The Navy Midshipmen could not close the deal against the East Carolina Pirates. They led at various points in the game but could not get either a decisive defensive stop or a go-ahead score in the fourth quarter.
The almost-but-not-quite theme of this season continued for Navy, which has been consistently competitive but unable to get over the hump.
The success of the Navy era has relied on that signature capacity to make the extra two or three plays which represent the difference between ultimate success and ultimate failure. So many wins in the Ken Niumatalolo golden era came from a blocked kick here, or a long pass there, or a red-zone interception over there. Somehow, someway, one of Navy’s team units would make a defining play in the fourth quarter, just when the Midshipmen badly needed it. That competitive virtue simply hasn’t existed for the vast majority of this season. Navy played Cincinnati close. It played SMU close. It played Houston tough as well. It just didn’t finish any of those games. With that in mind, finishing strong is an obvious point of emphasis as the Mids head to Philadelphia to play Temple. Let’s look at what else they need to do against the Owls.
1 – Fourth-down defense
It was a case of an opponent giving Navy a taste of its own medicine on Saturday. East Carolina went 4 of 5 on fourth downs against Navy. The Midshipmen usually convert fourth downs and make their opponents go crazy. ECU turned the tables in a central way against Navy. ECU was 6 of 14 on third downs, but with the four fourth-down conversions, that number essentially became 10 of 14 – not technically 10 third-down conversions, but 10 third-down situations became converted first downs. Obviously, Navy can’t live with that. That is completely unacceptable for this or any other defense.
2 – Get a takeaway or two
Navy couldn’t force a single turnover against East Carolina. Those are game-shaping plays Navy could not make against the Pirates. If Navy wants to win this game on the road, getting a turnover in a key spot – either in the red zone to save seven points, or in the middle of the field to set up the offense with a short drive. Takeaways will dramatically increase Navy’s margin for error in Philadelphia.
3 – Consistency
Navy’s offensive performance against East Carolina was good enough to win. The defense just didn’t hold the fort on fourth downs. If Navy delivers that same offensive effort or something close to it, the Midshipmen will be fine.