Washington Post on Navy - South Florida

Navy, which had been averaging 335 rushing yards per game behind quarterback Keenan Reynolds, was held to 133 by Tulane. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

By Gene Wang October 30 at 4:37 PM

On the Navy football team’s first play from scrimmage last week against Tulane, fullback Chris Swain gained one yard. Subsequent runs from quarterback Keenan Reynolds during the series netted three, one and two yards . Not exactly the brisk clip the Midshipmen have become accustomed to setting in their triple-option offense.
Navy managed a 31-14 win thanks in part to Reynolds’s arm, but it’s not a formula Coach Ken Niumatalolo or offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper are seeking to copy in the near future. They know the Midshipmen aren’t going to contend for an American Athletic Conference title without reestablishing a rushing attack that had been averaging 335 yards but was held to 133.
That total was Navy’s fewest in a victory since it amassed 109 in a 13-7 win against Georgia Southern on Sept. 11, 2010.
“Obviously you’ve got some sort of pride about yourself as an offense having kind of sputtered a little bit,” Reynolds said following a practice this week. “We didn’t want to revisit that, so we watched the film and corrected a lot of mistakes. It’s football. You’re going to have good days, bad days, good plays, bad plays within the course of a game.”
The Midshipmen (5-1, 3-0 AAC West) aren’t catching a break either in Saturday’s opponent. South Florida (4-3, 2-1 AAC East) is ranked 30th against the run among 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, allowing 127 yards per game. The Bulls held Southern Methodist to 132 rushing yards in last Saturday’s 38-14 win and limited 16th-ranked Memphis to 120 in a 24-17 loss Oct. 2.
A win for the Midshipmen not only would make them bowl eligible for the 12th time in 13 years but also sets up a showdown with Memphis next weekend in what could be essentially an elimination game for the AAC West championship. The Tigers, Navy and No. 18 Houston are the last unbeaten conference teams left in the highly competitive AAC West.
“As O-linemen, you take pride in not letting that happen,” Midshipmen senior guard E.K. Binns said of the program’s fewest rushing yards in more than two years. “We definitely had to fight every single snap. Just looking at the film, we saw a lot of things we need to correct for this upcoming week. The main thing is just going back to techniques. Definitely try to come out and be more physical this week.”
Navy is off to its best start since 2006 and has won 11 of 13 games dating from last year. Its only two losses were to Notre Dame, and for all of their rushing struggles last week, the Midshipmen still went 4 for 4 in the red zone. Navy ranks third in FBS in red-zone offense (.964).
Reynolds, meanwhile, scored two rushing touchdowns against the Green Wave to break a tie for second place for most rushing touchdowns in major college football history. The senior co-captain’s 75 career rushing touchdowns are the most for a quarterback and two behind former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball for all positions. Ball holds the record for most total touchdowns (83) as well.
Reynolds is continuing his pursuit of several other notable all-time marks, including most points scored by a non-kicker. His 454 points are third, trailing former Miami (Ohio) running back Travis Prentice (468) and Ball (500). Reynolds also has scored a touchdown in 31 career games, seven behind record-holder and former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.
Presuming Navy qualifies for a bowl, Reynolds would have seven games left in his college career, and that’s not counting a possible appearance in the AAC championship game.
“You’re excited to be 5-1,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re still in the hunt [for an AAC title], but it gets tougher and tougher starting this week with South Florida. They’re playing really well. It’s exciting though. It’s exciting when you’re winning because the games mean more when you play, especially in conference, but we’ve got a tough stretch coming up.”
Navy (5-1, 3-0 AAC) vs. South Florida (4-3, 2-1)
When: Saturday, noon Eastern time.
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis.
TV: CBS Sports Network.
● Nose for turnovers: Navy is tied for fourth in the country with nine fumble recoveries after recovering just five in 13 games last season. It also has forced a turnover in 13 straight games, including three in last week’s 31-14 win against Tulane to stay unbeaten in the AAC. The Midshipmen are 16-1 over the last four years when finishing ahead in turnover margin.
● Comforts of home: The Midshipmen have won seven home games in a row dating from last season and are 31-9, including 16-3 in the last four years, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium under Niumatalolo. Navy last won eight consecutive home games bridging the 2012 and ’13 seasons. Its last loss in Annapolis was to Western Kentucky, 36-27, on Sept. 27, 2014.
● Getting his kicks: Senior PK Austin Grebe has made 11 of 12 field goals and 56 of 57 extra points since replacing Nick Sloan after last year’s 30-21 loss to Air Force in Colorado Springs. Grebe has converted three field goals from at least 40 yards in his career, including a career-best 45-yarder against Army and a 44-yarder against Notre Dame, both last season.

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.

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