Five Factors Recap: WKU 36, Navy 27

2,000+ words on the Tops big road win, and where the program goes from here sitting 2-2 on the season.

Western Kentucky earned a big road win at Navy last night, improving to 2-2 on the season entering a stretch of five of seven home games.

How did the Tops pull off the (minor) upset? Read below for more.


Explosiveness:

WKU yards per play: 6.3

WKU yards per rush: 4.8

WKU yards per pass attempt: 7.2


Navy yards per play: 7.0

Navy yards per rush: 7.9

Navy yards per pass attempt: 3.7


I’m in literal disbelief that WKU allowed nearly 8--EIGHT--yards a rush to a team who carried the ball 52 times, and still managed to win. The Midshipmen had five different players gain 19 yards or longer on a rush (sounds more like a good receiving statistic.) But here we are.

As great as Navy was on the ground, their missed opportunities in the air were as bad, costing them dearly. Keenan Reynolds had several guys wide open, but simply missed them, finishing 3-for-14 for the game passing.

According to SBNation’s Bill Connelly, teams who outgain their opponents between 0.5 to 1.0 yards per play in a contest win 72 percent of the time. Navy outgained WKU by 0.7, so a little less than the median in that percentage.

The more important explosiveness stat though, points per play, was nearly even—WKU scored 36 points on 88 plays (0.409 PPP,) Navy scored 27 points on 67 plays (0.403).

Advantage--Tossup. If Navy converts one or two more of their passing plays, they probably get the nod here. But true explosiveness usually comes through the air, not breaking off lengthy runs, that’s the advantage of the passing attack. A streaking wide receiver can get to the endzone by running in open space; a runner usually has to go through more defenders.

Navy was more explosive by yards, thanks to their dominant ground attack. But when they could’ve converted some of that big play yardage into points, via wide open receivers in the pass game, they didn’t execute.


Efficiency:

Overall Success Rate: WKU 60 percent, Navy 56.

First Down: Navy 70 percent, WKU 60.

Second Down: WKU 66 percent, Navy 55.

Third Down: WKU 47 percent, Navy 20.

A 5 percent margin in efficiency gives you about a 75 percent chance to win a game, again, according to Connelly. The Tops were 4 percent better than Navy on the afternoon, and most importantly, much better on third down.

This speaks volumes for just how well WKU’s offense moves the ball at times. One would assume what Navy’s ground game costs you in explosiveness, you make up for in efficiency (staying ahead of the chains.) But WKU managed to be even better.

A huge key for WKU winning this game was defense on passing downs in the second half. I wrote earlier last week that this was their biggest weakness on defense, giving up huge gains on second-and-8, or third/fourth-and-5 or longer. Football Outsiders’ ranked them No. 117 nationally in passing down defense.

Here’s every passing down situation from the second half (not counting Navy’s last desperation drive down two possessions,) and the result.

Second-and-10 at Navy 34: Keenan Reynolds, incomplete pass. SUCCESS.

Third-and-10 at Navy 34: Noah Copeland, 52-yard rush to WKU 14. FAIL.

Second-and-10 at WKU 14: Keenan Reynolds, sacked for loss of 8 yards to WKU 22. SUCCESS.

Third-and-18 at WKU 22: Keenan Reynolds, 12-yard rush to WKU 10. SUCCESS.

Second-and-14 at Navy 19: Keenan Reynolds, 1-yard rush loss. SUCCESS.

Third-and-15 at Navy 18: Keenan Reynolds, pass incomplete. SUCCESS.

Third-and-6 at midfield: Keenan Reynolds, loss of 4 yards to Navy 46. SUCCESS.


Obviously if you’re WKU, you’d like to have that 52-yarder back. Outside of that, WKU’s defense was successful on every passing down situation they faced.

Now, you may think this seems obvious—The odds of Navy converting successful plays on some of those downs and distances are fairly low, especially given the style of offense they run.

But so far this year, the Tops defense had really struggled in these situations, believe it or not. They stepped it up last night.

Advantage--WKU.


Finishing Drives: WKU earned 7 drives where they snapped a first down near the Navy 40-yard line. 3 of these went for touchdowns (one missed conversion,) and another 3 went for field goals. We all know which drive is missing here (more on that in a bit.)

Navy earned 6 drives where they snapped a first down near the WKU 40, scoring 4 touchdowns (one missed conversion.) On a first-and-10 at the WKU 32 in the second quarter, the Midshipmen picked up a personal foul penalty, pushing them back to a first-and-25 at the WKU 47, where they eventually had to punt. The other goose egg, they missed a short field goal attempt.

Advantage--Tossup. Despite the two trips where they scored 0 points, Navy averaged 4.5 points per trip inside the 40, compared to 4.1 for WKU. This isn’t a large margin, but does show you the importance of getting touchdowns over field goals. WKU scored points at a better rate, but had to settle for more field goals, thus losing the stat (by a small margin.)


Field Position: Both teams earned an average starting position at their own 26-yard line. Navy actually got better starting field position on most drives, but gave the ball to WKU at their own 24-yard line on a fumble in the second quarter, evening the stat out.

Advantage--Tossup.


Turnovers: This is one I was looking forward to diving into.

The advantage of explosiveness/efficiency is that they create more scoring opportunities, it’s like getting men in scoring position in baseball. Doesn’t always mean you score points, but when you get more opportunities than your opponent, it’s usually a good thing.

