Navy's mission is more consistency

Johnson growing weary of early interceptions

penalties, other mistakes also prove costly in loss to Rutgers

College Football

October 31, 2005|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

If the Navy football team has proved anything through its first seven games, it is that its only consistent trait is inconsistency.

That was reaffirmed last weekend when another member of an "upper echelon" conference, Rutgers, turned virtually everything the Midshipmen did wrong into points and rode a dominating first half to a 31-21 victory.

The Big East Conference contender (6-2) thus qualified to play in only the second bowl game in its football history, which is longer than anyone else's in the country except neighboring Princeton, Rutgers' foe in the very first collegiate game in 1869.

"It was very disappointing the way we played," Navy coach Paul Johnson said yesterday after his team had dipped to a 4-3 record and surrendered its winning streak at four in a row. "We really didn't play well in any facet of the game. The defense got put in a bind by turnovers and a short punt, the offense stunk and the special teams weren't much better."

Navy die-hards will want to point to two play review decisions that went Rutgers' way in the second half while the Midshipmen were scaling uphill from a two-touchdown deficit as the deciding factors, but the reasons for the defeat cut far deeper than that.

"I don't think we played to our abilities," said diminutive slotback Reggie Campbell, whose 60-yard touchdown scamper was the offense's only noteworthy strike in a poor first half that ended with Rutgers ahead 21-7. "We made too many mistakes."

"You can't really depend on the defense all the time to make up for our mistakes," added freshman Karlos Whittaker, who extended his plebe record by scoring in a sixth straight game. "Our errors put us in a hole, and it's very tough to climb out of it."

The tenor was set immediately when quarterback Lamar Owens threw an interception on the first series for the fourth time this season. On the next possession, normally reliable receiver Jason Tomlinson dropped a third-down pass after Navy had driven into Rutgers territory, forcing a punt.

On the next series, a penalty for an illegal block pushed back the Midshipmen toward their own goal line after Owens had escaped from the shadow of the end zone with a 16-yard run. After a sack and a short Navy punt, the Scarlet Knights had great field position. Then, a lost fumble by Trey Hines gave Rutgers yet another golden opportunity.

For its three first-half touchdowns, Rutgers needed drives of just 30, 32 and 30 yards.

Johnson said the early interceptions "aren't going to be happening much more." Asked if that meant he were contemplating a quarterback change, he replied, "I haven't decided right now, but part of the job of the quarterback is not to lose the game."

After halftime, Navy generated two long touchdown drives, but each time on its next possession, Rutgers answered with points with the help of the two favorable replay rulings.

Navy thought it had stopped the first Knights advance when David Mahoney stripped the ball from Ray Rice and Jeremy McGown recovered at the Navy 13. The initial ruling was Navy ball, but a replay overturned it and Rutgers retained possession, settling for a field goal.

"I thought it was a fumble, but I didn't see a replay," Mahoney said. "Apparently, they saw it differently. It had a big impact on the game."

After Navy had closed to 24-21, Rutgers was apparently stopped again on a deflected interception by Jake Biles just short of the goal line, but an incompletion was ruled and upheld by replay. Rutgers went on to score the clinching touchdown.

"You can't pin anything on replay," Biles said. "You have to come back and make plays after that."

"You could point to a zillion plays," Johnson added. "You can't crutch on those [replays]. If we score first instead of throwing an interception. Their quarterback [Ryan Hart] was all over the place last year [in a 54-21 Navy win] and in this game he was 18-for-21. There are a ton of things that happened."

Navy is still in position to join Rutgers as bowl-eligibles with Tulane, Temple and Army left on the schedule. But inconsistency is not going to get the Midshipmen there.

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Tulane@Navy Saturday, 1:30 p.m., 1090 AM, 1430 AM

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