Navy senior Billy Yarborough was well aware of the daunting responsibility placed on him and each other member of the defensive line entering Saturday's game against pass-inclined Arkansas State. The Red Wolves were going to try to win by throwing often, and that meant a defensive scheme necessitating seven and sometimes eight defensive backs.
Thus Yarborough, an end, would not be receiving much help rushing the passer considering Navy was not about to blitz and risk yielding a potentially game-altering long play. So Yarborough girded all week for one-on-one exchanges with offensive linemen outweighing him significantly, mindful of the obligation to his secondary mates to make record-setting quarterback Ryan Aplin uncomfortable as quickly as possible in order to limit how long they would need to cover. Each second against the country's then-No. 22 passing offense, which was averaging 272 yards per game, would be valuable.
Yarborough lived up to his end of the pact and then some, logging a career-high three sacks, the most by a Navy player in more than four years. With Yarborough handling much of the heavily lifting for the pass rush in a 35-19 victory, the Midshipmen limited Arkansas State to nearly 200 yards below its season average in passing and to its fewest points of the season. The Red Wolves had averaged 44 points over their two most recent wins.
"Billy, he had the best performance he had all season long," Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said, "which was just big-time."
Green's praise for Yarborough had a lot to do with how Aplin had been performing this season, most notably his knack for escaping the pass rush and often completing throws for lengthy gains. The senior had set a single-season school record for passing touchdowns (18), total offense (3,036 yards) and completions (222) over the Red Wolves' first 10 games and had been sacked an average of 1.9 times, the third-fewest in the Sun Belt Conference.
"The quarterback we played, he was the top in their conference. He's having an incredible year, and he's gotten out of trouble all year long, scrambling, moving out of the pocket," Green said. "Not many teams have even sacked him because he's done a great job of avoiding the sack, and Billy did a great job with pressure all night long. He made some moves to get clean on the pass rush. He made some big plays, really big plays in the game."
With only three or four players employed on the pass rush, Navy rarely was able to pressure Aplin immediately. The Midshipmen instead had to disengage from offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage, move around them and chase after Aplin, who completed 22 of 30 passes for 178 yards, his second-lowest output of the season. Yarborough at times had to split double teams to get near Aplin.
Perhaps Yarborough's most impactful sack against Arkansas State came in the second quarter, when he dumped Aplin for a loss of 4 yards on second-and-goal from the 9. Aplin threw incomplete on the following play, and Arkansas State had to settle for a 31-yard field goal, allowing Navy to remain ahead by two scores, 14-3. Yarborough added a sack in the third quarter and another in the fourth.
This season Yarborough has started every game at right defensive end. His five sacks are the most on the team, and he has eight sacks over a career during which he spent his first two years playing as a reserve. With two games left, Yarborough is five sacks from tying the most in a single season at Navy.
"You've just got to keep working, keep working and stay relentless," Yarborough said of his resolve in applying pressure to Aplin. "That relentlessness will pay off because the offensive linemen, their backs are turned to the quarterback, and we can see where he's going as long as we keep working and working, and we've got good DBs back there, so they'll be able to cover, so as long as we keep working and not give up on the play, we'll get to the quarterback."