Southern Mississippi’s no-huddle, spread offense met Navy’s triple option Saturday, and the result was a 14-touchdown show that flirted with the extinction of defense.
Navy squandered two early scoring opportunities in the red zone, fell behind by 28 points and was never able to threaten the Golden Eagles in a wild 63-35 loss.
The teams combined for 1,153 net yards, 50 first downs and seven scoring drives of more than 70 yards.
Valiant again in defeat, Navy delivered another strong second-half comeback bid. But unlike last week against Air Force, the Midshipmen never got closer than three touchdowns once they finally awoke from their first-half offensive malaise.
“They basically were able to do whatever they wanted,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “They were a machine … they were literally a machine.”
Navy’s first three-game losing streak since 2002 was, in some ways, an extension of last week’s loss.
Last Wednesday, in the aftermath, Niumatalolo suspended leading rusher Alexander Teich. While his replacement, Delvin Diggs, rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns, Teich’s absence on the first two series proved costly.
The Midshipmen (2-3) took the opening kickoff to the Southern Miss 7, where they faced fourth-and-5. Twice, quarterback Kriss Proctor tried to draw the Golden Eagles offside, and twice he failed (Navy called a timeout after the first attempt and accepted a delay of game penalty on the second).
When Niumatalolo finally sent Jon Teague on for a field goal try, it ended in disaster. Khyri Thornton rushed from Teague's right and blocked the low line drive. Marquese Wheaten caught the deflection on the other side and scampered 79 yards for a touchdown.
Navy answered with another long drive. Proctor seemed to score on a run from the 7, but officials – and replay – ruled that he was stopped at the 1. The Golden Eagles stopped three straight runs from the 1, the last on a Proctor keeper, to deny Navy again.
When Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis completed a 3rd-and-7 pass to tight end Ryan Balentine for 77 yards, the chase was officially on. Three plays later, Jeremy Hester, a fourth-string running back at the start of the season, punched in the touchdown from 3 yards out and it was 14-0.
“I thought we had them in good shape, but then they converted that third-and-,” Niumatalolo said. “We knew coming in they were a good football team. That’s why we needed all of our arrows pointing in the right direction today.”
Davis was almost magical running the Golden Eagles’ spread. He threw more touchdown passes (3) than incomplete passes (2). He hit 21 of 23 throws for 283 yards and three scores, and he ran for another 75 yards anda touchdown.
“Davis can do a lot of different things,” Niumatalolo said. “He hurt us when he kept it.”
Southern Miss shredded Navy’s defense for 584 yards and eight touchdowns, scoring on three consecutive drives early to open a 28-0 lead and three consecutive drives late to finish off Navy.
The Golden Eagles (5-1) were successful running up the middle and even pulled off some passing gimmickry. They got a touchdown pass from a wide receiver (Quentin Pierce) in the third quarter when Davis rifled a lateral to his side. Pierce then threw a perfect pass to tight end Collin Jarbo across the field in the end zone.
Navy’s offense, meanwhile, didn’t get on track until the second half. After their first two drives into the red zone, the Midshipmen punted on three of their next four possessions.
For the second straight week, the Mids were flat in the first half. There was an emotional team meeting last week and the suspension of Teich to deal with.
Proctor allowed that last week's loss could have lingered longer than it should have.
“Obviously, Air Force last week and South Carolina the week before that, those are emotionally draining games,” Proctor said. “Maybe [last week’s loss lingered], but we’ve got to find a way to put those games behind us.”
Proctor completed five of 10 passes for 102 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the comeback bid. On both touchdowns, Navy receivers were able to get behind the Southern Miss defense, Brandon Turner for a 43-yard score and Gee Gee Greene for a 27-yard strike.
But the Navy defense forced only three punts and one turnover, and never came close to sacking Davis. The Midshipmen have given up 98 points in the last two games, and they travel to Rutgers next week.
“Obviously, it’s a concern,” Niumatalolo said of his defense. “I have great faith in our young men. Our guys will bounce back. I wouldn’t want to coach another group, I wouldn’t want to coach with any other coaches.”
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