2016 Post Game Analysis: Navy
By: Jimmy Schofield
Photo courtesy Tommy Gilligan-USA Today Sports
In a hard fought physical affair, your Houston Cougars succumbed to the Midshipmen from Navy Saturday afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium by the score of 46-40 in Navy’s biggest upset in more than 30 years.
If one had watched the first series of each team, they would have thought the game would turn out to be another Cougars blowout. Navy received the ball and their quarterback, Will Worth, was stopped on three consecutive carries, two for loss via penetration by defensive linemen Jerard Carter and Cameron Malveaux and the third a three yard QB keeper but a nice stop made on an open field tackle by cornerback Jeremy Winchester.
The Coogs then received the ball and drove 70 yards behind quarterback Greg Ward Jr., whom promptly began picking Navy’s secondary apart, after a seven yard run between the tackles by running back Dillon Birden to start the drive, completing four consecutive passes to receivers Steven Dunbar and Chance Allen, the last to Dunbar on a post route for 32 yards, giving the Cougars the early 7-0 lead.
Game over right? Not so fast my friend! After that it was basically all downhill from there, starting with an 85 yard kickoff return by Navy’s Dishan Romine, setting up Navy at the Cougars 12 yard line. A simple pitch to fullback Chris High and 12 yards later the game was tied, and much like when Rocky cut open Ivan Drago, the Middies, their fans, and the nation knew the fight was on.
From there it was punch, counterpunch between the two offenses, with the game being tied or changing leads eight times before Navy took control of the game early in the second half. The problem with Todd Orlando’s “Third Ward Defense” were plentiful, starting with injuries and suspensions.
For the second week in a row a linebacker was suspended for violating team rules, this game being all-everything linebacker Steven Taylor having to sit out for unknown reasons. This really hurt the defense because Taylor is such an instinctual player as he just has a nose for the ball and ends up wherever it is. With the senior leader being out of the lineup, D’Juan Hines basically played middle linebacker with Mathew Adams playing alongside him.
Orlando employed a five man front for most of the day, with the usual linemen of Carter, Malveaux, and Ed Oliver at the nose along with Nick Thurman and B.J. Singleton in reserve. The fifth linemen turned out to be Zach Vaughn, who hadn’t played much this season besides on special teams. Subtract corner/nickel back Brandon Wilson (who remains out with a foot injury) and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (out due to injury sustained at the hands of Adams during a fight last week), and you have a formula for missed assignments against the triple option, which is exactly what happened Saturday afternoon. One of head coach Tom Herman’s mantra’s is “No excuses, work harder.” We as fans can use excuses however, and injuries and suspensions were a major reason the game was blown, with Navy bringing an A+ effort being another.
Without Bowser setting the edge from his outside spot, and the instincts of Taylor and Wilson (who are great open field tacklers) lost, the pitch was open all day long for the Middies as the combo of Romine, Toneo Gulley and Darryl Bonner carried for a combined 17 carries for 123 yards from their slot-back positions, picking up huge chunks of yards throughout the day as no defender seemed to be able to pick up the pitch man on the third leg of the triple option.
That was especially disappointing because the first leg, the fullback dive, really didn’t kick in until the second half behind reserve Shawn White who had 10 carries for 38 yards. High, and his 8 yards-per-carry average, left in the first quarter with a leg injury after carrying twice for 25 yards, including that pitch for that 12 yarder to begin Navy’s scoring.
As for Worth, the scouting report on the senior was that he was a tough between the tackles runner and above average passer. Those were dead on as he was in total control of the option, knowing when to keep on the midline or when to pitch out at precisely the right time. For the game Worth had 132 yards on 32 carries, with many of the yards coming after contact. With the exception of a few defensive series, the Cougars defensive line was not able to disengage and get off their blocks which would have caused penetration, throwing off the timing of Worth’s pitches. Hines, Adams and Oliver led the D with 10, 9 and 9 solo tackles respectively, with Adams and Oliver adding two and one and a half tackles for loss respectively as the unit only had six total TFL on the day.
The Middies had 306 rushing yards on 63 carries, a week after Air Force held them to just 57 on 38 attempts. The defense got sucked in two times and it cost them dearly as though Worth completed only three passes (on five attempts), two went for touchdowns via play action to Bonner for 17 yards, the other two receiver Brandon Colon for 34 yards. On both, safeties Garrett Davis, Khalil Williams and Collin Wilder bit off play action from Worth, which is the design of the triple option. When they do pass its deep as Worth passed for 76 yards on his three completions.
Offensively for the Coogs, they were competent, but didn’t do enough on a day when the defense wasn’t contributing. Ward completed 10 of his first 12 passes for 163 yards through their first four drives with two TDs. He would end the day completing 32-of-50 for 359 yards with an additional TD. He also threw two interceptions, the first coming off a tipped pass in which he stared down slot receiver Linell Bonner and the second on a poorly thrown ball which was intercepted by outside linebacker Josiah Powell. That second interception resulted in a pick-6. Ward also had a fumble which led to a minus-3 turnover ratio on the day.
It didn’t help that at least five passes were dropped (by my eyes) as the receivers didn’t play their usual stellar games, though Bonner and Dunbar did eclipse the 100 yard mark with Bonner leading the way with 117 yards on 9 receptions and Dunbar adding 112 on 9 himself. Allen added 87 yards on 7 catches with slot receiver D’Eriq King contributing 21 yards on 4 balls. Why the true freshman didn’t contribute more is on offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. Birden had a nice 19 yard reception on a wheel route for a score.
And once again, the offensive line of Josh Jones, Kameron Eloph, Will Noble, Marcus Oliver and Na’Ty Rodgers couldn’t establish any interior blocking as the Coogs rushed for 125 yards with 94 coming by Ward (and one run alone counting for 33 of those yards). Birden rushed for 51 yards on 13 carries, good for only 3.9 yards-per-rush, but at barely 180 pounds one couldn’t expect him to be a between the tackles runner anyway. That’s the job of Duke Catalon, who missed yet another game due to a concussion. Oliver left in the first half due to an injury (of course), with the combo of Mac Long and Alex Fontana not being effective against Navy’s smaller defensive front in their 3-4 scheme. Mulbah Car came back from a knee injury earlier in the season but only carried once for three yards with King adding a carry for negative five yards on a sweep.
The Cougars lost this game because of errors in all three phases; missed assignments on defense, drops and penalties on offense and bad coverage on special teams. Mental errors also cost them; including the drops, a 15 yard roughing the kicker penalty by Isaiah Johnson (which should have just been a 5 yard running into the kicker penalty in my opinion), giving Navy a new possession (after failing to convert on 3rd-and-17) and new life in which they tied the game at 20 with a field goal right before the half. That penalty wiped out a 22 yard punt return by King that would have given the Coogs the ball at midfield. A high snap by long snapper Byron Simpson over the head of punter Dane Roy led to a safety. The three turnovers led to 19 Midshipmen points, a game that was lost by only six points, which turned out to be the story of the ball game. Stay logged into Coogfans as I’ll have my Tulsa game preview out later in the week.