Navy football opened its season Sept. 4 with a 49-7 loss to Marshall at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Here are five takeaways from the Midshipmen’s lopsided defeat.
1. First-half miscues put the Mids in a huge hole.
Navy (0-1) could not get out of its own way as the Midshipmen fell into a 21-0 first-half hole behind a series of ill-timed errors.
The second quarter ended with sophomore quarterback Xavier Arline failing to reach either the end zone or the sideline on a naked bootleg. After Arline hit senior wide receiver Mychal Cooper for a gain of 22 yards down to the Marshall 5-yard line with 13 seconds left in the half, Navy had a golden opportunity to cut into the Thundering Herd’s three-score lead before receiving the football to begin the second half. Out of timeouts, the only thing that couldn’t happen was for the next play to end in bounds. As the first half expired, Navy’s best drive to that point ended like each of the previous ones — with no points on the board.
Cooper’s reception late in the second quarter followed a disastrous drop by the Navy captain on the team’s first possession of the game. The Midshipmen went for it on fourth-and-4 at the Marshall 47-yard line. Starting quarterback Tai Lavatai rolled to his right and delivered an accurate pass to a wide-open Cooper, but he was unable to hang on.
Six plays and 53 yards later, the Thundering Herd took a 14-0 lead on running back Rasheen Ali’s second rushing touchdown of the first quarter.
Navy moved the ball 49 yards on its next possession, including a beautiful reverse to sophomore wide receiver Jayden Umbarger on fourth-and-3 for a 28-yard gain to the Marshall 14. The Midshipmen went backward on each of the next three plays, including consecutive sacks on second and third down. The ensuing 41-yard field goal try was blocked.
Navy’s defense answered by forcing and recovering a fumble but quickly went three and out and was forced to punt. The Thundering Herd blocked their second kick of the half and took over at the Midshipmen 25. Marshall needed only five plays to grow the lead to 21-0.
“It was the worst that we have been on special teams in a long time,” head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
2. Neither quarterback staked his claim for the starting job.
Niumatalolo did not name a starting quarterback ahead of the season opener and listed sophomores Arline and Lavatai atop the depth chart. Lavatai made his first career start but was replaced by Arline with 4:41 left in the first half and Navy trailing 21-0.
Lavatai re-entered the game early in the third quarter after Navy’s first drive of the half stalled after three plays, but he left the field with an injury later in the period and did not return. Niumatalolo did not have an update on his status immediately after the game.
Lavatai completed one of six pass attempts for 8 yards and an interception while facing constant pressure from Marshall’s dominant defensive front. He was sacked five times. Arline completed two of his three passes for 26 yards and was sacked twice. Junior Maasai Maynor closed out the game, completing two of six attempts for 27 yards and two more sacks.
Arline ran the ball effectively, gaining 76 yards on 16 rushes. He capped the Midshipmen’s only scoring drive of the afternoon with a 1-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Navy went 82 yards on 14 plays to avoid the shut out, including rushes of 17 and 16 yards by Arline. Until that point, the Midshipmen had been 0-for-4 on red zone trips.
“We have to be able to finish those drives to stay close to them,” Niumatalolo said. “I feel like we moved the ball, but it doesn’t matter if you are not finishing and scoring. We killed ourselves and killed ourselves in the red zone. Against a team like that who is so potent on offense, that can’t happen.”
3. A pair of freshmen had their way with the Midshipmen defense.
Quarterback Grant Wells and running back Rasheen Ali, both redshirt freshmen, enjoyed monster games at Navy.
Ali ran for four touchdowns while Wells completed 20 of 30 attempts for 333 yards. Unlike the Midshipmen quarterbacks, Wells routinely had a comfortable pocket and plenty of time to throw. Navy’s only sack of the afternoon came from senior Michael McMorris on a cornerback blitz.
“The kid is patient,” Niumatalolo said of Wells. “He had some time to throw the football and found his receivers.”
Wells threw a pair of interceptions, including one by senior safety Kevin Brennan, who also recovered a fumble.
Late in the game, Marshall backup quarterback Luke Zban threw a 30-yard touchdown pass — his only completion of the game.
Marshall scored a touchdown on all six of its red zone trips and went 5-for-8 on third down. By comparison, the Midshipmen went 8-for-21 on third down and scored on just one of five possessions in the red zone.
“We got down 21-0 pretty quick,” Brennan said. “We had some bright spots here and there, but overall, not a good day for the defense.”
4. It’s time to forget this one and move on to Air Force.
Navy will not have long to dwell on the season-opening loss, as rival Air Force comes to Annapolis next weekend.
The battle between the two military academies falls on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. It should be a special day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“That’s all we talked about in the locker room. In our minds, this game is over with,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to get ready for Air Force. It’s our biggest game of the year, obviously until the last one at the end of the year. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Falcons opened their year with a 35-14 win against FCS opponent Lafayette Sept. 4.
5. “It was awesome” to have fans in the stadium again.
The unique game day experience of a Navy football game was back, as the stadium was open to the public again for the first time since the 2019 season.
“It was awesome. There are no complaints about the fans. It was great to have the brigade back,” Niumatalolo said. “The atmosphere of the game felt like Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, normal. But obviously, we haven’t been beaten like that in front of fans in a long time. It was hard to take. We didn’t coach well enough. We didn’t play well enough. But it was great to have fans back in the stands.”
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