The Navy Midshipmen entered Saturday’s matchup as heavy underdogs against the SMU Mustangs. Navy, being 3-3 on the season, had struggled in nearly every game this year, even in their wins. SMU, on the contrary, entered the match comfortably at 5-1 and ranked No. 22. The Mustangs’ only loss came last week to the undefeated, No. 7 Cincinnati.
First Quarter Spark
The first quarter consisted of two possession for SMU and only one for the Navy Midshipmen. The Mustangs received the ball to start the game but quickly punted the ball back the Navy. Despite a few inefficient plays and a painful dropped pass, the Midshipmen found the endzone with a 3-yard rush by Nelson Smith. The Mustangs responded with a solid drive of their own, resulting in a rushing touchdown by star running back, Ulysses Bentley IV.
The offensive battle continued as Dalen Morris led Navy on a quick, 6-play drive culminating with a Chance Warren rushing score. While Navy would have liked to take more time off the clock, they were not complaining with their 14-7 lead over the No. 22 SMU Mustangs. Unfortunately, Navy’s defense, withered by injury, was unable to hold off Bentley IV and the Mustang offense from easily finding the endzone once more.
After a 3-and-out by Navy, SMU took just over a minute to score once again, taking the lead, 21-14. With the help of an SMU defensive holding penalty, and a couple of completions by Dalen Morris, the Midshipmen found themselves inside the redzone. However, the offensive line false started on a 3rd-and-3 and forced Navy to settle with a field goal attempt. Despite missing a few kicks last week, Bijan Nichols found his grove and crushed a 46-yard attempt with ease. This allowed Navy to pull within four points with 1:18 left in the quarter.
From Bad to Ugly
With little time left in the half, SMU veteran quarterback, Shane Beuchele, had no issue leading the Mustangs right back down the field. Where trailing 28-17 at half would have been bad enough for Navy, it actually got worse. The Midshipmen were set to receive the ball to start the second half. So, it was expect that, with seven seconds left in the second quartef, Morris would simply take a knee. Instead, the offense ran a play which resulted in a fumble and was recovered by SMU with a single second left on the clock. Naturally, the Mustangs kicked a field goal to go up 31-17 at the half.
Every point SMU scored in the first half came in the second quarter...all 31.
The third quarter was more of the same. Navy’s offense was unsuccessful while their defense failed to slow the Mustangs. It didn’t help that defensive captain, Diego Fagot, got injured and was forced out for the game due to an lower body injury. The Midshipmen defense were now missing their three best defensive players. Michael McMorris did not play due to concussion and Evan Fochtman announced his retirement from football earlier in the week due to head injuries.
Navy’s bleeding continued throughout the second half and any momentum they retained from their early game lead dwindled away to nothing.
After the Mustangs comfortably extended their lead, they let off the gas in the fourth quarter and cruised to a 51-37 victory. Shane Buechele finished the game with 300 passing yards and three touchdowns. Bentley IV totaled 149 yards on 25 carries.
There isn’t any doubt that the SMU Mustangs are a talented team. And, as we know, this isn’t Navy’s finest hour. But, you can’t help but think there’s something missing when watching the Midshipmen. For us who have spent years following Ken Niumatalolo’s teams, we are used to close, competitive games. Yet, this year’s team is simply lifeless. Where grit and determination is normally ever-present, we see apparent complacency and apathy. The Navy coaches are calling the right plays. The best players are on the field. But, like for many of us, 2020 is not Navy’s year.
Tyger Goslin replaced Dalen Morris at quarterback at the start of the fourth quarter and looked much more comfortable than he did during his start at Air Force. We could see Golsin get more playing time as this season winds down due to him likely being the future of the position for the Midshipmen.
Next week, the Midshipmen host Tulsa in another conference game. Navy will have a fair shot at winning, but not if they can’t find some more energy in every aspect of the game. Offense, defense, and special teams all have tons of room for improvement and it rests with the players directly.