ANNAPOLIS, Md. ― A pleasant, partly cloudy afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium commenced with the March-On of the Brigade of Midshipmen, followed by the national anthem and a parachute jumper landing at midfield with a large American flag.
After the pageantry came the formality: Navy’s trademark triple option dismantling a USF team with limited options.
On a day when they were far from their sharpest, the Midshipmen (5-1, 3-1) nonetheless dissected USF (3-4, 1-2) for 434 rushing yards in a 35-3 romp before an announced crowd of 29,774.
“We wanted to create turnovers, I feel like we did that,” said Bulls cornerback KJ Sails, whose unit forced three of them. "They’re a good football team. We had to be disciplined when we played them, and I felt like we weren’t disciplined enough, so (we) didn’t get a result we wanted.”
With redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud ― the only scholarship quarterback healthy enough to suit up ― clearly hampered by lingering shoulder and wrist injuries, USF managed only 264 yards. It punted on its first five possessions, by which time Navy led 21-0.
McCloud, aerially off the mark for the second game in a row, finished 11-for-23 for 50 yards and an interception before being replaced by walk-on Kirk Rygol late in the fourth quarter.
“I just fought through it for my team," McCloud said. "I was all right, I was able to play. Not to my best ability, but I’ve just got to keep getting better every week.”
Rygol went 4-for-7 for 64 yards, leading the Bulls deep enough to attempt (and miss) a 33-yard field goal on his first possession. Afterward, coach Charlie Strong suggested he might start Rygol next week at East Carolina if McCloud still is ailing.
“We thought about (pulling McCloud earlier), and he kept saying he’s okay," Strong said. "Then you see one of the passes he threw, we knew he wasn’t okay. Now we’ve got to go with Rygol. Rygol will be okay, we’ve just got to get him enough reps.”
The Bulls’ only score came on a 33-yard Spencer Shrader field goal late in the first half, and even that one was maligned. It occurred after Sails’ apparent 28-yard TD on an interception return was negated by an illegal block by senior defensive end Greg Reaves.
“Just a bone-headed mistake,” Reaves said.
Meantime, Navy was ―well ― Navy.
Though the Bulls consistently employed three linebackers and often used stacked fronts, Navy 5-foot-9 senior quarterback Malcolm Perry still ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries despite completing no passes.
On his first pass attempt of the day, Perry’s pocket collapsed, but he scrambled straight ahead through a seam and dashed for a 67-yard touchdown.
On Navy’s next possession, sophomore Jamale Carothers ― who had five career rushing attempts entering the day ― took a handoff on a third-and-1 dive play and burst up the middle for a 58-yard TD as some Bulls defenders kept their eyes locked on Perry.
“We (forced) three turnovers," middle linebacker Patrick Macon said. “Sometimes they caught us out whack, but at the end of the day, that’s still not our defense, I would say.”
The outcome became academic when receiver OJ Davis scored on a 23-yard slotback pass from CJ Williams with 10:03 to play in the first half, giving the Mids a 21-0 lead.
Self-infliction prevented the romp from being worse. Not counting a kneel-down at the end of the first half, Navy committed its turnovers on three consecutive possessions and was whistled for six penalties, one more than its per-game average.
But on this 61-degree day, sloppy still trumped banged-up and benign.
Not to mention bowl-ineligible, the way things are looking.
“We’ve got to get play makers," Strong said. "Our play makers have got to step up and start playing.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.