football

Navy 75, SMU 31: The Triple

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Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

There was a moment in the second quarter when it appeared that Navy might have been in trouble. SMU had just scored to cut Navy’s lead to 21-17, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. Six plays later, the Mustangs took a 24-21 lead, and with only 3:14 left on the clock there was a decent chance that they’d take that lead into the locker room.

They didn’t.

Navy drove 73 yards on 12 plays to close out the first half with a touchdown, then never looked back on the way to a 75-31 dismantling of SMU. Will Worth ran for 107 yards and three touchdowns while throwing for another 104 yards and a score. Zach Abey relieved Worth late in the third quarter and actually led the Midshipmen in rushing yards, with 111 on only seven carries. In all, thirteen different Mids carried the ball to help the offense finish with 600 total yards, with 496 coming on the ground.

Navy has now scored 60+ points in consecutive games for the first time since 1917. Their 75 points are the most they’ve scored since putting up 76 on East Carolina in 2010, and their seven touchdowns tied the American Athletic Conference record.

The win moved Navy to 9-2 overall and 7-1 in the AAC, where they had already earned a place in the league championship game.

Three thoughts on the game:

Points!

That’s a lot of points. Navy scored a touchdown on every drive they tried, and even a couple at the end where they just wanted to run out the clock. It certainly looks good if you want to paint a pretty picture for the playoff committee, although I would caution that it’s never as good or as bad as it seems.

This has been a weird season for the Navy offense. Team after team has lined up in what I am now calling the “Houston Defense,” with five on the line, one linebacker, and three safeties. The safeties follow the direction of whatever motion Navy uses, playing the pitch. SMU joined ECU, Tulsa, USF, and Houston in rolling out that same scheme, and the Mids were more than ready for it.

It’s a scheme that Navy rarely saw before last year, and now it’s apparently everyone’s favorite even though it’s getting torched week after week. Navy has run for at least 300 yards in seven straight games, and have surpassed 500 yards of total offense in five of the last six.

Second half defense

Scoring on every drive is nothing to sneeze at, but the bigger story for Navy was the play of the defense in the second half. The Mids played well all afternoon against the run, holding SMU to only 96 yards on 37 carries. The pass defense, on the other hand, had a tough time in the first half. SMU threw for 208 yards through two quarters. They converted 10 of 12 third downs, even though their average distance to gain was five yards. It was a familiar refrain; the Mids would stop the run on first and second down, but give up a long pass on third down.

The second half was a whole different universe. Navy limited SMU to 123 yards on 12 of 21 passing. Ben Hicks threw two interceptions, one of which was returned by Justin Norton for a touchdown. The Mids registered three sacks and held the Mustangs to only two of seven on third down. It looked like an entirely different team.

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Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Will Worth’s passing

Navy is having a great season, and Will Worth is a big reason why. The success has led some to make comparisons between Worth and Keenan Reynolds’ 2015 season. I haven’t quite jumped aboard that bandwagon; Worth’s numbers certainly stack up, but individual numbers don’t always tell the story for an option quarterback. An option quarterback’s best game might not register much statistically if he’s making the right reads and getting the ball to other players. On the other hand, Worth set a school record for offense against USF, but there are a few plays he’d like to have back from that game.

One area where I will make a comparison is in the passing game. Worth is the best passing quarterback I have seen in a long, long time at the Naval Academy. Against SMU he completed 5 of 7 for 104 yards and a touchdown. All seven throws were right on the money, and none of them were easy. To be fair, Worth is also throwing to what might be the best group of Navy wide receivers since the Staubach days. Still, he has been making throws that you just don’t expect from an option quarterback. Worth doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify for the NCAA passing efficiency leaderboard, but he’d be ranked in the top ten if he did.

It’s also important to note that the offensive line has played a significant role in that success. Worth was sacked 12 times in Navy’s first four games. Since then, he’s only been sacked twice.

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