Stunning does not seem like a strong enough word to describe what unfolded at Falcon Stadium on Saturday night.
Almost 24 hours later, I still cannot believe what I watched.
Air Force completely dismantled Navy in every way possible in a lopsided 40-7 victory. The Falcons totally dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and imposed their will on the Midshipmen.
It was far from what I had expected to happen in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy series. Air Force was playing its first game of the season and was missing more than 30 players that were granted administrative turn-backs because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Navy had two games under its belt and had renewed confidence following a remarkable comeback victory over Tulane. Thanks to an unexpected bye, the Midshipmen had two weeks to prepare for their service academy rival.
Yes, the Air Force defense had all of September to prepare for the Navy version of the triple-option offense. I did not see that as such a distinct advantage since the Falcons have always known how to defend the Midshipmen and have done so very effectively at times.
There have been other times when Navy rolled up the points and yardage against Air Force despite its deep understanding of option principles.
What was far more important in my view was the defensive personnel available to Air Force. All five returning starters on that side of the ball were among those that withdrew from school this semester.
Not having big-time playmakers such as defensive end Josh Jackson, outside linebacker Lakota Wills and inside linebacker Demonte Meeks severely weakened the unit. Numerous other defenders that were projected as starters were also missing. A glance at the depth chart showed eight sophomores or freshmen listed as backups.
Well, it turns out the second-string Air Force defense was way better than the starting Navy offense. The Midshipmen were limited to 241 total yards and a sizable chunk of that came during garbage time after the Falcons had turned the game into a rout.
While he stood up and took responsibility afterward, quarterback Tyger Goslin, who was making his first career start, is not to blame for the poor performance. Goslin appeared to execute triple-option plays just fine.
From what I saw, the reason the Mids could not mount a sustained drive was because the blocking was subpar. There were simply no holes — inside or outside — for ballcarriers to find.
It was a simple case of Air Force defenders winning one-on-one matchups and beating blocks. The Falcons eliminated the perimeter element of the triple-option, evidenced by the fact there were only six pitchouts to slotbacks.
There were several times Goslin took the play outside and had no pitch key to read. Both the slotback and the quarterback were well defended, so Goslin got swallowed up after being forced to keep the ball.
That effectively turned it into an inside game, and there was nowhere for the fullbacks to go. Navy tried to establish the fullback dive but Jamale Carothers was stuffed for little or no gain every time.
Carothers finished with 21 yards on eight carries, a paltry sum that is just not going to get it done against a service academy opponent. Backup fullback Nelson Smith led Navy with 26 yards on seven carries, but almost all of it came on the final two drives of the contest.
Navy’s rushing game was non-existent because there simply were no openings — not for the fullback dive, quarterback keeper or slotback pitch. Through three games, the offensive line has been thoroughly whipped in five of six halves of football.
Could starting quarterback Dalen Morris have made a difference? Probably not enough for Navy to win the game, although it might have been closer since the only yardage available was through the air.
Goslin either did not spot open receivers or missed them with errant throws in completing just 6 of 15 passes for 137 yards. Note that 73 of those yards came on a touchdown toss to slotback Myles Fells, who was wide-open on a seam route and raced into the end zone untouched.
Morris may have connected on some of the pass plays, but I highly doubt that would have been enough to overcome Navy’s inability to run the ball.
Of course, Goslin was under siege half the times he dropped back to throw thanks to poor pass protection. He was sacked three times and had to throw the ball away on several occasions.
It wasn’t any better on the other side of the ball, although that was not so unexpected. Turn-backs did not have much impact on the Air Force offense, which looked to be in midseason form despite having not previously played a game.
Left tackle Parker Ferguson and left guard Nolan Laufenberg, both of whom are Outland Trophy candidates, led the way as the Falcons steadily wore down the Midshipmen.
I thought Navy’s defense played pretty well through three quarters, especially considering how much time it spent on the field. The Midshipmen stiffened in the red zone and forced the Falcons to settle for four field goals by Tevye Schuettzpelz-Ruhl.
Thanks to the defense, it was still a two-score game going into the fourth quarter with Navy trailing 19-7. However, that is when the unit finally got gassed and gave up some huge chunk yardage plays as Air Force scored three touchdowns to make it a blowout.
Navy’s defense got beat up along the way with starting inside linebackers Diego Fagot and Tama Tuitele both leaving with injuries. Starting safety Evan Fochtman and backup Mitchell West also got hurt. Starting safety Kevin Brennan was disqualified for targeting and must sit out the first half of Saturday’s home game against Temple.
Based off what happened Saturday in Colorado Springs, Navy has some serious soul-searching to do with regard to its physicality. The Midshipmen take great pride in being a physical football team and right now that’s just not the case on either side of the ball.
Coach Ken Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper will need to work overtime this week to get their unit running smoothly. Having three different starting quarterbacks in as many games certainly has not helped matters, but the triple-option just has not looked right so far.
Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry is also looking for answers after watching his unit get totally torched in two of three games. The Midshipmen better hope Fagot, Tuitele and Fochtman are not seriously injured.
Navy now moves into the grind of its American Athletic Conference schedule with Temple coming to town Saturday. The Midshipmen will now play every Saturday for seven straight weeks.
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There will be no Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy championship this season, so Navy must now regroup and try to achieve its other goals — a conference championship and bowl berth. Of course, beating Army would more than make up for the disappointing defeat administered by Air Force.