Navy’s bid for a spot in the New Year’s Six Cotton Bowl abruptly came to an end, as the Midshipmen were routed by Temple 34-10 in the second annual American Athletic Conference Championship.
1. Stat of game
Navy entered the game with the nation’s third-best rushing game, averaging 342 yards per game. But Temple’s defense entered Saturday’s title game in Annapolis the third-ranked defense in the nation. The Owls stifled Navy’s potent option, holding the Midshipmen to 168 yards, and 3.8 yards per carry.
2. Slow start doomed Navy
Temple set the tone on the game’s opening drive, marching 75 yards on 12 plays capped by Jahad Thomas’ 15-yard touchdown run. The drive was highlighted with a 4th-and-7 conversion, in which quarterback Phillip Walker connected with Keith Kirkwood for 13 yards and the first down. Thomas scored on the very next snap.
Navy tried a 4th-and-7 conversion of its own on their opening offensive drive, but Toneo Gulley was stuffed four yards short of the marker. Temple received the ball on downs and answered with the short field, as Walker threw his first of two touchdown passes, finding Ventell Bryant for a 22-yard score. Walker was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, completing 16-of-25 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
Temple would jump ahead 21-0 after the Owls turned a Darryl Bonner fumble into points, as Walker connected with Kirkwood for a 56-yard touchdown against a blown coverage by Navy’s secondary. Temple seized control of the game and never looked back from there.
3. Injuries too insurmountable for Navy
Navy’s attempt to rally was hampered by injuries to three key offensive players. Bonner suffered a shoulder injury on his fumble in the first quarter. They would then lose starting quarterback Will Worth, who suffered a season-ending injury. He was seen on the sidelines on crutches after being evaluated after his second quarter-injury. In addition, Gulley, who leads the team with 10.0 yards per carry, left the game with a season-ending injury.
The Midshipmen were facing an uphill battle without three of their best offensive weapons against an already tough Temple defense.
Zach Abey replaced Worth at quarterback. He completed 7-of-13 passes for 104 yards but threw two interceptions. He did score the Midshipmen’s lone touchdown — a one-yard run in the fourth quarter with the game essentially decided.
4. Streak of losses
Navy has now lost 18 straight games in which they trailed by 14 or more points. After putting up 66 and 75 points in back-to-back in the previous two games, Navy was held to 10 points — their lowest point total of season. Their triple-option offense is not built to play from behind, especially by such a point difference.
5. Bowl crisis avoided
Navy entered Saturday’s game No. 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings. They were two spots behind undefeated Western Michigan for the Group of Five automatic bid for a New Year’s Six bowl. Western Michigan won the Mid-American Conference Championship after beating Ohio 29-23 on Friday in the MAC Championship Game. But their strength of schedule compared to Navy left the door open for Navy to jump the Broncos for the automatic berth that is given to the best conference champion of the Group of Five conferences despite having two losses.
Navy’s loss to Temple gives Western Michigan a spot in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2 in Arlington, Tex. The Midshipmen will now play in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23 in Fort Worth, Tex.
Additionally CFB playoff committee and the bowl landscape avoided a headache with Navy losing. Had Navy won against a solid Temple, the committee and teams sorting to play in the early bowl games may have had to wait for the Midshipmen’s outcome against Army next Saturday – six days after the final CFB playoff rankings were to be released — to find out who would play in the Cotton Bowl and the allotment for some of the early bowl games, involving Group of 5 teams.
The fear of the bowl system being ‘paralyzed’ vanished as Temple routed Navy 34-10 to claim the American Athletic Championship.