Navy got its season back on track – and became bowl eligible in the process – with a 43-40 win over SMU in Annapolis. Here is the Mids’ report card:
Rushing Offense: A+
Well. That is how you make a statement.
You could tell over the last few week as the losses piled up that Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo was not happy with the direction of his team. The Mids had gone from a squad trending up that everyone feared, to boasting a rushing attack that had become stale and predictable. That is why the coach decided to sit starting quarterback Zach Abey, even though Abey was healthy enough after his shoulder injury to play. Instead of going the conventional route and placing the ball in the hands of backup Garret Lewis, Niumatalolo made the brave decision to convert slotback Malcolm Perry back to quarterback.
This suddenly puts the ball in the hands of the Mids most dangerous runner on every down and boy, did the move pay immediate dividends. Perry is a nightmare to contain with his speed and elusive running. The sophomore ripped off the third most rushing yards in the history of Navy football (282 and four touchdowns) before leaving in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. He was ably assisted by fullback Anthony Gargiulo, who picked up 145 yards and a touchdown and had two import 20+ yard bursts on the Mids final drive.
In total Navy rushed for 559 yards and six touchdowns on 72 carries.
Passing Offense: F
Perry threw one pass and it was intercepted by Delano Robinson of SMU. That suggests to me that passing is a bad idea.
Rushing Defense: B-
This was a weird game for the Mids defense. Navy was up 34-11 at the half and seemingly the contest was over. Then, somehow, the Mustangs got on enough of a roll to level the scores at 40-40. If we are being honest it was the passing defense that fell apart more than the run D, but Niumatalolo will not be happy about the defensive effort in general in the second half.
The Mustangs rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. It was Xavier Jones that saw most of the workload as he rushed for 106 yards and the SMU rushing score on 18 carries. Navy bottled Jones up pretty well, but he had a couple of scampers – including a 32-yarder – where he broke loose for decent yardage.
Passing Defense: D
It is hard to grade the Navy passing defense here. The Mids had two interceptions (including one on a trick play gone wrong) but they also gave up 261 yards passing and four touchdowns to SMU quarterback Ben Hicks. Hicks was 16-of-29 on the day, which isn’t a bad completion rate to hold an opposing quarterback to, but in the second half, in particular, he was able to pick apart the Navy defense at will.
Most concerning to Niumatalolo will be that Hicks completed his 16 passes to just three targets. Courtland Sutton has been a reception machine in 2017 and he kept up his pace here with another monster day. Sutton had seven catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns, while Trey Quinn added 87 yards and a touchdown on six catches. With James Proche adding 51 yards and a touchdown on three catches, the Mustangs had a trio of wide receivers that that Mids seemed incapable of covering.
Special Teams: A
The game was won on a late field goal by a backup placekicker. There is no way to grade this anything other than an A based on those facts alone. With Bennett Moehring sitting out with an ankle problem, it was always going to be a crapshoot for Navy in the kicking game. Owen White was the extra-point guy, but his one miss from five attempts meant the game was tied at 40 late. That is when J.R. Osborn wrote his name into the Navy history books with an 18-yard field goal make – his only attempt of the day – to secure the win.
If Navy had run away with a win here as the Mids threatened to do for 30 minutes, then this would be an A. The decision to start Perry at quarterback was an extremely gutsy one that could have proved fatal to the Navy season if it had backfired. Perry though showed flashes of greatness in this game and Niumatalolo will be hoping that the ankle injury is nothing serious.
Great teams don’t allow a comeback like Navy did with SMU. They keep their foot on the accelerator and win the game by 40 points. Good teams though have a resilience about them to be run down, then strike late to deny the comeback win. That is where Navy sits right now.