For the second year in a row, Tulane’s defense gave the Navy offense all it could handle before the Mids came out on top, this time by a score of 21-14. Navy improved to a 3-0 record, 2-0 in the American Athletic Conference. Tulane fell to 1-2.
Here are three initial thoughts on the contest:
Tulane’s plan almost worked
None of Tulane’s quarterbacks have shown a full grasp of the Willie Fritz offense quite yet. Johnathan Brantley did run for 100 yards against Southern, though, which was enough for the Green Wave staff to decide to give him the start against Navy. If the offense was going to be limited no matter what, then it would make sense to start the most athletic player who would make the most of those basic plays and maybe improvise a bit.
For a while, it looked like that plan was going to work. Both of Tulane’s touchdown drives were kept alive by Brantley’s legs. In the second quarter, after a penalty put Tulane in 2nd and 17, Brantley ran for 26 yards to the Navy 10. In the third quarter, with the Green Wave facing 3rd and 6, Brantley eluded the Navy blitz to complete a pass that set up an easy 4th and 1 conversion.
In the end, though, it wasn’t enough. One of the questions facing Tulane before the game was how willing they would be to throw the ball. As willing as they might have been, they were not able. Brantley finished the game having completed only 3 of 12 passes for 21 yards. It isn’t as if he didn’t have open receivers, either; the Mids turned more players loose in the secondary than they should have. That has the potential to be an issue later in the season, but with Brantley unable to hit those targets, Navy was never really burned by it yesterday.
How about that quarterback?
It’s time to end the “Will Worth isn’t very athletic” storyline once and for all. The senior ran for 111 yards and a touchdown in his best performance to date. While the number is impressive, it’s how he arrived at that number that’s important. Tulane’s defensive line was everything we thought it would be, but Worth was able to grind out tough yards inside on midline options and quarterback keepers. He also showed enough agility to cut back on an outside zone play for 31 yards to set up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
That’s not to say that he didn’t have his issues. Completing 5 of 12 passes is a problem. He took three sacks when he had enough time to get rid of the ball instead. His awkward toss to Dishan Romine led to a fumble in Tulane territory. Nevertheless, when the Mids needed a play to take the lead, Worth delivered.
While he doesn’t have the straight-ahead speed of Tago Smith or Keenan Reynolds, I’ve never seen the lack of quickness in Worth that others have pointed out. In a way, I think that the perception of him has been clouded by circumstance. If he was the heir apparent to Reynolds all along, I don’t think anyone would have noticed anything. Because Worth rose to the starting role due to injury, people assume the differences between him and Smith are more pronounced than they actually are.
He’s a senior with a linebacker’s toughness in his fourth year learning Navy’s offense. The Mids are 3-0 after facing two defenses that gave them trouble in 2015. He isn’t above criticism; no player is. But when we evaluate his performance, it should be based on what we see, and not what we think we see.
Special teams concern?
Navy’s kickoff coverage in 2016 has been tremendous. Other elements of the Mids’ special teams have not. While they didn’t ultimately factor into the outcome of the game, Navy’s punting and placekicking have been somewhat shaky through three games. After having a field goal blocked last week, Bennett Moehring missed a PAT in the third quarter. At punter, Erik Harris appears to share Alex Barta’s streakiness. He let fly a 48-yarder in the 4th quarter, but his 32-yard punt earlier in the game could have put the Mids in a bad spot if they weren’t bailed out by a Tulane penalty. It’s far too premature to push the panic button on either, but it is something to watch going forward.