ANNAPOLIS, Md – As the final seconds ticked off the clock at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium, Delaware coach K.C. Keeler must have looked up at the scoreboard and wondered how his Blue Hens team lost to Navy by 23 points.
Both teams accumulated 22 first downs and ran 66 offensive plays. Delaware was 7 for 14 on third down conversions, while Navy was 7 for 13.
Despite the Midshipmen’s remarkable 391 yards rushing, they only outgained the Blue Hens by 74 yards of total offense.
Turnovers weren’t really a factor as each team forced an interception and Delaware had one lost fumble.
The game came down to execution and sustaining drives. Navy was nearly flawless as the ball never touched the ground while operating their triple-option offense to perfection.
Opposing teams prepare for Navy with a plan to stretch the field and force turnovers. Unfortunately for the Hens, Navy didn’t cooperate.
Midshipmen QB Kriss Proctor (22 att for 176 yds, and 3 TDs) was the maestro of what turned out to be a masterpiece by Navy’s offense.
Option offenses aren’t supposed to be perfect early in the season. Delaware counted on turnovers, and the opportunity never presented itself.
Delaware’s offense was tentative early in the game. Several dropped passes forced three-and-outs, preventing the Hens from controlling the ball.
“We had several drop passes early on that just killed us,” Keeler said after the game. “We didn’t execute when we needed to make plays and they did. It’s that simple.”
Sophomore QB Trevor Sasek (9 of 19, for 82 yds.) received the much anticipated nod as the Hen’s starter. Four dropped passes by Delaware receivers in the first half impacted Sasek’s stats, but more importantly they brought drives to a screeching halt.
Saturday’s start was only the second of Sasek’s career at Delaware. Considering the circumstances, he was extremely impressive and has a bright future.
Navy took away any hope of throwing deep by setting their safeties some twenty yards from the line of scrimmage. Sasek was forced to throw underneath and when a defense concedes the short pass, they need to be completed.
Returning CAA rushing leader, Delaware’s Andrew Pierce (20 att for 119 yds, and 1 TD), grinded out yardage from the second quarter on. Navy’s sure tackling prevented Pierce from busting the long run the Hen’s needed to change the momentum of the game.
When Sasek left the game with an injured right knee (status for next week’s game against West Chester is not known) he was replaced by junior Tim Donnelly (7 of 9, for 60 yds) who was rudely greeted by the Midshipmen’s defense. On Donnelly’s first pass attempt he was drilled in the back during his release.
“We’ll go back and look at the game tape and try to take something away from this game,” Keeler said. “Now we can go back to playing our normal defense. There is very little we’ll take away from this game.”
Keeler was obviously frustrated after the game. He felt his team would perform better.
Overall, each unit performed fairly well. Proctor had a 75-yd touchdown run on the third play of the game for Navy. Obviously, there was a breakdown defending the option on that play.
But that’s the beauty of the option offense. Performed efficiently, there will be several defensive breakdowns in any game and the results typically payoff in the form of touchdowns.
The Hens offensive line provided room for Pierce to rush for 119 yards and didn’t allow a sack. They were cohesive but not dominating. Considering their opponent is a 1A program likely to contend for a bowl game by season’s end, more could not have been expected.
As for the defense, it’s hard to compliment a unit that allowed 391 rushing yards, but with only two returning starters their performance wasn’t as bad as it appeared.
They took the middle away from Navy’s rushing attack most of the day. It was when Proctor kept the ball and turned the corner where the breakdowns took place.
Not to make excuses, it’s extremely difficult to prepare for an option offense. The degree of difficulty increases when you face an option offense in the season opener at their home field in front of a national television offense.
When you combined those factors with 90 degree heat on a turf field, 65% humidity, and communication limited with the coaching staff in the press box (headsets weren’t operable for most of the first half), there was a recipe for disaster.
The Hens players on both sides of the ball never quit. They showed the character of this football team to the very end, closing their final offensive possession with a 12-play, 78 yard drive capped by a Pierce 1-yd touchdown run.
Keeler summed up the results of the game perfectly. Closing with, “We learn from this and move on.”
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