17 carries. It was an impressive performance from a defensive unit that had been shown up the list time out against Army.
While the Bulldogs did go pass heavy with their ability to move the ball through Taylor and Henderson, they were trying to run the ball along with that. Navy though stuck to its guns on defense and did a solid job when La Tech attacked the line of scrimmage on the ground.
SPECIAL TEAMS – B-
The kicking game was a worry for Navy coming into this, but Bennett Moehring and Alex Barta held up their end of the bargain in the Armed Forces Bowl. Moehring was a perfect six out of six on his extra point attempts and he hit a 40-yard field goal, his only attempt of the game. Barta had 142 total yards on his three punts.
The issues Navy had on special teams was in its coverage of kickoffs. Henderson had 137 return yards on three runbacks, including taking the opening kickoff 82 yards to the Navy 16 yard line. It got so bad that eventually Navy stopped kicking to the deep men, opting to pooch the ball and give up field position to negate a return.
COACHING – B-
It is hard to know what more head coach Ken Niumatalolo could have done to coax a win out of this one for the Mids. Getting Abey to play at the level he did just a week or so after watching the quarterback struggle mightily against Army says a lot to the work of the head coach and quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper. There were really no calls in the game that Niumatalolo got wrong and the offensive gameplan was solid.
The three weapons that La Tech have on offense will move the ball on any team. Navy committed by far its most penalties of the season (seven) but some of those were on dubious calls. Of particular annoyance was the end zone interception by Jarid Ryan that was called back on a very soft pass interference call.
OVERALL – B-
Navy played well enough to win this in four of the five main phases of the game. The offense was almost unstoppable after the first two drives, the rushing defense was very good, and the special teams were never going to cost Navy a victory. Unfortunately, though all the good work was undone by a pass defense that had no answer for the Bulldogs spread attack.
At half time it looked like it would be the team that held the ball last winning the contest and on this day that is exactly what happened.