The Navy Midshipmen (4-1) turned the college football world upside down on Saturday with a stunning 46-40 upset of the No. 6 Houston Cougars (5-1) in Annapolis. Houston knew that the game with Navy was one of the few true hurdles it had to overcome on its way to a perfect season and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Ken Niumatalolo though had Navy perfectly prepared to defeat the Cougars in a victory that essentially ended the playoff hopes for two teams (Louisville needed Houston to be undefeated when they meet later this year).
Here is a look back at the three keys that led Navy's upset win:
1) Contain Greg Ward Jr. - Fail
This just goes to show that a team can win a football game without hitting all of the keys. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. came into the game ranking sixth nationally in total offense and 13th nationally in passing. Ward actually extended his averages in both those areas as he passed for 359 yards (and three touchdowns) while rushing for 94 yards and another score on 17 carries.
.The Navy defense may have been torched at times by Ward, but the unit made the two biggest plays of the game on the Cougars first two drives of the second half. The score was tied at 20 with Houston receiving the second half kickoff and expecting to march down the field and score to open a lead. Instead, a strip sack of Ward gave Navy the ball back and the Mids offense capitalized with a touchdown. Then, three plays into their next drive, Ward threw a slant pattern that was jumped by Josiah Powell. Powell, after almost losing the ball, returned the pick to the house giving Navy a 14 poi t lead that the Cougars could not run down.
2) Neutralize Steven Taylor - Pass (Technically)
Houston linebacker Steven Taylor was expected to be a thorn in the side of the Navy offense on Saturday. Taylor had 27 tackles, six tackles for a loss, and 5.5 sacks before this weekend and his ability to track down the football and pressure the quarterback seemed to be an ideal combination of an edge linebacker when tasked with stopping the option in its tracks.
This never happened however as Taylor sat out the entire game after a late-breaking suspension for violating team rules. Taylor was one of four Houston starts that sat for one reason or another and, with a nod to running back Duke Catalon, his was by far the most costly as a defense that had been lights out through five games gave up 46 points and looked clueless as to how to stop the triple-option attack.
3) Get the fullbacks going - Incomplete
Getting Chris High up and running was seen by Ken Niumatalolo as the most important part of his gameplan for beating Houston. That theory was blown up in the first quarter when High went down with a sore hip and did not return to the game. It was a frustrating turn of events for Navy as High had looked explosive on his first two carries as he gained 25 yards and a touchdown with those two touches of the ball. High was followed off the field immediately by slotback Calvin Cass Jr. as the Navy running game took a couple of big hits early in the contest.
With High out of the game, the bulk of the inside running went to Shawn White. White rushed for 38 yards on 10 carries, poor numbers but at least his willingness to carry inside allowed the other Navy players space to make a big play or two. In truth it was the work of quarterback Will Worth, who rushed an astonishing 32 times for 115 yards, that kept the Navy offense churning after High left the game.