ANNAPOLIS — Turnovers on three straight non-kneel down possessions, false starts and broken plays.
Indeed, the Navy Midshipmen were uncharacteristically out of sorts against South Florida on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.
Makes you wonder what would have happened had Navy not experienced so many hiccups.
As it was, the Bulls (3-4/1-2 AAC) suffered a 35-3 defeat to fall below .500. It would seem they have to win at ECU next week to have any shot of going to a bowl. After all, November features home games against Temple, Cincinnati and Memphis and a bus trip east on I-4 to UCF.
The story Saturday, aside from the 434 yards the Middies piled up on the ground, was the health — or lack thereof — of USF quarterback Jordan McCloud.
The redshirt freshman played with a banged up throwing hand last week against BYU when he also suffered a shoulder stinger. Coach Charlie Strong downplayed his QB’s injuries following that game and again during his press conference Monday. Only on Wednesday was there any mention of McCloud’s injuries when offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell revealed he could barely grip the football against the Cougars.
It was clear from the outset against the Midshipmen that McCloud was limited in the passing game. However, he remained in the game before giving way to Kirk Rygol midway through the fourth quarter.
Jordan’s not healthy,” said Strong. “We were just trying to get him to execute and it was tough on him.”
So, was there any thought of taking him out earlier?
“Well, we thought about it,” said Strong. “He kept saying he was okay. Then you see one of the passes he threw and you knew he wasn’t okay.”
Despite that, Strong said he kept McCloud in the game because he provided the best chance of winning. McCloud completed 11-of-23 passes for only 50 yards and the few times he went down field he was off the mark. In fact, an 11-yard completion to tight end Mitchell Wilcox in the third quarter was the Bulls’ longest until Rygol came on.
McCloud said he felt better at practice this week and when asked if his hand affected him Saturday he refused to make any excuses.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I just have to play better. That’s it.”
Meanwhile, the defense was gashed on touchdown runs of 67 yards by quarterback Malcolm Perry with 3:56 remaining in the opening quarter to cap a 91-yard drive, and 58 yards by Jamale Carothers 10 seconds into the second quarter to give Navy a 14-0 lead.
A halfback option from C.J. Williams to O.J. Davis was good for a 23-yard touchdown and a 21-0 Navy lead with still 10 minutes remaining in the half.
“End of the day, that was not our defense,” said linebacker Patrick Macon, who had a game-high 13 tackles. “We performed average and we can do much better.”
They actually did perform much better at times as the unit came up with turnovers on three straight possessions, not counting a Navy kneel-down at the end of the half. One of the takeaways was an interception by corner K.J. Sails, who returned it 28 yards for an apparent touchdown with just under five minutes remaining in the half. However, end Greg Reaves was flagged for an illegal block.
Still, the offense set up shop at the 21 only to have to settle for Spencer Shrader’s 33-yard field goal to make the score 21-3.
On Navy’s ensuing possession, safety Nick Roberts came up with an interception at the USF 33. Five plays later McCloud gave it back when he was picked by safety Chelen Garnes at the Middies’ 48.
Navy got the ball to open the second half and Reaves pounced on a Perry fumble at the USF 39-yard line. The Bulls drove to the Navy 27 where, on 4th-and-1, McCloud’s pass for Jernard Phillips was incomplete.
It was that kind of day.
The intrigue next week will again surround the quarterback situation. It is one that has not been without a dull moment this season as Blake Barnett (ankle) is done for the year and McCloud has been limited two straight weeks.
“We will be alright,” said Strong. “We will bounce back. I am not concerned about that.”