The Navy Midshipmen (3-0) continued their unbeaten start to the season with a 21-14 win over the Tulane Green Wave (1-2) in New Orleans. It is the second week in a row where the Mids have been in a contest late in the fourth quarter before doing enough to pull out a win in the dying minutes of the game. While this is obviously great for neutrals, it is far from where Navy expects to be as the team winds up for another run at the AAC West Division Title. Here is a look back at how the units performed on Saturday.
PASSING OFFENSE: C+
We know Will Worth can pass the ball a little bit, but this was far from his best outing. Worth was 5 of 12 for 59 yards with no touchdowns, as Tulane focused on not being lured into big passing plays out of triple-option formations. The Mids longest pass on the day was a 19-yarder to Jamir Tillman, who was also Navy's leading receiver with 47 yards on three catches. The passing game needs to be more explosive to help open the option against tight, drawn in defenses.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C
The option rolled for 287 yards on the ground at an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Navy controlled the ball for just over half the game (31:06 minutes) and Worth had his best game to date in the running phase of the option as he put up 111 yards on 26 carries with a touchdown. The twin problems in this game were not getting the fullbacks established (Chris High had just 51 yards) and the two fumbles in Tulane territory in the second half that almost cost Navy the game. Having said all that Tulane held a better version of this offense to far fewer yards last year, so maybe the Green Wave is just a good option defense squad.
PASSING DEFENSE: C-
It seems a little harsh to give the passing defense a C when the team held opposition starting quarterback Johnathan Brantley to just 21 yards on 3 of 12 passing, but that just doesn't explain what happened in the passing game properly. Brantley is just not a good passer of the ball at this point in his freshman season and there were a couple of passes where he flat out missed receivers running open. More than that though this downgrade is for the four interceptions the Mids defensive backs, specifically safety Daiquan Thomasson and cornerback Tyris Wooten, dropped cold. Those potential picks would have vastly changed this game.
RUSHING DEFENSE: C+
Thr rushing defense was very much a mixed bag. There were some drives where Navy controlled the Tulane spread option and shut it down, but there were others, specifically touchdown drives of 75 and 76 yards, where Navy seemed unable to find the key to stopping the running backs. With tailbacks Dontrell Hilliard and Josh rounds rushing for 97 and 75 yards respectively, plus the yardage from Brantley on scrambles and designed plays, the running game was more effective than Navy would have liked. On the plus side, the defensive line rotation worked well for the most point and inside linebackers Daniel Gonzales and Micah Thomas were both active around the ball.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
Nothing about the Navy special teams was special on Saturday. The Mids had zero yards in the return game (mainly because none of the Tulane kickoffs were returnable) and the coverage of Navy kicks was just ok. The punting from Erik Harris was poor in the first half as his punts all sat in the low 30s in terms of yardage (he did have a 48-yarder in the second half). The biggest mistake though was a missed extra point that has probably cost kicker Bennett Moehring his job. D.J. Grant-Johnson should be back after the bye week, hopefully shoring up a position that has been a major weakness so far this season.
Not playing well and still coming away with a victory is the sign of a tough, determined, and well-coached team. Ken Niumatalolo didn't have a lot of big calls to make in this game, he just trusted his players and coaching staff to find the right pieces and have the right level of fitness and mental fortitude to pull out a victory at the death. Niumatalolo also helped call an outstanding drive that started with just over half the fourth quarter remaining that both put Navy a touchdown up on the scoreboard and which gave Tulane very little time left in which to respond.
OVERALL GRADE: C
It is a passing grade and not much more. With a couple of interceptions and some better ball security Navy could have walked out of New Orleans with a 28 point victory and been very content heading into the bye week. Instead, the Mids have plenty of work to do on the practice field to turn this undoubtedly talented team into a more efficient unit.