We knew coming in that this one was going to be tough. That Tulane defense just has a scheme that gives the Navy offense fits. The Mids survived and advanced to 2-0 with a scrappy 23-21 win. Here is the report card:
Rushing Offense: C+
The rushing offense did not get going against Tulane like it did against FAU on the opening day of the season. Everything Navy did in this one was a grind and the Mids were largely held in check by the Green Wave defense, save for one 54 yard scamper by quarterback Zach Abey.
Abey was the leading rusher on the day with 108 yards on 29 carries. In total the Mids rushed for 194 yards on 52 carries with a pair of touchdowns. That is an average of less than four yards per carry. Interestingly only Abey and fullback Chris High (14) had more than two carries for the game as Tulane looked to shut down the outside run. An Abey fumble brings the grade down, but a key conversion on fourth down with less than two minutes left in the game works in the running game’s favor.
Passing Offense: C
Abey went from completing 30% of his passes in week one to completing 33% of his passes against Tulane. It was a weird game for the quarterback through the air as he hit on a couple of big plays: including a 79-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Carmona: but his other two completions went for a grand total of one yard.
The main problem with the passing game: and Abey’s game in general so far this season: is that he has been involved in every Navy turnover. In this game he threw a pick and he now has accounted for four turnovers (one int., two fumbles, and a bad exchange) which is four too many for the Navy coaching staff. If Abey can’t get a handle on his turnover issues soon then it is going to cost Navy in a game that matters.
Rushing Defense: B
This is another area where the Mids were better last week, but the run defense against a team running a similar option based attack was actually pretty good. Tulane rushed for three less yards Navy (191 yards) but the Green Wave was able to do so at a higher yards per carry average (4.2 ypc compared to 3.7). What Navy was able to do for the most part was stop the big play, with running back Dontrell Hilliard carrying 16 times for just 68 yards.
Looking deeper into the stats allows you to see that the Navy run defense was more effective than it may have appeared. Tulane was just 3-for-14 on third down, showing that Navy was able to keep the Green Wave in long yardage situations and/or stop their running game in its tracks. Tulane also had a couple of fourth downs repelled late in the game preserving the Mids lead.
Passing Defense: B+
Tulane isn’t a team that wants to pass the ball much, but the Mids did a good job of slowing down their yards through the air, even if the completion percentage was probably a little high for Ken Niumatalolo’s liking. Johnathan Brantley and Jonathan Banks combined to go 8-of-13 for 71 yards through the air against Navy with no scores and no interceptions.
The no scores here is key as the way Navy plays pass defense: especially against an option based team: there is always that chance that a player could sneak behind the secondary for a long score. That the Mids were able to prevent that from happening and limit Tulane to just one pass play of over 20 yards is certainly encouraging for the season ahead. There will be much tougher tests of the passing defense for sure, but on this day the Mids back seven was more than good enough to keep Tulane in check.
Special Teams: B-
This was a game where the special teams units were largely on the periphery save for a missed extra point by Coby Neenan of Tulane. Navy kicker Bennett Moehring, on the other hand, was a perfect three of three kicking the points after touchdown in his only scoring work of the day.
Punter Own White was consistent and accurate, kicking five punts for a total of 203 yards and: importantly: only allowing nine total return yards on those kicks. In a game of option attacks field position was always going to be important and by keeping his net punting average high, White was able to do his bit for the Navy cause.
Tre Walker had a couple of kick returns, with one going for 29 yards, but this aspect of the special teams unit has yet to breakout in 2017.
Navy picked up another win over this feisty Tulane side that really does give them fits every year. On offense, you feel that Niumatalolo would love to throw the ball more against the Green Wave to have their linebackers backed away from the line of scrimmage, but at this point, he just doesn’t have a quarterback that he trusts to not turn the ball over in an expanded passing game. The running game did enough, and the defense came up big late, keeping the Mids unbeaten in 2017 so far.