The biggest surprise of the game came in pregame warmups. A Falcon player wearing a jersey with No. 9 on it was taking snaps and warming up his arm. Zac Larrier was supposed to be sitting it out “for a while.” A while turned out to be about three days and Larrier got the start and provided enough firepower to snag a victory in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
What wasn’t a surprise was that the game was a tight defensive struggle that followed the script of the last few years. It was the Falcon defense that prevailed by completely shutting down the Navy offense. Navy’s only score was in garbage time, when the Falcons had a 17-0 lead with 3:50 to go on the clock. If you exclude that final drive, when the defense’s task was to prevent any long gains that could leave time on the clock, the stat line is impressively bad for Navy:
- 59 yards total offense
- 22 yards rushing in 34 attempts for .65 yards per carry
- 5 for 15 passing with 25 yards and 2 interceptions
- 4 first downs
Those stats were made possible largely by the ability of the front 7 being able to penetrate the offensive line to catch ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage. Led by Bo Richter’s 4 TFLs and 1 sack, the Falcons totaled 9 TFLs and 4 sacks and 3 QB hurries. Excluding garbage time, the sacks and hurries were almost a third of all dropbacks by Navy QBs. Richter credited the big guys in the middle, “Our interior D-line, especially, worked hard this offseason and it’s a different breed in there. Guys are really powerful, and it helps in stopping the run.”
Navy, however, was successful in holding the Falcons to their lowest rushing total of the year by far - 137 yards in 48 carries for 2.85 yards per carry. The main bright spot for the offense was Larrier’s arm, 4-5 for 151 yard and a Falcon record 94 yard touchdown to Dane Kinnamon.
The success of the passing game and the inability of the rushing game to produce much yardage had a lot of fans at the game and on social media questioning the coaches’ play calling. My opinion is that I thought conservative play selection was mostly appropriate for the situation on the field. I was at the game and I’ve watched the replay at home, and the TV feed doesn’t capture all the effects of the wind at the game. Larrier’s first completion was held up by the wind and could easily have been intercepted if the defender was in a little better position. What happened at the end of the game when Navy started to throw the ball a lot? Two tipped balls with interceptions. I thought the plays to get to the edge were perhaps too lightly used, but the only edge play that gained significant yardage resulted in a lost fumble. In short, when playing with a lead, and with a defense that dominated the line of scrimmage and spent much of it’s time in Navy’s backfield, there was no need to press the advantage against a Navy defense that was playing inspired football. There was no need to pad the score and the stats to try to impress the playoff comittee. There’s no such thing as a bad win. Winning 62-0 is an SEC/Biq 10/Big 12 thing meant to gin up donations from it’s patrons. I’ll take the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy and a New Year’s 6 bowl instead.
Up next for the Falcons is a road game against an improving but still mistake-prone Colorado State Rams. Come back Thursday for my preview of the game.