Navy falls to Pittsburgh, 42-21

ANNAPOLIS-- It took two plays for Navy's offense to realize it was in trouble against No. 23 ranked Pittsburgh on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Navy's defense was officially in trouble after 10 plays. It was that sort of day as Pitt rolled to a 42-21 victory before a stadium-record crowd of 37,970 on Homecoming.

Navy is 2-8 in its past 10 Homecoming games. The past three have been a particular eyesore: They include a 44-24 loss to Wake Forest last year and a 36-0 loss to then-No. 24 Rutgers in 2006. The combined score of those three games is 120-45.

"We got our butts whipped," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "I did a bad job of getting us ready."

Navy (4-3) was in trouble from the outset. On its second offensive play, Shun White took an option pitch to the right and gained six yards for a first down. The record crowd cheered as the PA announcer announced, "That's another Navy [pause] first down!"

But the discerning eyes of the Navy coaches had already caught a major problem: White would have gone for a much longer gain except that middle linebacker Scott McKillop made the tackle. It is unusual for middle linebackers to make the tackle on option plays to the outside; but the Navy linemen were struggling to block McKillop, who led the nation in tackles per game last year. And the problems did not improve.

"We just couldn't get him blocked," White said after the game.

Navy's defense, meantime, was having anticipated problems with Pitt sophomore running back LeSean McCoy. He entered having rushed for 533 yards in five games, with seven touchdowns. He had five touches on the opening drive, four runs and a catch. Those plays went for a combined 62 yards.

Pitt's second drive ended with a two-yard touchdown run by McCoy for a 14-7 lead with 4 minutes 34 seconds left in the first quarter. On Navy's next play, senior quarterback Jarod Bryant was sacked and fumbled the ball; it was recovered by Pitt junior Gus Mustakas. And the Panthers led 21-7 three plays later, on a nine-yard touchdown run by senior LaRod Stephens-Howling.

The Midshipmen threatened briefly early in the second quarter. Senior Rashawn King intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 91 yards. Bryant scored on an eight-yard run to pull the Midshipmen within 21-14.

Pitt answered with an 11-yard touchdown run by McCoy. The Panthers got the ball back with 1:16 left in the first half. And on the first play of the drive, McCoy went up the middle, broke through the line, outraced two defenders and scored on a 58-yard run for a 35-14 halftime lead.

McCoy finished with 156 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. Niumatalolo said McCoy was probably the best opposing running back to play at Navy since LaDanian Tomlinson of Texas Christian in 2000. Ironically, McCoy was playing in the same stadium where former Pitt great Tony Dorsett set the NCAA career rushing record, in 1976; he did it in a 45-0 victory over Navy.

Meantime, Navy's offense never got going. McKillop was taking care of plays to the outside. The interior defensive line was keeping the fullback in check (Eric Kettani finished with 13 yards on 8 carries). McKillop finished with a team-high nine tackles.

"Their two stars [McKillop and McCoy] played well," Niumatalolo said. "We had a hard time blocking McKillop on offense and we had a hard time tackling McCoy on defense."

Bryant carried 21 times for 81 yards and one touchdown and White had 10 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown. Senior Corey Johnson had a game-high 10 tackles and also batted down two passes; Johnson, a one-time point guard for the Navy basketball team, looked like the basketball player of old blocking a shot on both passes.

Navy's linebackers appeared to have a particularly long day. Several times, following Pitt scores, the Navy assistants spoke immediately to the linebackers before addressing the other units.

Pitt has scaled back its offense this year under fourth-year coach Dave Wannstedt. In the offseason, Wannstedt hired offensive line coach Tony Wise, who had spent the previous 18 years with the New York Jets.

Under Wise, the Panthers have run the ball more -- and more successfully -- this year than in the past. Last year, the play calling from former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh came under serious scrutiny.

On Saturday, the Panthers (5-1) ran the ball 42 times and threw it 23.

The trap play was particularly effective, though really, Pitt didn't get too complicated: McCoy and Stephens-Howling ran the ball up the middle at least 27 times.

"We didn't give our offense a chance," King said. "We could have done a better job of following our assignments."

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