The sixth-ranked Cougars had no answer for Navy’s triple-option and Greg Ward Jr. committed three turnovers in a 46-40 loss to the Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Midshipmen rolled to 306 rushing yards against the nation’s top-ranked run defense that played without another key player for the second week in a row due to disciplinary measures.
Linebacker Steven Taylor was suspended for the game for what the school said was a violation of team policy.
Tied 20-20 at halftime, Navy broke the game open by scoring touchdowns off turnovers on the Cougars’ first two possessions of the second half.
Ward was sacked and fumbled on the Cougars’ first possession after halftime. Navy quarterback Will Worth faked the toss and hit a wide-open Darryl Bonner for a 17-yard touchdown.
On the Cougars’ next series, Josiah Powell intercepted Ward for the second time in the game and went 34 yards for the touchdown and 34-20 lead.
Greg Ward Jr did not have a good day with his three turnovers - he was also sacked twice - but he nevertheless managed to pass for 359 yards and two touchdowns and rush for another 94 yards and a touchdown. The problem was that most of those rushing yards were broken play scrambles; the Cougar run offense struggled without starting running back Duke Catalon, who was out with an injury, and only managed 125 yards on the afternoon. That being said, a bright spot was walk-on Dillon Birden, who rushed for 51 yards and a touchdown and also caught a touchdown pass.
As bad as the offense looked, they still scored 40 points, which would normally be enough to win a football game. The real problem was the defense, which simply could not stop the Midshipmen. The Cougar rushing defense had been one of the best in the nation coming into Saturday's game, but against Navy they were utterly helpless. They were especially bad containing the outside runs and pitches, and their tackling was atrocious. The defense allowed Navy to dominate the game clock and could not come up with any turnovers of their own. It's hard to win when you're -3 in turnovers, especially on the road.
Navy QB Will Worth, for his part, racked up 115 rushing yards on 32 carries; he only completed three of five passes, but two of those were for touchdowns.
The Cougars clearly missed several players on defense, including cornerback Brandon Wilson, who has been injured since the Cincinnati game, as well as three starting linebackers: Tyus Bowser was out with a skull fracture suffered as a result of a fight with Matthew Adams, who was also held out of the game as a disciplinary measure; as for Steven Taylor, well, I hope whatever he did to get suspended from this game was worth it.
As if it couldn't get any worse, Houston's special teams were putrid. They gave up a 85-yard kickoff return that led to Navy's first touchdown, missed an extra point and muffed a punt for a safety late in the fourth quarter, which sealed the loss.
This team was clearly not prepared to play on Saturday; they were making poor decisions, forgetting fundamentals (especially tackling), and simply looked a step slow. That's on the coaching staff. Tom Herman, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and the rest of the staff had almost a week and a half to prepare for this game. They did a poor job.
Given Saturday's lack of focus, and the disciplinary problems that have suddenly become an issue, one had to wonder if the insufferable "where is Tom Herman going next season" media circus is finally getting to the players, and if he is losing the team.
What It Means:
The Cougars fell to #12 in the Coaches poll and #13 in the AP poll as a result of this loss, and whatever slim shot they had to make the College fotball Playoff has now evaporated. But even worse is that, by virtue of this loss, the Cougars could still win out and not play for the American Conference Championship and go to a New Year's Six Bowl. Since this was a in-division loss, the Cougars now need Navy to lose twice in conference in order to be guaranteed the AAC West title.
In other words, Houston could end the regular season with a 11-1 record, ranked in the top ten, and end up playing Middle Tennessee in the Boca Raton Bowl on a Tuesday night.
Next up for the Cougars is a game against Tulsa this Saturday evening at TDECU Stadium. Nothing this team can do now except brush themselves off, get back up and get back to winning.