Might as well talk about it

I am extremely hesitant to bring up the topic of Middle Tennessee’s conduct from yesterday’s game, mostly because there is a subculture of Navy fans that craves reasons to be offended. I am not interested in fueling that embarrassing fire. However, I feel compelled to talk about it because it wasn’t just a sideshow; it had a very real impact on the outcome of the game, and I’m not completely sure that it wasn’t at least a little bit intentional.

The players and coaches see things that we’ll never get on TV, so it’s hard to capture everything on video. It’s also tough to get a sense of what’s really being said at times. Still, here’s an attempt to capture some of the lowlights that could be seen on TV. Some things you see here wouldn’t be that big of a deal in a vacuum (guys running their mouths, for example), but combined with everything else that went on they help paint a certain picture. It started on the very first drive of the game. The clips you’ll see range from mild to completely beyond the pale. They include:

1. A lot of talking, standing over tackled players, etc.
2. Linebacker Rod Blunt continuing to try to rip the ball out of Noah Copeland’s hands long after the whistle, and appear to take a shot at Copeland’s groin.
3. Blunt pulling Keenan Reynolds backwards after Reynolds scored Navy’s opening-drive TD.
4. Throat slash gestures.
5. Blunt delivering a forearm to the head of Darius Staten, who was on the ground.
6. Blunt pushing Blaze Ryder into the pile long after the play ended (and Marcus Thomas’ retaliation).
7. Blunt gouging Keenan Reynolds’ eyes.
8. Safety Xavier Walker taunting the Navy sideline after the Mids converted on 4th down.
9. Blunt laying on top of Darius Staten after the play and having… words.
10. Late hit on D.J. Sargenti’s interception.
11. Knocking the ball away after the end of the play.
12. On the same play, Reynolds gets hit late while Blunt delivers a forearm to DeBrandon Sanders’ head.

Not all of these were created equal, obviously, and I’m sure there are people who will see something different when they look at those clips. Still, as a whole I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like the campy depiction of a “bad guy” football team on an after school special. I thought it was affecting the Mids’ play in the first half, and I was concerned that it would carry over to the third quarter. To Coach Niumatalolo’s credit, he knew exactly what was going on and was very calm in his halftime interview. He probably conveyed that sense of calm and restraint in the locker room. Being calm isn’t exactly what he’s known for, so it’s a testament to Coach Niumatalolo’s situational awareness. The Mids settled down in the second half.

MTSU players said the “chippiness” went both ways. After watching each play several times, I have a very hard time believing it. I saw nothing from Navy that even looked unusual, let alone approaching the level of what MTSU was doing. I’ve seen some comments describing Wave Ryder’s penalty as dirty because it was helmet-to-helmet, but it was shoulder-to-shoulder. I’ve seen other comments claiming that Sargenti hit MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore out of bounds, but he didn’t:

The TV camera doesn’t capture everything, so I suppose it’s possible that all the things MTSU players did were being caught on camera while everything Navy players did was missed. The odds of that are about the same as the odds of me winning a Pulitzer for this blog, though. I challenge anyone accusing Navy players of misconduct to show some evidence. Otherwise, keep your empty talk to yourself.

After the game, Coach Stockstill dismissed the characterization of anyone’s play as “dirty,” saying that he just saw it as physical.

But I’m not going to back down one bit. We came out there and we had something to prove. I thought our defense was very, very physical and tough, and I loved how they played.

Comments like that make me think that some of this was part of the game plan. There was some talk on the radio that MTSU players felt slighted by the bowl, but I’m not sure what Keenan Reynolds’ eyeballs had to do with that. To their credit, both Stockstill and Blunt have since issued apologies. While they’re both probably the product of damage control, there’s no reason for fans to get indignant. We weren’t the ones getting forearms to the head. If the players and coaches aren’t going to carry on about it, neither should we. Just be proud that the Mids kept their cool and took care of business.

40 thoughts on “Might as well talk about it

  1. padre

    I was at the game with a contingent of ’67, and my lovely wife. Watched it again tonight, as I had recorded it. There is an additional piece of ugliness by #38 of MSTU. When KR is hit in the backfield after #38 slashed through the line, KR fumbled and went down. Watch it twice and you will see it: #38 (TT?) grabs KR’s facemask and gives an upward pull while standing over him, then immediately pursues the ball. There was no call on that. The other strange thing in the first quarter that was not on TV at all was #33 Blunt dancing and boogieing to the MSTU band while the play was setting up and then going into this double slapping his face/helmet routine…which the camera did catch. Said to myself early on, this guy has a screw loose. I guess if you are a fan of Blunt, you would say he was pumped. He just looked like a thug to me live on the field and again tonight on TV. Whatever – MSTU would have done better not to have 74 yards in penalties and have Blunt in the game until the end.

