Navy Football 2013: Effective Yardwork

Navy's 12 FBS games last season, if seen through the lens of yardage gained, show that while the Midshipmen made good use of territorial advantages, they were more impressive for another reason. When Navy was outgained, Ken Niumatalolo's team competed at a high level even if the crispness of the offense's execution was lacking at times.


NAVY DID MUCH IN 2013… AND YET THERE WASN'T MUCH ELSE THIS TEAM COULD HAVE DONE

The above title to this post seems like a contradiction in terms. There's an (intentional) bit of Yogi Berra in it, so let's move right into an explanation: Navy accomplished quite a lot last season. Yet, the Midshipmen's losses were – for the most part – the kinds of games in which it was hard to fault them for coming up short. A breakdown of Navy's season according to yardage differentials (plus or minus) will illustrate this point.

In its 12 FBS games from last season, Navy outgained opponents six times and was outgained six times. When Navy outgained its foes, the Midshipmen were a sterling 5-1. The triple option can certainly uncork big plays, but the heart of this offense – the reason why it works for Ken Niumatalolo – is that it can keep the other team's (possibly powerful) offense off the field. A 14-play, 80-yard drive is precisely what Navy's offense is capable of, so it's very reassuring that the Midshipmen did well when they outgained an opponent.

What should (and will) receive more scrutiny is Navy's 3-3 record when it was outgained. It is easy to look at the 5-1 record when winning the yardage battle and conclude that Navy simply didn't record enough games in which it outgained the other side. That's a fair-enough point, but it doesn't capture the entirety of Navy's 2013 season. When you examine the six games in which Navy was outgained, two of the three losses involve what could reasonably be seen as "special circumstances." One was the loss to Western Kentucky, the game in which Keenan Reynolds got knocked out of action fairly early in the proceedings. Another rare episode from the past season was the loss at Notre Dame. Navy walked off the field without an extra number in the win column, but that contest remains the offense's most complete performance of the 2013 campaign, relative to the opponent and the circumstances. Navy fell short on that evening in South Bend, but only in the most technical sense. The Midshipmen could not have played much better than they did.

There was only one time from the 2013 season in which a healthy Navy team was both outgained and comprehensively outplayed: the loss at Duke… which turned out to be a loss to a very good team, the ACC Coastal Division champion. That decisive setback in Durham was partly the product of a secondary that couldn't stop Duke's passing attack. (Navy has had trouble with David Cutcliffe's passing game in the past.) It was also the result of Navy's three turnovers.

Try on this fact for size: Navy committed more turnovers than its opponent only once last season. The Duke game witnessed that rare occurrence.

Navy was naturally great when it outgained opponents last season, but even when it did not do so, the Midshipmen held up well. If you want to claim that Navy failed to snatch a winnable game in 2013, Duke is probably the best argument, with Western Kentucky a close second. (If you wanted to make the case for Western Kentucky, you would have a good point, but the Reynolds injury carried a great deal of weight.) Navy's season simply did not involve many Saturdays in which the team was disturbingly or appallingly inefficient. Only one clunker in 12 FBS games? That's really quite good. It's the mark of a team that achieved so richly after the loss to Toledo on Oct. 19.

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