The Navy Midshipmen defeated the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders 24-6 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran for two touchdowns and became just the fourth player in NCAA FBS history to rush for 31 touchdowns in a single season. Reynolds uncharacteristically fumbled three times and lost two which matched the total lost fumbles he committed the entire season. The hard hitting Blue Raiders were one of the leaders in the nation in forcing turnovers. The real stars of this game were the Navy defense which ended the season playing their best game. The defense held the Blue Raiders to just two field goals. Middle Tennessee State entered the bowl game with five consecutive wins where they averaged an impressive 42.6 points per game. The Mids defense used two interceptions to keep MTSU out of the end zone. Ken Niumatalolo won his first bowl game since the 2009 victory against Missouri. Navy's finished the season at 9-4.
PASSING OFFENSE: D
Keenan Reynolds completed 3-of-7 passes for 19 yards. Reynolds didn't throw a pass until the end of the first quarter. On his first throw he overthrew an open DeBrandon Sanders on a wheel route in the end zone. In the final Navy drive before the half Reynolds completed all three of his passes. Two were off waggle action rolling out and hitting Geoffrey Whiteside for ten yards. He later hit Sanders for six yards to convert a fourth-and-6 before a Reynolds fumble ended the drive. Reynolds didn't complete another pass in the game. Navy's receiving corps was hurt when, with Matt Aiken already out, Casey Bolena was injured. MTSU's physical but cheap shot secondary did a nice job in both run support and coverage which limited the Mids opportunities for big passing plays.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B+
Navy rushed for 366 rushing yards, 5.5 per carry and 3 touchdowns. The Mid did have an uncharacteristic four fumbles and lost two. Part of the credit goes to MTSU's hard hitting opportunistic defense. They were ranked third nationally in turnovers entering the game. In addition to losing two fumbles the Mids saw center Travis Fleming and guard EK Binns leave the game with injuries.
Reynolds ran 20 times for 86 yards and two scores. Keenan finished the season with 31 touchdowns, He is just the fourth player to run for over 30 touchdowns in a single season. Noah Copeland carried 11 times for 59 yards. DeBrandon Sanders' (5 att., 53 yards, TD) 41-yard touchdown run iced the game. Geoffrey Whiteside made 8 carries for 44 yards. Darius Staten had six carries for 37 yards. He was lucky when he fumbled and the ball rolled out of bounds. At B-back, Quinton Singleton had seven carries for 27 yards and Chris Swain had five runs for 22 yards. Demond Brown (3 for 26) had a huge 14-yard run on third-and-10 to set up the Mids' second touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Tago Smith ran twice for 12 yards filling in at quarterback after MTSU's Roderic Blount tried to gouge out Reynolds eyes after a tackle which forced Reynolds to the sidelines. The fumbles kept this from being an "A"grade.
PASSING DEFENSE: A+
The Mids secondary did a terrific job against Logan Kilgore and the Blue Raiders. Kilgore completed only 19 of 33 passes for 218 yards with two interceptions. On the opening series it looked like the Blue Raiders were going to match Navy touchdown but Jordan Drake sacked Kilgore. Wave Ryder (5 tackles, PD) nearly intercepted his next pass and forced MTSU to settle for a field goal. Ryder was ejected on a bogus targeting penalty early in the second quarter.
D.J. Sargenti (7 tackles, INT, PD) made a great play knocking down a sure touchdown pass two plays later. Sargenti later ended MTSU's final drive with an interception.
Kwazel Bertrand (1 tackle, PD) showed nice discipline staying with his man to break up a pass as Kilgore scrambled and threw across the field at the end of the first half. Both Bertrand and Brandon Clements (3 tackles) did a great job in coverage all day. They often forced Kilgore to look for his second and third options. Parrish Gaines (5 tackles) offered his usual stellar play in limiting yards after the catch and not letting MTSU hit any plays over the top.
Lonnie Richardson (2 tackles, FF) replaced Ryder but left the game after suffering a concussion. George Jamison (6 tackles, INT) did a great job filling in at Rover the rest of the way. His fourth quarter interception set up Sanders game clinching touchdown run
RUSHING DEFENSE: A+
The Mids allowed Middle Tennessee just 101 rushing yards, 3.4 yards a carry and no touchdowns. The inside linebackers Cody Peterson (7 tackles, PD) had his usual excellent game but wasn't forced to make as many tackles because the defensive line played so well and he missed some snaps after hurting his shoulder.
Nose guard Travis Bridges (3 tackles) teamed with George Jamison on a huge stop when the combined to tackle Corey Carmichael on a fourth-and-2 play at the 7-yard line to open the second half.
Big Bernie Sarra (6 tackles) was at his run clogging best as he played nose guard and also saw time at left defensive end. Evan Palelei (3 tackles) played well in his final game. Chris Johnson made six tackles and was terrific in run support and taking away passing lanes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Kicker Nick Sloan hit his only field goal attempts from 32 yards. Punter Pablo Beltran had a rare poor game. Beltran's 31 yard punt from his own 12 gave MTSU great field position and easy field goal. His last punt was just 29 yards. Marcus Thomas had an excellent games returning three kickoffs for 98 yards. He gave the Mids excellent field position with his returns. Austin Grebe contributed a tackle on one long kickoff return. Navy did a good job covering all other kicks.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo did a great job in keeping his cool and helping his team remained poised in the face of MTSU cheap shot tactics. I would have had the guys putting on the foil and retaliating Hansen style. Obviously, Niumatalolo's approach was the right one. Ivan Jasper called a nice came against MTSU hard hitting defense, The Blue Raiders were able to force fumbles, like they normally do, but Jasper's offense was able to move the ball all day. Buddy Green's defense had a tremendous game as it held the high powered MTSU attack out of the end zone. It was nice to see this staff and Ken Niumatalolo get a bowl win especially in light of the rather over the top pregame comments by athletic director Chet Gladchuk that "last year (62-28 Kraft Fight Hunger bowl loss to Arizona State) was a national embarrassment". Niumatalolo's bowl record improves to 2-4. Gladchuk and all Navy fans should appreciate the outstanding job Ken Niumatalolo has done.
OVERALL GRADE: A+
It was a great performance by Navy. Middle Tennessee State tried to turn this into an alley fight but the Mids kept their cool and triumphed. Keenan Reynolds deserves praise for his talents, leadership and records However, it was the defense that was the star of this game shutting down MTSU's high powered offense.
Navy Report Card: Middle Tennessee
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