WKU’s offense, both explosive and efficient, usually means they’re going to get a lot of scoring opportunities. So the last thing you can afford to do as an opposing team is give the Tops MORE opportunities via turnovers.

That’s exactly what the Midshipmen did in the first half. Despite a first half that Navy dominated statistically (holding both an early 14-6 lead and the ball,) they gave WKU the ball on a fumble at their own 24-yard line in the second quarter, resulting in an easy Tops touchdown three plays later. You just can’t give up an easy scoring opportunity when you’ve got a team as explosive as WKU on the ropes for once.

It’s similar to the interception WKU threw near the end of the first half in the MTSU contest, giving the Blue Raiders an easy scoring opportunity when the Tops were bullying them into a corner. A bit different though, in that WKU could've/should've just run the clock out into halftime there, so the Blue Raiders' play was a bit more flukey/fortunate for MTSU.

WKU evened out the stat by throwing the goalline interception as the first half ended, but Navy’s second and final turnover iced the game for WKU—the 43-yard Wonderful Terry interception return.

Advantage--WKU. A 2-1 margin isn’t large, and WKU’s one turnover cost them a likely 3 points, maybe even 7. But Navy’s first half turnover basically gave WKU a touchdown, and the last one they allowed sealed the game with a touchdown return.


Bonus: Jeff Brohm’s decision to try a goalline touchdown throw at end of the first half was the right call.

Let me throw out a few first half stat totals for you.


Points per play—Navy 0.467, WKU 0.266. Teams who lose this stat by a 0.2 to 0.3 margin lose 96 percent of the time, according to Connelly. Even considering WKU was near the bottom of that bracket with a -0.21 margin, the 0.1 to 0.2 bracket is 84 percent, and WKU would be at the top of that one.

Yards per play--Navy 7.3, WKU 5.5. Teams outgained between 1.5 to 2.0 yards per play lose 89 percent of the time, according to Connelly. WKU was being outgained by 1.8 at the time.

Basically, WKU was getting worked at this point in the game. The only reason it was as close as it was, was because leading 14-6 and holding the ball, Navy had the fumble at their own 24 that turned into a short WKU touchdown.

If those same numbers play out into the second half, only Navy doesn’t give WKU another easy touchdown, Tops are leaving this one suffering a double-digit defeat.

Did things turn around in the second half? Yes, the defense stepped up bigtime, and the offense even moved the ball better than the first half.

But if you were counting, or relying, on the defense to suddenly execute much better in the second half—well, you haven’t been paying much attention this year.

So, you’re Jeff Brohm. At this point in the game, your offense is moving the ball pretty well--But has had to settle for multiple field goals, only getting a touchdown on a sudden change with a short field. Navy is averaging 8 yards a rush, and is scoring the equivalent of a touchdown around every 15 plays ran.

You’ve got a first-and-goal at the Navy 8, :06 seconds left, no timeouts. With that down and distance, running is not an option.

Do you really kick a field goal here, without even trying a quick pass? Knowing Navy receives the ball in the second half, and how successfully they’re moving the ball so far?

I say no. At that point in the game, it looked like WKU was in desperate need for a touchdown. Yes, the point margin was close—but the other stats were not, and suggested the second half could easily take a turn for the worse.

Knowing all the above, I think a quick pass try for a touchdown was the right call. If it’s incomplete, you’re still gonna get the field goal, but you gotta try the touchdown while you’ve got the chance.

Obviously, it didn’t work out as you hope. But a lot of people used hindsight to complain about the short-yardage play call at MTSU (which I wrote was the right call.) Well, holding a 22-21 lead and facing a third-and-goal at the Navy 1, WKU punched it in up the middle with Doughty, taking a firm 29-21 lead.

I don’t see anyone complaining about the short yardage play calling now. Just my take, I don’t think it’s fair to cry foul every time a call doesn’t work, then turn around and be okay with it when it does.

Sometimes, you make the right call and it doesn’t work out. You run it up the middle against MTSU and don’t get it, you do against Illinois and Navy. Doesn’t mean it was the wrong call against MTSU, just didn’t work out that time.

You dial up a quick pass with :06 left against Navy, and it was badly executed, resulted in a turnover. But the next time, that same situation, maybe it results in a touchdown that gives you needed breathing room in the second half. Doesn’t mean it was the wrong call against Navy, just didn’t work out that time.


Where do we go from here?:

Whew, what a first four games. This team is exhausting (in a fun way,) to watch. I feel like we have enough stories/moments for an entire season already.

I think 2-2 is about as good as anyone could ask for at this point. WKU won’t admit that, and probably feels they should be 4-0 (in reality, they should be 3-1—the MTSU game was a 2-of-10 outcome. They were a bit “fortunate” against Navy, but not as fortunate as most feel today, that win was earned in the second half.)

Regardless, 2-2 is where they stand entering a home contest against UAB. Trying to beat a Power 5 team (Illinois) on the road is always a challenge, Bowling Green and Navy have proved to be more than capable opponents, and rivalry games (MTSU) are always tough.

So all things considered, 2-2 feels like a pretty good spot to be in. The defense showed some progress in the Navy second half, and the schedule lightens up (a little,) going forward.

I’m feeling pretty optimistic for WKU about their bowl chances. Five of the next seven games are at home. Win or lose though, this team has proven it’s going to be a lot of fun to follow either way. Can’t wait to see how it plays out.


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