  2. tphuey

    Mike, you didn’t even bring up some of the egregious holding by number 83. He was only called for it once. On our holding call, it looked like Dudek was run over by the MTSU defender, be he got called for it.

    Reminded me of “The Longest Yard”. Some of the MTSU fans in some of the comments I’ve seen attribute it to our “illegal” chip (sic) blocks. And the helmet-to-helmet hit by Richardson was clearly on purpose (like the wanted to injure himself and take himself out of the game).

    But it was the Navy team that lost 3 players within 4 plays due to injury on our second offensive possession. Go figure.

    1. tphuey

      I guess that I’m still mad at the level of the officiating during the game. It should have never come to this.

  3. A's Make Plays

    There was a lot of stuff that went on in the piles like grabbing of the legs and ankles and twisting that TV didn’t catch.

  4. USMA92

    The announcers even mentioned they thought Blunt was trying to get thrown out of the game. Glad Navy kept their heads and won the game running away. Best way to address that behavior if you ask me.

    It’s bad enough when players act this way but they were clearly supported by their coach. As you said, it may have been part of the plan.

    As my 5th grade daughter said “Is Middle Tennessee even a college”?

    1. padre

      I remember that comment on the reply. Why would Blunt want to get kicked out of the game? That defies common sense. Any explanation?

  5. pills91

    When things like this happen in a game, you should first look at the officiating. These officials were pretty bad and didn’t get on top of this until it was to late.

  6. Mike:
    Good commentary. Unfortunately for MTSU, having got to a nationally televised bowl this year left many with one impression: MTSU plays dirty football. Since it was more than one player and more than one incident, one has to draw the conclusion that it is part of the culture and encouraged by the coaching staff. Not a good take away from your bowl game and will have an impact on recruiting.

  7. Navy72


    You are correct in addressing MTSU’s dirty play. Blunt’s gouging of Keenan’s eyes may be the single worst incident I have ever personally witnessed in a college football game. As you note, he was clearly trying to injure Reynolds and get him out of the game.

    I watched the game with my brother-in-law (ND fan), and he was more upset with MTSU’s antics than I was. I have witnessed games where one player gets out of hand, but cannot recall a game where multiple players were committing egregious fouls and getting away with the fouls for most of the game. I found it unusual that not a single player on the MTSU squad stepped in and tried to restore order. If that happened, please correct me, but I did not see it.

    You make a good point about Coach N keeping his cool. All I can say that is that my comments and my brother-in-laws comments toward MTSU were in keeping with the finest traditions of the Fleet.

  8. scissors

    MTSU fans are complaining about the ball boy jumping in to unravel the pile at about the 1:40 mark in the video. Ball boy? Are they serious? Just curious, though, if there is any merit to this? I could normally care less about the ball boy. They have a job to do and never attract any attention and is even only being brought up because it’s associated with MTSU’s thuggish behavior. Just wondering if he did anything out of the ordinary?

    1. You can see in the video here. Ball boy pushed Blunt away from Darius after Blunt delivered a forearm shot to the head. Anyone complaining about the ball boy is just reaching.

  9. Anonymous

    I am the one reaching about it I am Wartrace Dan from the Middle Board. Is that the behavior of your ball boy to jaw with the head coach after shoving the Middle player… The video left that out. Please enlight me

    1. bethel95

      So the ballboy saw Blunt give Staten a forearm shot to the head after the play, pushed Blunt away as he stood over Staten while Staten was trying to stand up, then reported to Coach N what he had seen afterwards. And that’s objectionable, let alone equivalent to an intentional forearm to the head after the play? Are we in Bizarro world, here, or am I really not understanding the point being made?

    2. Phil D

      I would like to thank you for making this comment as it makes mine on the “Empathy for Army” no longer the worst comment on this blog.

  10. Anonymous

    Wartrace Dan here again with all due respect I would like to have a civilized conversation and Mike I think you may be the only Navy fan who can A lot of so called Navy fans have been using your site a sounding board on our site. I have pointed chop blocks and the same negative behavior of both teams but nobody will admit that Navy reactions was just as bad as Middle. We took the worse of the meida storm by please give me a bone here and say that it was tic for tac or just go on living the blind loyalty I am a Navy Family Dad was a Master Chief Master Arms so I the up most respect for our service men and women but there are a few who are shining a bad light for the Academy on our board. Any answer will be fine and have a good and safe new year.

    1. I freely admit that there are annoying Navy message board posters. As for bad conduct from Navy during the game, sorry, can’t help you there.

    2. Phil D

      Because they weren’t. They aren’t chop blocks, they’re cut. Chop blocks are illegal and Navy is routinely called for that penalty when they commit them (and sometimes when they aren’t).

