Navy Report Card: Pittsburgh

Navy defeated Pittsburgh 24-21 on Saturday in Annapolis. GoMids.com's Jim Lawler grades Navy's performance in several key team areas.

PASSING OFFENSE: C
Keenan Reynolds completed 8 of 18 passes for 105 passing yards with one touchdown and an interception. Reynolds threw a touchdown pass on his first attempt in the second quarter. Keenan did a great job scrambling to avoid being sacked and threw to Geoffrey Whiteside who stumbled as he made a move back to the ball. The ball ricocheted off him right into the arms of Marcus Thomas (2 rec., 63 yards, TD) who raced to the end zone for a 58-yard touchdown. With 1:41 left in the first half Reynolds completed just 2-of-7 passes on a two minute drive. The drive ended when Reynolds made a poor decision to force the ball to a well-covered Darius Staten and was picked off by Pitt cornerback K'Wuan Williams. Keenan tested Williams later in the second half and was nearly picked off again. Wide receiver Brendan Dudeck caught two passes for 20 yards. He's seen more time in the passing game over the last few games. Casey Bolena (2 rec. for 16 yards) made a nice diving catch on a poorly thrown pass by Reynolds during the drive where Navy tied the score at 21. Right tackle Brandon Greene allowed another embarrassing sack when he overextended and failed to set up properly. Pitt's Bryan Murphy sacked Reynolds to end a third quarter drive on an inside move. Greene barely got a hand on him. Overall the Navy offensive line did a solid job considering they threw 18 times against a defense that entered the game with 23 sacks. Pitt helped Navy's receivers get open by playing with a surprisingly large cushion.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B
Navy ran for 220 rushing yards, a 4.7 average and scored two rushing touchdowns. Those numbers are far from great but remember the Mids ran for only 62 yards in the first half. The "B" grade was deserved because the ground game was rolling when it counted. Navy scored on their last three possessions. Quarterback Keenan Reynolds demonstrated his toughness as he played in pain after hurting his leg when guard E.K. Binns stepped on it. Reynolds ran 21 times for 93 yards and scored a touchdown. Reynolds had a key 31-yard run late in the game on third-and-5 as he weaved his way through the Pitt defense before being tackled at the 2-yard line. Reynolds scored the next play but if healthy he would have finished the initial run with a touchdown. Quinton Singleton (5 atts., 27 yards, TD) has been playing in the shadow of Noah Copeland (4 att., 7 yards) since NAPS. Singleton showed a good burst and scored on a 9-yard touchdown run playing in place of Copeland, who was banged up, in the second half. Fellow B-back Chris Swain ran five times for 21 yards. Darius Staten had three carries for 26 yards. Staten had a key 10-yard run on second and long during the fourth quarter drive to tie the game. Slotback Geoffrey Whiteside made four carries for 29 yards.

PASSING DEFENSE: B
Pitt quarterback Tom Savage completed 20 of 27 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns against the Mids revamped secondary. Chris Ferguson (4 tackles) returned to the line-up as the Rover replacing Wave Ryder who has struggled. Parrish Gaines (4 tackles) moved from cornerback to free safety. Plebe cornerback Brandon Clements (8 tackles) returned to the starting lineup. Clements made a real nice tackle on a bubble screen to force a punt. Clements was beat by Tyler Boyd for a 3-yard touchdown pass when he opened up and gave up inside leverage. He also had a holding penalty that kept alive Pitt's first touchdown drive. Cornerback Kwazel Bertrand (8 tackles) was beat on a slant pattern by Pitt's Devin Street for a12-yard touchdown. Defensive end Paul Quessenberry (2 tackles, 1 TFL, QBH) was able to pressure Savage on third-and-short to force an incompletion and hold the Panthers to a field goal. Outside linebacker Obi Ozoma (2 tackles, sack) sacked Savage for a seven yard loss on a key three-and-out series that set up the game winning final drive for the offense. Navy's defense played Buddy Green scheme perfectly. They didn't allow any big plays over their heads and tackled the receivers after the catch. The secondary did a solid job in coverage and the Pitt QB Savage, who isn't that mobile, was forced to pull down the ball and run seven times. Despite getting a first down on one occasion that was a win for the defense.

RUSHING DEFENSE: A
The Mids allowed Pitt just 135 rushing yards, 3.6 yards a carry and no touchdowns. They held Pitt below their season average. Inside linebackers Cody Peterson (12 tackles, 1.5 TFL) and D.J. Sargenti (6 tackles, TFL, PD) helped limit the Pitt running game by run blitzing the ‘A'-gaps all afternoon. Peterson was making plays sideline-to-sideline. Nose guard Travis Bridges (5 tackles, FF) had the best game of his career. He forced a fumble that back up inside linebacker Don Pearson recovered and it set up Navy's first touchdown. Chris Johnson (5 tackles) teamed up to stop Pitt QB Tom Savage for no gain when he tried to scramble on third down during Pitt's final drive. The Panthers were forced to punt.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Kicker Nick Sloan nailed a clutch 30-yard field goal with as time expired to secure the comeback victory. It was redemption for Sloan who took a lot of heat for last week's overtime loss. Punter Pablo Beltran averaged 36.8 yards on his five punts and placed one inside the 20-yard line on a very windy day. Punt returner Shawn Lynch had two returns for four yards. Lynch had a near disastrous fumble after being hit but Kwazel Bertrand alertly pounced on the loose ball inside the Navy 10-yard line to avert a turnover. Marcus Thomas returned two kickoffs 40 yards and nearly broke free on one return.

COACHING: A+
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said last week the Mids needed to "get out of this rut" and get back on the winning track. I give credit to him for not pulling Reynolds when it looked he was hobbling badly. He let him play through the pain and rally the team. The fact the Mids never lost their composure and kept battling comes from the top. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper was able to get his unit in synch just in time as the offense scored on their last three possessions. Defensive coordinator Buddy Green did a great job firing his inside linebackers to limit the Pitt running game. He had Peterson and Sargenti run blitz the ‘A'-gaps after Pitt's first drive and they never adjusted. His decision to shuffle his secondary worked well. Bill Wagner of the Capital Gazette reported that Navy fullbacks coach Mike Judge told Ken Niumatalolo before the game that Quentin Singleton had practiced well and deserved some snaps. Niumatalolo listened and turned Singleton who had a huge impact on the game as he scored a touchdown.

OVERALL GRADE: A
The Mids battled back from three deficits against a tough physical opponent that dominated them in the first half. This was simply a great win for a Navy team that needed one.

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