Navy dropped its first game of the season on Saturday as the Mids were taken down 30-27 by Memphis. Here is the report card:
Rushing Offense: C
It was a weird day for the Navy rushing attack in Tennessee. The Mids controlled the clock as they held the ball for over 37 minutes of game time and they rushed for 314 yards in doing so. The Mids also scored three touchdowns on the ground, all coming from quarterback Zach Abey. Abey had 146 yards, Malcolm Perry chipped in 68, and the Mids two top fullbacks ground out 72. All in all the Mids carried the ball 68 times.
Yet they still lost.
The problems were twofold in the running game. The first was the three Zach Abey fumbles that were all recovered by Memphis. Abey had turnover issues early in the season, but he looked to be past them. In this game, he made bad decision after bad decision and the result was a Navy loss. The other issue was the offense stalled out too many times in big spots. The Navy ground game was facing eight in the box all day long and the Mids – especially for a large stretch of the second half – failed to move the ball into scoring range.
Passing Offense: F
It’s just not getting better. Abey was 1-of-7 for 20 yards through the air with two bad interceptions thrown. This issue with both picks is that Abey just made a bad decision and/or a bad throw. There are times that Navy has receivers open, yet Abey seems unable to hit those players on even a remotely consistent basis. Until that happens more teams will stack eight in the box and Navy will struggle to move the ball.
Rushing Defense: B
Navy lost this game, but the Mids rushing defense was one of the team’s better units. Memphis rushed 29 times for 118 yards, with Darrell Henderson being their leading rusher on the day with 94 yards on 12 carries. Henderson had a long run of 32 yards, but the Mids did a good job of containing the running game other than that as they managed to shut down any long runs that Memphis was trying to break.
D.J. Palmore was one of the big reasons why the running game was shut down. The Mids linebacker had eight tackles (all of the solo) and a tackle for a loss as he ranged all over the field. Navy will play better rushing attacks than Memphis, but the Mids coped very well against a dangerous and well-balanced attack.
Passing Defense: C-
The passing defense though was a little bit more suspect. Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson completed 24-of-40 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns as he did enough to keep the Navy secondary guessing, slinging the ball around the field. The Mids could never quite get a handle on Tigers senior wide receiver Anthony Miller who had a game-high 10 receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown.
Memphis uses Miller on a lot of those quick, safe passes for minimal gain and then asks the receiver to pick up yards after the catch. Navy seemed unable to get the coverage rolled to Miller quickly enough on the day and his ability to make the big catch and keep the chains moving was huge for what Memphis was trying to do on offense. If Navy had their time again you would expect more coverage to be centered on Miller.
Special Teams: C
It was a mixed day on special teams for the Mids. The very first play of the game was a bizarre one. The box score lists it as an onside kick that was recovered at the Memphis 10-yard line. Watching the game it appears that Navy executed a “sky” kick, where the ball is designed to land in front of a returner if that player isn’t paying attention. The tactic worked and the Mids gunners flew down the field to recover the ball and give the Mids instant field position. From there though, things went south in a hurry.
The missed field goal at the end of the first half can probably be excused. Bennett Moehring has been solid for the Mids and no one really thought he had the range to kick a 50-yarder to end the half. With Abey not handling the passing game though it is not like Navy had any other option. The bigger issue was the roughing the punter penalty in the first half. There is just no excuse for this and while Memphis didn’t score – the drive ended with a missed field goal – Navy lost a big chunk of field position on the play.
Ken Niumatalolo knows that the two things that a coach cannot prepare for in his game plan are turnovers and injuries. Navy had five turnovers in this game – all from their quarterback – yet they still only lost on the road (to a one-loss team) by three points. That Navy was even in the game late with that stacked against them is stunning. Navy will see a lot of eight in the box fronts going forward. Can Niumatalolo coach the Mids to success against such a stacked defense without any semblance of a passing game?