Three quick observations from the Fordham game:
There’s only one thing on everyone’s mind right now, and that’s the status of Tago Smith’s right knee. The senior quarterback was having a tremendous outing– he finished with 97 yards on 10 carries– before he was injured on what appeared to be an awkward cut.
Ken Niumatalolo was clearly shaken when talking about Smith in the post-game press conference.
“He’s just a great kid. He really symbolizes who we are,” Niumatalolo said. “Hasn’t said crap for three years, kept his mouth quiet. He came to work every day, didn’t complain, didn’t get bitter.”
Niumatalolo seemed to take the situation personally.
“You know, I was the guy keeping him off the field,” he continued. “There were other coaches that wanted to take him at other positions and play him, but I held him back. For three years he didn’t say anything. He just worked his butt off.
You just feel bad for a kid that’s waited his turn. He’s worked so hard. You just feel for the kid.”
These non-contact knee injuries are usually bad news, although we likely won’t know just how bad until Smith undergoes an MRI scan. It’s hard not to assume the worst after listening to Niumatalolo’s comments. If that is indeed the case, and Smith is lost for the season, then the keys to the offense will be turned over to Will Worth. In that, Navy at least has a silver lining.
There aren’t many #2 quarterbacks more prepared than Worth to assume a starting role. He’s a senior. This is his fourth year under Ivin Jasper’s tutelage. He won the Admiral Mack Award for being the most improved player in spring practice before last season. He spent that same spring camp as the #2 quarterback, since Smith was out with an injured thumb. With Navy’s two-huddle practices, that means he got as many reps as the first team.
Ivin Jasper has stated on more than one occasion that he is confident in Worth’s ability to run the offense. Niumatalolo reaffirmed that confidence after the game.
“Will knows our offense,” he said. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed kid. I thought he played really well when he went in there.”
Worth did play well, although he clearly doesn’t have Smith’s speed. Nevertheless, if you have a quarterback that can get the offense in the right plays and make the right reads, you can win. Will Worth can do that.
The game was a bit of a mixed bag for the Navy defense. Statistically, it’s not exactly reassuring to give up 464 yards of offense– 302 passing– to Fordham. I don’t think those numbers don’t tell the full story, though.
The Mids were fairly dominant on first and second down. Of Fordham’s 18 third downs, 11 were third and long. However, the Rams were able to convert a few more of those than you’d like to see. Fordham was able to pick up first downs with scrambles and passes underneath the coverage; Navy’s linebackers were dropping back so deep that there was often nobody in the middle of the field. While Coach Niumatalolo mentioned after the game that the Mids used a few different coverages and zone blitzes, they didn’t rush more than four very often. Coach Pehrson might have been keeping things simple, not wanting to tip his hand on what kind of blitzes he has cooked up for AAC opponents.
Even so, Navy still managed to tally three sacks. They also made Chase Edmonds a non-factor in the game, holding him to only 70 rushing yards. Edmonds has been a touchdown machine for Fordham, and the Mids’ ability to contain him was a big reason why the Rams could only manage to get into the end zone once. No matter how many yards Fordham had, 52-16 is still 52-16.
Chris High has arrived
There has been a lot of turnover up and down the Navy roster, but fullback was one position that seemed more or less settled coming into the season. Shawn White didn’t have too many carries in 2015, but when he did get the ball, the 255-lb. bruiser was impressive. That made him the heir apparent to Chris Swain at the start of fall camp. It came as some surprise, then, when Chris High emerged as the starter. Today, the junior showed us why.
High took full advantage of his first career start, carrying the ball 10 times for 176 yards and two TDs. Fordham might not have been the most intimidating matchup, but they did stack the box to make it difficult for Navy to run up the middle. It made no difference to High, who ran through arm tackles, made good reads to find running lanes, and turned on enough speed to do damage in the open field.
While there’s only so much you can learn against an FCS school, a fullback averaging 17 yards per carry is noteworthy. I still expect all three fullbacks on the depth chart to share the load this season, but High showed that he is ready to get the lion’s share of carries if called upon to do so.