LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- After Navy compiled a 4-2 record playing the easier part of its schedule, quarterback Jim Kubiak predicted the first meeting with 20th-ranked Louisville would "serve as a barometer as to whether we're ready to compete against the big boys and win a bowl bid."
Navy's football stock plunged yesterday with a 28-0 loss to the Cardinals that all but eliminated the Midshipmen's slim hopes of a postseason invitation.
To qualify for the Liberty Bowl, which prefers to invite a service academy, Navy must win its remaining four games against Division I foes, starting with No. 2-ranked Notre Dame on Saturday.
Still, the Mids performed considerably better than 24-point underdogs, enjoying success in moving the ball between the 20s, with Kubiak completing 31 of 51 passes for 300 yards and setting Navy records in both categories for a season.
"I've never experienced a game like this in all my years of coaching where we moved the ball well enough to score five touchdowns and didn't score a point," Navy coach George Chaump said. "Defensively, we held a high-power team for long stretches, but then gave up quick scores. But the 28-0 score is in no way indicative of how we played today."
The Mids' afternoon of frustration before a Louisville homecoming crowd of 37,214 was established early when place-kicker Dave Gwinn missed field goal attempts of 42 and 32 yards in the first half.
In the second half, Navy marches sputtered on Louisville's 14-, 39- and 23-yard lines.
The Cardinals' opportunistic defense -- led by defensive tackle James Hanna, who blocked a field-goal attempt and intercepted a pass -- provided timely stops.
The Cardinals, now 7-1 and probably headed for the Liberty or Fiesta bowl, were too deep, quick and explosive for the Mids.
"They have about six big-play guys on their team -- [quarterback] Jeff Brohm, [running back] Ralph Dawkins, [receivers] Kevin Cook and Aaron Bailey -- and their two big defensive linemen -- Joe Johnson and Jim Hanna -- who can play for anyone in the country.
"You hold them, hold them and hold them, but eventually they break loose and beat you."
Brohm, a Louisville native, lived up to his billing as he continued on his way to break every meaningful school passing record. He already has a season-record 19 touchdown passes.
The Cardinals' first three touchdowns came on Brohm's passes of 18, 13 and 17 yards to Reggie Ferguson, Dawkins and Kevin Cook.
A 58-yard touchdown run with an interception by defensive back Anthony Bridges provided the final score in the fourth quarter.
"We got beat on secondary breakdowns for two of their first-half touchdowns," Chaump said. "Ironically, we didn't get beat by blitzing, but by sitting back and giving Brohm time to throw deep."
The Cardinals' shutout -- the first in 40 games -- was more than a measure of revenge for head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who has transformed a near-moribund football program into a national contender.
The one-time Baltimore Colts coach had not forgotten how Chaump, then head coach of Marshall in 1987, upset his Louisville team, 34-31, with a last-second touchdown pass.
Chaump also had used a few trick plays in that last meeting to surprise the Cardinals. So, yesterday, Schnellenberger started the game with a flea-flicker. It didn't work.
But the Cardinals did not need tricks to beat Navy. In the end, their talent wore down the Mids, who will have a week to prepare for second-ranked Notre Dame.
Both teams wasted scoring opportunities in the first quarter.
The Cardinals had the first chance, advancing to the Navy 23 on the passing and scrambling of Brohm. David Akers 40-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.
The Mids then began a time-consuming mark to the Louisville 35. Most of the yardage came on short spurts by Brad Stramanak and Jason Van Matre, with a 14-yard completion to Damon Dixon the big gainer.
Faced with fourth and six on the 35, Navy tried for a first down, but Kubiak's hurried pass was not within 10 yards of a receiver.
Navy missed another chance early in the second quarter. Starting at their 20, the Mids moved to the Cardinals 42. Kubiak found tight end Kevin Hickman open on the 20, but Hickman fumbled.
Louisville defensive back Kevin Gaines picked it up, only to fumble it again, and Navy guard Zach McMechan recovered on the Louisville 31.
The drive sputtered on the Louisville 25. Gwinn then missed a 42-yard field goal try, hooking it right of the goal posts.
Gwinn soon had another opportunity to break a scoreless tie. Passes to Van Matre and Mike Jefferson and an 8-yard run by Billy James advanced the ball to the Cardinals 14. This time Gwinn tried for a 31-yard field goal, but it was deflected by Hanna.
Louisville quickly capitalized on this break. Brohm needed only four plays to drive his team 80 yards, teaming up twice with Cook for receptions of 36 and 24 yards before completing the drive with a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Ferguson in the corner of the end zone.
Akers converted and Louisville led, 7-0, with 6.41 left in the
Hanna initiated another scoring drive after intercepting a Kubiak pass on the Cards 44 that bounced off Hickman's hands.
Brohm was completing short and long passes and under a heavy rush. A 25-yard pass to Cook produced a first down on the Navy 31. Four plays later, Brohm passed to Dawkins on the 4, and the senior running back high-stepped into the end zone. Akers' extra point made it 14-0 with 2:16 left in the first half.
Navy started the second half by driving from its 15 to the Louisville 34, but again failed to score.
In little more than a minute, Brohm produced his third touchdown --a 13-yard pass to Kevin Cook, who outmaneuvered cornerback Michael Riggins in the end zone. Akers converted again for a 21-0 lead.
Navy's frustration continued. Kubiak completed a series of short passes to the Louisville 31. But after a 9-yard grab by Mike Jefferson, the Mids failed in three tries to pick up the final yard for a first down.
NEXT FOR NAVY
When: Saturday at Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
Yesterday: Beat USC, 31-13, for its 15th straight victory.