This was supposed to be the second game of their second season, a day where the Navy football players were to win their second straight game and return to being "Big Men on Campus" at the Naval Academy.
Instead, one week after winning its "first" game of the season, Navy returned to form. The result: the revoking of the players' BMOC status and the return to losing ways after falling to Vanderbilt, 27-7, before 21,954 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
In beating Tulane, Navy's defense made big plays and a #F balanced offense helped pull out the team's first victory. Yesterday against Vanderbilt (4-5), almost nothing went right for the Midshipmen (1-8).
How bad was it for Navy? During a span of 14:21, from the end of the second quarter to midway through the third quarter, the Midshipmen had the ball on consecutive drives that covered 171 yards and ran seven plays from inside the Vanderbilt 7-yard line. But instead of two touchdowns, Navy got nothing.
"There were a lot of 'what if's' in the game -- we could have had three touchdowns if things fell our way," said Navy coach George Chaump. "But things were not falling our way. We played well at times, and at other times we didn't."
The Navy defense didn't play well early. Vanderbilt scored on its first four possessions to build a 19-0 lead. The Commodores got their first touchdown on their third play from scrimmage when tailback Tony Jackson (11 carries for a career-high 128 yards -- 82 of them coming on the first possession) burst through a gaping hole in the middle of Navy's defense and scored on a 53-yard run for a 7-0 lead.
Jackson's score was followed by two field goals by Rob Chura (44 and 51 yards) and a 14-yard touchdown run by Royce Love that gave Vanderbilt its 19-0 lead with 11:52 left in the first half.
While Vanderbilt was scoring in bunches, Navy's offense was amassing 20 yards in its first four drives. But the unit woke up with 6:09 left in the half, taking the ball from its own 4-yard line to a first-and-goal at the Vanderbilt 7 with less than two minutes left in the half.
But instead of a momentum-boosting touchdown, Navy ran six plays, including two where quarterback Jason Van Matre intentionally threw the ball to the turf to stop the clock. The confusion-filled drive, which included a pass-interference penalty that gave Navy a first down, ended with Van Matre diving toward the end zone on second-and-five -- and ending up a yard short.
The drive had covered 95 yards on 20 plays, took six minutes and nine seconds -- and resulted in no points.
"We ran out of timeouts and we were trying to stop the clock," said fullback Cleavon Smith, who scored Navy's lone touchdown on a 6-yard run with 7:53 left in the game. "We were 30 yards away from the coaches and we were trying to run some plays. We just didn't communicate well. It was our fault."
Navy's first drive of the second half ended the same way, with the Midshipmen taking the ball from their own 22 to a second-and-three at the Vanderbilt 4. But Navy gained two yards on the next three plays and handed the ball -- and essentially the game -- to Vanderbilt when Billy James was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-one from the 2.
"You'd like to think that if you run a play with two lead blockers and two linemen blocking, you'd gain a yard," Chaump said.
For the game, Navy had 295 yards total offense, 187 in the second half. Van Matre completed six of 25 passes for 40 yards -- the lowest total since 1988 when Navy had nine passing yards against Notre Dame.