Navy took a crucial step toward clinching a spot in the American Athletic Conference championship game by topping Memphis, 42-28. Will Worth had the greatest game of his career, rushing for 201 yards and three touchdowns while adding two more touchdowns through the air. Dishan Romine added 92 rushing yards of his own, and the Mids ran for 447 as a team. Josiah Powell had nine tackles to lead the Navy defense, while D.J. Palmore had three tackles for a loss, including two sacks.
The Mids now own tiebreakers against both Houston (who is likely out of the division race after losing to SMU) and Memphis, who entered the game as the only other unbeaten team in conference play. There’s a lot of work left to be done; the Mids have four league games remaining, with three of them on the road. Tulsa, meanwhile, is getting better every week. For now, though, the Navy team has done everything asked of them in the conference.
A few initial thoughts on the game:
It helps to know what’s coming
We’ll look at some of the specifics a little later, but it was evident early on that the Memphis coaching staff was using a lot of the same tactics against the Navy offense that they used at Arizona State in 2012. Some of these reads can be difficult for a quarterback, but it’s a lot easier if you know that they are coming. That helped Worth to amass 201 rushing yards, but it also helped Navy to churn out some long drives, one of the keys to the game.
Navy dominated time of possession, 39:48-20:12, although that is a little bit misleading since Memphis lost a possession when they returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Nevertheless, the Mids controlled the clock while putting together six drives of eight plays or more. Keeping the Memphis offense on the sideline had its intended effect.
“It was hard to get into a rhythm,” said Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson. “When you’re sitting there on the sideline for so long, you start moving around so you don’t get cold and stay warm. They knew how to control the clock and the flow of the game.”
Memphis head coach Mike Norvell agreed.
“In the first and the third quarter we had the ball for one offensive drive each,” he said. “That’s hard to be in rhythm and hard to stay in rhythm, but we tried to run the football and tried to mix it up. It was hard because we weren’t doing a great job of getting them off the field defensively. On offense, we were either scoring quickly or going three-and-out.”
A game of swings
There were probably half a dozen times during the games when I thought to myself, “well this is a turning point.” Every time it seemed like Memphis caught a break, though, Navy either made a big play or caught a break of their own.
“The momentum in the game, there were so many ebbs and flows,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “Things looked bleak, then they looked great. It would go back to bleak and then great again. But we kept fighting. That’s the resolve of these young men.”
Will Worth fumbled the ball into the pylon, resulting in a touchback. The Navy defense responded with a goal line stand on the ensuing Memphis drive. The Mids took over after that, but couldn’t move the ball and was forced to punt. That punt only went 24 yards, giving Memphis the ball on the Navy 30. However, the defense stiffened, and Memphis missed their field goal attempt.
At the end of the third quarter, Memphis stopped Navy on third down and wisely called timeout before the period could end, forcing the Mids to kick into the wind. They decided to go for it instead, and Will Worth connected with Tyler Carmona on the next play for an 18-yard touchdown pass.
The Mids had a chance to go up by three scores after forcing Memphis to punt at the beginning of the fourth quarter but were held to a three and out on the ensuing drive. Memphis took advantage, going 70 yards on four plays on their next possession to score a touchdown and cut Navy’s lead to seven. After the Mids missed a field goal on their next possession, the Tigers had a chance to tie the game. Elijah Merchant kept that from happening, though, by forcing a fumble that was recovered by Tyler Sayles. It effectively sealed the win for the Mids.
Winning up front
Memphis has a young offensive line, and the Mids were able to push them around a bit. The Tigers were held to only 98 rushing yards on 31 carries. While Memphis was able to find some running lanes between the tackles, Riley Ferguson was sacked four times and chased even more than that, especially in the second half.