The Navy Midshipmen (6-1, ACC 4-0) defeated the South Florida Bulls (4-4, AAC 2-2) 29-17 in a tough, physical, American Athletic Conference game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium last Saturday. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds scored twice in the fourth quarter to tie Monte Ball for the FBS collegiate mark for career rushing touchdowns. The Mids allowed the opening kickoff to be returned by Rodney Adams 97 yards for a touchdown. Navy battled back to take a 13-10 halftime lead after Austin Grebe hit a field goal with 33 seconds left in half. South Florida took a short punt back deep into Navy territory which set up Marlon Mack's two yard touchdown run to give USF a 17-13 lead. Reynolds took over when he carries seven times for 56 yards on an 80-yard touchdown drive to make it 22-17 with 6:58 left. The Bulls fumbled the ensuing kickoff then Reynolds clinched it with a one yard touchdown run with 1:49 remaining.
PASSING OFFENSE: D
Keenan Reynolds completed only 3-of-9 passes for just 16 passing yards. He opened the game with a seven yard completion to Jamir Tillman (3 rec, 16 yds.). Keenan started the next drive with a pass, rolling out on waggle action, but his throw to Craig Scott was broken up. For the third straight series Navy again opened with a throw as Reynolds hit Tillman on a screen pass for five yards. Reynolds had back-back incompletions the next series. His pass to Tillman was deflected at the line. Keenan's deep throw to Demond Brown was on target but Brown couldn't haul it in which battling tight coverage by USF.
Reynolds completed his next pass for a short four yard gain to Jamir Tillman. The same drive ended when Reynolds threw the ball away under pressure and Navy punted. On the final drive of the first half Reynolds missed Demond Brown overshooting him on the sidelines. Two plays later he hit Calvin Cass Jr., on third down right in the hands for what should have been a third down conversion but Cass dropped the pass. Navy settled for a field goal and a 13-10 halftime lead. Reynolds attempted only one pass in the second half and he was sacked on a blitz. Keenan tried a two point conversion pass but it was tipped away from Tillman.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
Navy ran for 428 rushing yards, a 6.2 average and three rushing touchdowns. Navy set a school record with three 100-yard rushers. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds as the USF defense brought the lumber and Navy saw DeBrandon Sanders (5 att., 20 yds.) knocked out of the game and Chris Swain and Dishan Romine were shook up a few times.
Quarterback Keenan Reynolds ran 26 times for 117 yards and scored twice. Reynolds missed a few reads against the Bulls attacking defense. Reynolds second rushing touchdown was his 77th career rushing score, tying former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball (2009-12) for most in NCAA history. Keenan left the game briefly on the final drive after being pile drived head first WWF style by USF's Zack Bullock. Tago Smith replaced him and ran twice for five yards. Smith was hit so hard running upright on his first carry that it seemed the USF defense planted him for Arbor Day.
B-back Chris Swain ran 23 times for a team leading 131 yards and a showed his combination of power and speed on his 24-yard touchdown run. Swain delivered and took some heavy hits. Slotback Dishan Romine had six attempts for 115 yards. Romine was hit hard a few times and showed some toughness returning to the game. Romine demonstrated his speed with a 55-yard run.
PASSING DEFENSE: B+
Navy allowed USF's talented quarterback Quinton Flowers to complete 12-of- 20 passes for 208 yards. Navy played their bend but don't break style well but did struggle against Flowers on third down at times. Cornerback Quincy Adams had three tackles and broke up a pass.
Adams had poor coverage early in game when he allowed a third-and-24 pass to be converted just in front of him as he broke late. Cornerback Brandon Clements (3 tackles, TFL) had a nice open field tackle to keep USF short of the first down marker. Daiquan Thomasson posted three tackles and broke up another pass. He was beat for a long 34-yard reception that set up a score. Kevin McCoy recorded a tackle and quarterback hurry. a few hard hits. Defensive end Amos Mason (3 tackle, PD) deflected a pass at the line. South Florida converted only 3-of-11 third down plays. Bernie Sarra had a quarterback pressure which caused USF QB Flowers to check down and complete a third down pass short of the first down to force a punt.
Fullback Quentin Ezell had three carries for 19 yards. Calvin Cass Jr., made two carries for 22 yards. He may have scored a touchdown on his first carry but he tripped. On his second carry Cass fumbled and Navy lost the ball. Slotback Demond Brown had no carries but made a great block to allow Dishan Romine to gain 23-yards.
RUSHING DEFENSE: A+
The Mids allowed USF only 62 rushing yards, just 2.6 yards per carry and one touchdown. Navy’s defense did a great job against an offense that entered the game averaging 236 rushing yards per game. Will Anthony led the Mids with four tackles and recorded two quarterback hurries. He showed his athleticism making a great play to chase down Mack from the backside. Mike linebacker Micah Thomas (3 tackles) and Daniel Gonzalez (1 tackles) didn't have their usual tackling numbers but they filled the gaps and gave Mack nowhere to run. D.J. Palmore has a key play dropping the dangerous Flowers for a three yards loss on third-and-goal from the four yard line to force USF to settle for a field goal on the second series. Lorentez Barbour (3 tackles) took too shallow an angle and lost leverage on one play as Mack ran away from him for a first down. The Navy defense allowed only ten points.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
It was the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Kicker Austin Grebe hit all three of his field goal attempts from 30, 26 and 28 yards respectively. All were pressure kicks since the Mids were trailing when he hit all three field goals. Myer Krah made two tackles and forced a fumble on a kick return then recovered it to help secure the win. Ryan Harris made three tackles and had two big hits on kick coverage. The bad was punter Alex Barta who averaged 38 yards on three punts and placed one inside the twenty yard line. Barta hit his first punt fifty yards but then his directional pooch punt travelled only 28 yards as he under kicked his coverage and USF upback Johnson returned it 25 yards to set up a USF touchdown. Dishan Romine averaged just 16.3 on three kickoff returns. On one he made a poor decision to take a kickoff out of the end zone and was tackled at the 13-yard line. The ugly was Rodney Adams taking the opening kickoff back 97 yards for South Florida with no Mid being even close to tackling him. The Mids had a few big hits including the Krah fumble recovery but their normally very good coverage teams were badly outplayed here.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo had his team ready and not looking ahead to Memphis. I agreed with his initial decision to kick the field goal "I was going to kick the field goal just to go up by eight," Niumatalolo said Reynolds talked him out of it and scored the game winning touchdown. Ivin Jasper used multiple schemes and formations to finally crack the Bulls physical defense for 13 fourth quarter points. Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson's unit played well and was very physical. They stuffed the Bulls running game and made the Bulls attempt to kick field goals where they missed two.
OVERALL GRADE: B+
The Mids won a very tough, physical game against a young but talented Bulls team. The Navy offense was able to make plays at the end when they needed it. The Navy defense was outstanding as they completely shut down South Florida's running attack. The struggles of the special team coverage unit and punting kept this from being an "A" grade but the special teams did force a key fumble on a kick off to effectively end any chances of the Bulls pulling the upset.