Navy lost a 21-0 lead, but fought back and held on for a 28-24 win over UConn in their American Athletic Conference opener. Will Worth led the offense with 130 yards passing and two TDs on the ground, while freshman cornerback Alohi Gilman had 10 tackles, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown. The Midshipmen improved to 2-0 for the second straight year, and improved their home winning streak to 12 games.
Here are three quick thoughts on the game:
It doesn’t have to be pretty
With all due respect to the Rams, the Fordham game was a bit of a cakewalk. This was Navy’s first real test, and they didn’t exactly pass with flying colors. The Mids opened the game with touchdown drives of 96 and 80 yards, but had only 189 yards the rest of the way. Those two drives consisted of 10 and 9 plays respectively. Navy only had one drive that long the rest of the game, and it ended with a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Navy was virtually automatic in the red zone a year ago, but scored only 3 times in 6 trips inside the 20 on Saturday. Meanwhile, while the defense played well at times, they allowed UConn to march down the field at the end of both halves, and it nearly cost them the game.
“Nearly,” however, is the key word here. Navy struggled, especially on offense, and the game had an unlikely ending. Nevertheless, the Mids still came out on top. The team has a lot to work on if they want to be a contender in this conference, but it’s better to work on those things while those conference goals are still attainable. Not every game is going go the way you would have it scripted, but the teams that find ways to win anyway give themselves a chance to build toward bigger things down the road.
“We weren’t really efficient in the red zone.” Ken Niumatalolo said after the game. “Last year we were number one in the country in the red zone. We have to improve upon that. Still have to do a better job defensively on third down."
"But all that said, we still won.”
They are who we thought they were
Nobody could have predicted the course that this game took, with Navy giving up a three-touchdown lead. Everything else, though, went pretty much the way we thought it would. After giving up those two early touchdowns, UConn’s defense was fairly dominant. As expected, they tried to confuse the quarterback, and it’s fair to say that it worked. Navy was held to only 235 yards on the ground, and Will Worth seemed to struggle with his reads at times.
It should be noted that there are much smarter people who would disagree with me on that last part. Coach Niumatalolo was very complimentary of Worth’s performance after the game, and the only critique he offered was on a missed opportunity on a pass play.
Worth himself didn't think that UConn changed what they were doing after the Navy's first two drives. “There weren’t too many crazy adjustments," he said. "I think they just settled in going against the triple option.”
UConn’s linebackers appeared to do a good job of inside-out pursuit and stringing out plays. Freeing up inside linebackers to get to the quarterback was a cornerstone of UConn’s game plan last year, so maybe they found a way to do a better job of it this year. Sometimes that can look like a missed read when it really isn’t.
Offensively, UConn tried to get the power running game going early on, but it never really materialized. The Huskies were held to only 90 rushing yards as the Navy front seven dominated for most of the first half. That story started to change on UConn’s last drive before halftime, though. Faced with having to move the ball 80 yards in 4:24, Frank Verducci decided to spread out a bit more and put Bryant Shirreffs in the shotgun. Suddenly, UConn was able to move the ball with relative ease, scoring on four straight possessions. The change allowed Shirreffs to play to his strengths, using his legs to pick up yards and extend plays. It gave him the time to find Noel Thomas, who finished with a career-best 11 catches and 116 yards. When UConn decided to go back to the power running game on the last play, the front seven of Navy stopped them once again.
I wrote last week that while the Mids gave up three sacks against Fordham, it wasn’t really the fault of the offensive line. If you were concerned after that game, the UConn game shoult have you feeling a bit more at ease.
UConn was clearly making an effort to get their safeties to the perimeter in run support, which might explain why Ivin Jasper called a few more passes than usual. Whatever the reason, Navy’s offensive line did its job. Will Worth was sacked twice, but both were coverage sacks. He had plenty of time to get the ball off, which hasn’t always been the case for Navy. This was a defensive front seven that is among the better groups that the Mids will face in the American Athletic Conference. Worth had the time to be able to complete 6 of 8 passes for 130 yards. It’s a performance that bodes well for Navy as they get further into the league schedule.