Slow-starting Keenan Reynolds can't help Navy overcome Rutgers in defeat

September 20, 2014|By Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

Quarterback Keenan Reynolds came into the 2014 season as a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate, his reputation built as much on his reliability running the Navy football team's triple-option offense as on his big-play ability.

Four games into his junior year, Reynolds has been neither as steady nor as spectacular as he was his first two seasons. Unfortunately for Navy, having a quarterback who is more human than heroic won't work as well as it did those two years, either.

While Reynolds largely wasn't to blame for Saturday's 31-24 loss to Rutgers at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, he was the first to take his share of the responsibility.

As in the Midshipmen's season-opening defeat to Ohio State at M&T Bank Stadium, Reynolds' mistakes overshadowed his big plays.

Navy's first and last possession of the second half seemed to sum up Reynolds' performance against the Scarlet Knights, if not his entire season.

To start the third quarter, Reynolds followed a 53-yard pass to Jamir Tillman by getting stuffed for a 2-yard loss and taking a 7-yard loss on a sack. Navy settled for a 35-yard field goal, and Rutgers followed with a touchdown to build its lead to 14, 31-17, which it held into the fourth quarter.

"That was huge. I would say the reason we didn't score was my fault on that drive," Reynolds said after his first home loss since becoming a starter as a freshman. "I made a bad check. I kind of overthought the other defense a little bit and got us into negative yardage. I'll take the blame for that drive."

With Navy trailing by a touchdown on its final drive downfield, Reynolds led the Midshipmen from their own 42 to the Rutgers 6 with a string of runs and passes, including a 17-yard dart to sophomore slotback Calvin Cass on second-and-18. But with goal-to-go, he had a pass nearly intercepted and took two sacks before a final incompletion on fourth down.

"There were too many times when we wound up going backwards," Navy offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper said. "After the big throw to Jamir, the next two plays are negative. We go the wrong way and then we get sacked. You can't have that."

Reynolds has had his share of comeback wins, starting with the day he took over at quarterback as a freshman and brought Navy back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit in an eventual overtime win at Air Force in 2012.

A few weeks later, Reynolds rallied Navy, down 10 in the second quarter to Florida Atlantic, for a 24-17 victory.

But Florida Atlantic is not Rutgers, and trailing by 10 in the second quarter is not the same as trailing by 14 in the fourth quarter.

There were times Saturday when Reynolds' footwork seemed a bit unsteady, his reaction time slow and his touch more than a tad off. He missed last Saturday's win over Texas State with a knee injury he had suffered the week before, and player whom Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo often has called the best quarterback ever to run the triple-option appeared out of sync with some of his reads.

Not that Reynolds used the brace he wore or his recent limited practice availability as an excuse for his performance against Rutgers.

"This is the best I've felt all week," Reynolds, who finished with three total touchdowns, 231 passing yards but only 25 rushing yards, said with a chuckle. "I kind of forgot [the brace] was there after a while. Mentally, you have the live bullets going in the game. You think about a hundred other things. Whether I'm wearing a knee brace isn't on my mind.'

Even before his knee was twisted Sept. 6 against Temple, there was some inconsistency about the way Reynolds had played during this highly anticipated season. Remarkably sure-handed his first two years, Reynolds has fumbled in each of the three games he has played.

The first two, against Ohio State and Temple, led to touchdowns.

While his one fumble against Rutgers resulted only in a field goal, it gave Rutgers a 10-7 lead. Navy never got back the lead, or momentum, until the final minute, when Reynolds seemed on the brink of pushing the game into overtime. .

Niumatalolo wouldn't blame his quarterback afterward for the loss, and there was little reason to.

Reynolds had nothing to do with the Mids defense's being mauled for 284 rushing yards, even with Rutgers losing its leading rusher. Reynolds couldn't help Navy pressure mistake-prone quarterback Gary Nova, who was efficient in completing 11 of 14 passes for 151 yards.

Asked how he thought Reynolds played, Niumatalolo said: "He played OK. The guy has got a brace on; he came back quicker than most people would. He did some good things, he gave us a chance to win there at the end, but that game was far from Keenan Reynolds. To put that on Keenan Reynolds is not even close."

But Reynolds knew he could have played better on a day he made the kind of mistakes he seldom did in his first two seasons.

"Today, I just needed to eat [the pitch on which he fumbled]. I was trying to make a play on third down and should have lived to play another down," he said. "That's on me. It bothers me. I realized that it's happened [before Saturday]. I just need to go back and correct it and move on."

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

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