Navy suffered its second straight American Athletic Conference loss Oct. 15, dropping a 35-17 decision at Memphis. The Midshipmen (1-5, 1-3 AAC) could not rally without starting sophomore quarterback Tai Lavatai, who left in the second half with an apparent head injury.
Lavatai ran the ball 17 times for 28 yards and completed 3 of 4 pass attempts for 27 yards and a touchdown to senior wide receiver Mychal Cooper in the third quarter.
1. Navy stood no chance of making a fourth-quarter comeback without Lavatai.
The Midshipmen offense is not built to overcome large deficits late in games, but they have found a way before. In its lone win this season, Navy rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to stun UCF behind Lavatai.
The Mids’ 18-point deficit after three quarters at Memphis felt much more helpless, especially with Lavatai sidelined with an injury suffered at the end of the third quarter.
Backup quarterback Xavier Arline did little to convince the hosts that Navy posed a legitimate threat to come from behind. He was credited for -5 yards rushing on five attempts and did not complete his one pass attempt as the Midshipmen offense sputtered down the stretch.
2. Two early drives could not have underscored the contrasting styles of play more.
After falling behind 7-0 in the game’s opening minutes, Navy responded in the best way imaginable.
The Midshipmen chipped away steadily as they moved 75 yards on 21 plays to tie the score, 7-7, with 20 seconds to play in the opening quarter. They relied mostly on inside zone runs and converted on five of six third downs. Navy successfully went for it on fourth down after the only third down it did not convert. After 11 minutes and 50 seconds, fullback James Harris II capped the prolonged drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. The 21 plays were the most in a single drive in the FBS this season.
The stark differences between these offenses was displayed immediately following the ensuing kickoff as wide receiver Calvin Austin III took a reverse 69 yards to the end zone on the first play of the possession. Memphis led the rest of the way.
3. A depleted Navy defense gave up too many big plays to compete with the Tigers’ high-powered offense.
Austin, also a track star at Memphis, is one of the best wide receivers in college football and considered a top NFL prospect. He entered Oct. 14 ranked second nationally in all-purpose yards (162 per game), second in receiving yards per game (139.5) and fourth in touchdown catches (eight). It should not have surprised anyone when the speedster made a big play on his first touch of the game.
The Tigers entered ranked 11th nationally in both total offense and passing offense. Navy was without starting safeties Mitch West and Kevin Brennan, and Memphis completed too many long passes too easily.
Shortly after Austin’s long run, true freshman quarterback Seth Henigan threw a 74-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Eddie Lewis midway through the second quarter. It added to what started on Memphis’ first play from scrimmage — a 49-yard completion to Jason Ivory.
Henigan completed 8 of 11 pass attempts for 215 yards with two touchdowns and one interception to Navy linebacker Diego Fagot before sitting the entire fourth quarter.
The Tigers outgained Navy, 415-241, in total offense and did not punt until the closing minutes of the third quarter.
4. Ill-timed penalties kept Navy from tying the game in the second quarter.
Fagot returned the pass he intercepted in the second quarter to the end zone, but the score was negated by a penalty on freshman linebacker Tyler Fletcher for playing without a helmet. Fletcher did continue to follow the play instead of removing himself as required once he lost his helmet, but he made no impact on its result. To make matters worse, officials missed a blatant hands-to-the-face penalty against the Tigers that dislodged the helmet in the first place.
Another questionable penalty against the Midshipmen followed moments later as Lavatai completed a pass to Mychal Cooper in the end zone. The touchdown was negated by a clipping penalty on Camari Williams, who appeared to trip and fall into a defender’s legs.
For the game, Navy committed four penalties for 49 yards.
5. Cincinnati awaits.
Navy can send shockwaves through the college football landscape next week, but it won’t be easy. The Midshipmen host the third-ranked team in the nation, Cincinnati, on Oct. 23.
The Bearcats are 5-0 entering this weekend’s game against UCF, with a road win against Notre Dame on their resume. Barring a major upset, Cincinnati appears likely to complete the regular season undefeated. As such, the Bearcats have a chance to become the first AAC team selected to the College Football Playoff.
Photo Credit: Alex Edelman/PressBox