    3. You do understand that the Navy line lacks a lot of size and is taught to get as low as possible right? Its simple mechanics, the Navy linemen are usually outclassed by more than a few inches and pounds. They make up for it by really pushing get low. The lower you are, the harder it is to push you around. Just good football strategy and a general practice of any lineman.

    1. gonavy81

      Wartrace, Did you see anything from a Navy player which even remotely approached the level of intentionally trying to blind an opposing player by gouging his eyes? No? Didn’t think so.

  11. BandL89

    BZ, Mike. Thank you for providing a fact-based history and for the wise counsel to follow KN’s and the players’ lead with this. Great win over a solid, veteran opponent. Impressive all around how well this team represents USNA mission while competing at a high level. Thanks for time and expertise you put into this site, Mike.

  12. Anonymous

    gonavy81 and bethel95,

    Wow blind loyalty to the end… My bad we our terrible fans at Middle Tennessee. We attempt to blind every team we play and look for poor ole ball boys to pick on.. We had no business playing such a holy then now midshipmen team. Thanks for the memories.

  13. Anonymous

    Wartrace Dan,

    Big MTSU fan here and frankly embarrassed. This is football and stuff will happen on both sides. It is an intense and violent sport and we all expect and accept that aggression can take a toll on all players. However, the blatant disregard for the game which was displayed by Blunt and several other players hurt our team and our program. I don’t care what Navy did. If we want to recruit and play in bowl games, we need to honor the game.

    We are not terrible fans at Middle Tennessee. Do not attempt to speak for all of us by excusing this type of “thuggery.” Our players did what they did and our coach/players have owned up to it and apologized. Read the news. You don’t see our coach or players blaming Navy. So, if our own coach and players are willing to be accountable, get a clue.

    1. I know it seems disingenuous, but I really did think twice about posting this because I knew how it would be perceived outside of this blog’s usual readership. I’m not interested in labeling anyone’s program or organizing torch-and-pitchfork-wielding indignation mobs against a kid. I felt I had to say something, though, because if I’m going to blog about Navy football I can’t really ignore what had become the national conversation about the game.

  14. Garzilla06

    It is really hard to stomach the comments from MTSU fans saying that Navy was “just as chippy” and even “dirty”. Considering what was happening to them on the field, it’s incredible that they were able to maintain the level of composure that they did. I saw nothing from a Navy player that could be classified as “dirty”, and the only personal foul was the questionable “targeting” call.

    1. Fans are just fans. Just as Navy fans aren’t owed an apology, MTSU fans don’t have to answer for anything. Among any group of fans there will always be a few true believers that refuse to accept anything that falls short of the pedestal on which they place their team. Navy has them too. It’s an article of faith to these people that there had to be something that caused their heroes to act out, so they look for moral vindication. Arguing against that will end up like every other argument over faith. That’s why I don’t even bother engaging with anyone on message boards while the wounds are still fresh. Nobody you’re arguing with will listen anyway.

      Also, there was another personal foul. Marcus Thomas was flagged for reacting to Blunt’s first personal foul. The penalties offset.

  15. banshee74

    I wrote both the President and AD of MTSU (prior to the apologies by Stockstill and Blunt), and received a very appropriate response form the AD. However, in the Stockstill apology, he says he didn’t see a lot of this until he reviewed the tape….only problem is , if you watch the play that gets Blunt ejected, Stockstill is right there and actually pulling folks off the pile. This level of cheap play didn’t happen in a vacuum……time to move on…Beat Ohio State!

  16. seafox

    Prior to the Bowl Game, a lot of Press was devoted to how MTSU “wasn’t selected the previous year, and felt slighted”. Perhaps they already had an established reputation? Following their performance on National TV vs NAVY, along with comments by the TV commentators and the blistering Middle Tennessee has received in blogs and in print media…if you were a Bowl Committee in 2014 would you seriously want to offer an invite based on their mindset and program? And how many Athletic Department Donors and Alums of MTSU will decide to curtail their generosity, based on what they saw?

    The 2014 Football Season will have a terrific start next Fall, if Ohio State loses their 3rd consecutive Game. Go NAVY!

  17. Anonymous

    Given a) the number of MTSU players who were engaging in this stuff
    and b) the fact that the coaching staff did NOTHING to stop it I have to believe it was part of the gameplan. I think they watched the tape of the Navy-WKU game, where a lot of the same stuff went on, and decided the way to beat us was to “go gangsta.” Once you start down that road it’s hard to back off the accelerator. The zebras also get VERY low marks for not seeing most of it and being VERY slow to jump in and issue a general “knock it off” warning. All of us who’ve played contact sports have been involved in situations when the refs
    basically grabbed a few bad boys by the stacking swivel and growled “cut the crap.” End of problem.

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