Navy finally plays again, but the offense sputters against Memphis

Navy quarterback Xavier Arline looks for running room in the fourth quarter Saturday night against Memphis.


By KAREEM COPELAND | The Washington Post | Published: November 29, 2020

No one knew exactly what the Navy football team would look like after 28 days without playing. A coronavirus outbreak forced the team to postpone games against Tulsa and Memphis, and Navy halted all in-person football activities for two weeks. An outbreak at South Florida last week then canceled a third straight Navy contest.

The last time anyone saw the Midshipmen, they were on the wrong end of lopsided losses to Houston and SMU. Coach Ken Niumatalolo also was pondering a quarterback change after senior Dalen Morris and the rest of the offense struggled.

Niumatalolo did make a quarterback move, and the Navy defense put together its best game of the season Saturday night, but points remained hard to come by in a 10-7 loss to Memphis at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Junior Tyger Goslin got the start at quarterback but was ineffective and was benched in favor of freshman Xavier Arline late in the third quarter. Arline wasn't much better, and a fumbled snap on the first play of the fourth ended up being the difference.

The score was tied at 7 when the Tigers' Cole Mashburn recovered the fumble at the Memphis 46-yard line. Riley Patterson knocked through a 26-yard field goal nine plays later to give Memphis (6-2, 4-2 American Athletic) a three-point lead that Navy (3-5, 3-3) couldn't overcome.

Fullback Nelson Smith carried the Navy offense, rushing for a game-high 142 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. Goslin finished 3-for-9 for 73 yards and an interception. Arline did not attempt a pass but rushed for 12 yards on three carries.

Brady White threw for 205 yards and a touchdown for Memphis. Navy outgained Memphis 321-280 but just couldn't put points on the board.

"We have to execute. We can't have any missed assignments. That's not the way we play," Smith said. "We can't have any false starts or penalties or anything like that. We had way too many of those this game."

Navy's defense had struggled all season. It entered with the 109th-best scoring defense in the nation, allowing 37 points per game. BYU dropped 55 points on the Mids in the season opener, and Air Force racked up 40. Houston piled on 37 points, and SMU had 51.

Equally as concerning: Memphis boasted the No. 10 offense in the country at 517.9 yards per game. But that efficiency was nowhere to be found Saturday. The Tigers tied the score at 7 with an easy six-play, 79-yard touchdown drive late in the first quarter, but then they went cold. Navy held Memphis to three consecutive three-and-outs, including a missed 52-yard field goal, after that drive.

Niumatalolo said the Navy defense played "phenomenal."

"Kids played hard. We stopped the run," he said. "That looked like us last year — stopping the run, getting people on third down."

Defensive coordinator Brian Newberry "just wants us to play fast, play aggressive," junior cornerback Jamal Glenn said. "We knew if we did our jobs and flew around, we could confuse the QB. If we stopped the run early, we could hold them."

Goslin threw a painful interception with 1:30 left in the second quarter when Navy was in the red zone. White then hit Tahj Washington on a 28-yard catch-and-run to get the Tigers near field goal range, but Glenn chased him down and stripped the ball from behind for Derek Atwaters to recover. That sent the teams to halftime tied at 7.

Navy's lone points came on an 83-yard first-quarter drive kept alive by a 24-yard rush by defensive end J'arius Warren on a fake punt. Navy scored four plays later when Smith took it up the gut for a 22-yard touchdown, his career-high eighth of the season.

"We played bad (on offense)," Niumatalolo said. "We're too sporadic. And you can't turn the ball over. When we had a chance to kick that field goal, that pick killed us at the end of the half. Feel like we got pretty good momentum, then we dropped the snap [in the fourth quarter]. We're just hit-and-miss. We're just not operating right now. Not really much we can hang our hat on."