It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a tale of two halves. The Navy Midshipmen (6-5) won the first half. The Houston Cougars (7-4) won the second.
It was the second half that mattered as UH came back from a 14-7 first half deficit to win 24-14 before a crowd of 29,252 at TDECU Stadium.
Navy dominated the Cougars in the first half, taking a 14-7 lead to the locker room. Navy’s offense was on the field for 20:29 minutes in the half, out-gaining the Cougars 212 yards to 119 yards. The score could have been worse as Navy failed to capitalize on recovering a UH fumble deep in UH territory, but it didn’t really seem to matter as Navy appeared totally in control of the game.
Navy is always a difficult offense for teams to stop. Very few teams primarily feature just a rushing attack, but Navy runs a triple option rushing attack which is more reminiscent of the offenses of the 1970s than anything seen today.
But the Cougars finally appeared to figure out that Navy attack and shut down the Midshipmen offense in the second half. Meanwhile the Cougar offense finally flared to life as quarterback D’Eriq King and his receivers finally started to click. King finished the game by rushing for two touchdowns and by hitting Steven Dunbar for for a 61-yard touchdown pass.
That Dunbar touchdown put the Cougars in the lead with 14 minutes left in the game, and the Cougars essentially put the game away when Caden Novikoff made a 35-yard field goal with 7:57 left. It was only a 10 point lead, but the Navy offense is not one that is built for overcoming double-digit deficits late in games.
The Cougars finished the game with 380 total yards on offense, with 277 of those yards coming by the pass. But the big change was on defense where the Cougars began executing the defensive plan and ended up limiting Navy to a total of just 79 yards (only 50 rush yards).
Head coach Major Applewhite credited the scout team and the coaching to shutting down the Navy offense.
“So much of it it about training your scout team,” Applewhite said. “Those guys come out of high school running spread offenses, they don’t know how to run triple options. So much of it is training your scout team to do all of that….The coaches put together a good plan. The kids went and executed it. That’s what should happen.”
Defensive tackle Ed Oliver was a force of nature on defense (career high 14 tackles, with nine of those being solo tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for loss of yards).
“I think they just locked in on their assignments, everyone did, really,” Oliver said of the defense. “I said before every time we took the field, that if everybody just locked in on their assignments a little bit more that we’d just shut it down.”
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The offenses struggles are the same as they have been all season. The team has difficulty stringing together two complete halves of football. The team has shown during the season that it can rack up yards and put points on the scoreboard. But there always seem to be execution issues, or mistakes, that affect the ability of the offense to score.
“We lost a possession because of fumbling the ball on a kickoff return," Applewhite said. We also dropped a pass to convert on third down. And when we got behind the chains with some of the runs on first and second down and incomplete passes. Really, it was just about playing with consistency. I talked to the offense about we cannot give them ball…they played clean. We made plays in the passing game. The quarterback made some runs. [Running back] Duke [Catalon] ran the ball well in the second half. They played like they could play.”
There’s just a bowl game left for the Cougars this season. The bowl and destination probably won’t be known until next weekend, though there was a representative from the Independence Bowl hanging around the game. But wherever the Cougars end up, it’ll be one more chance for the Cougars to work on consistency and execution and putting together two good halves of football.
And who knows? This might actually turn out to be a pretty good football team if it can get that all figured out.