ANNAPOLIS — Navy entered Saturday's game having just hurdled the haunting memory of the botched extra point attempt that handed them a one-point loss against Air Force a week earlier. After another seemingly benign field goal kick went awry against Southern Miss, they'll have to do it all over again this week.
Going into this week's practices, however, players can expect to endure a different sort of sour taste in their mouths. Instead of dwellling on a harrowing nail-biter that came down to the last play, they'll think about something head coach Ken Niumatalolo has scarcely seen during his prolific four-year tenure at Navy: a complete beatdown.
The Midshipmen's 63-35 loss to Southern Miss represented Niumatalolo's most crushing loss since he took over the program in 2007. Moreover, the 63 points given up was the most surrendered at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium since a 65-19 defeat against N.C. State in 2002.
"It's been a long time since we've had our butts whooped that bad," Niumatalolo said. "They out-coached us, out-played us. That was a thorough whipping that they handed us today."
For the second straight week, Navy was doomed by a routine field goal attempt. A promising opening drive stalled deep in Southern Miss territory, leaving the Mids with fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. When the Golden Eagles didn't flinch at his series of hard counts, quarterback Kriss Proctor let the game clock run out to take a delay of game penalty that summoned the field goal unit for a simple 29-yard attempt.
The chip shot ended up putting seven points on the board instead of the intended three, as Southern Miss defensive back Marquese Wheaton scooped up kicker Jon Teague's blocked attempt and raced 79 yards to the house. The botched try seemed to rekindle the misery of last week's 35-yard blocked field goal attempt, which cost the Mids in a demoralizing 35-34 overtime loss that proved difficult to forget.
"Obviously when you give up a blocked kick for seven points, it's a huge blow," Proctor said. "We've got to go in and find a way to score, in the red zone especially. It happened last week, and it happened again today. It's just tough. You can't win a ball game without scoring in the red zone."
The Mids' red-zone woes continued on their next possession, even after they marched 76 yards to the Southern Miss 1-yard line. Yet again, Golden Eagles' hulking defensive front flipped a sure-fire Navy scoring chance on its head, as linebacker Tim Green stuffed a Proctor keeper on fourth-and-inches, his second such stop in three plays.
Pinned inside his own 5 on third-and-7, Southern Miss senior quarterback Austin Davis lofted a long pass down the middle to Ryan Balentine, who was matched up against Navy linebacker Matt Brewer. The wideout sprinted all the way to the Navy 19-yard line, setting up an eventual 3-yard touchdown run by running back Jeremy Hester to hand the bewildered home side a 14-0 deficit.
Those squandered red-zone opportunities continued a trend from last week, when the team's two first half trips inside the opponent's 20 netted only two field goals.
"Early on, if we had converted there, I don't know if we could have stopped them, but the game would have been different, instead of us trying to scrap from the back trying to catch them," Niumatalolo said. "You've got to give them credit for stopping us."
Davis accounted for four (three passing, one on the ground) touchdowns. In a game that saw 1,153 yards of total offense, the Golden Eagles scored nine touchdowns on 13 possessions. Southern Miss' all-time leading passer completed 21-of-23 pass attempts for 283 yards and ran for 75 yards on 12 carries. Davis' aerial display was particularly impressive considering it came against the nation's seventh-ranked pass defense.
"We knew they were a potent offense, that they were explosive," Niumatalolo said. "Davis can do a lot of things running it and throwing it. They basically were able to do whatever they wanted. The were literally a machine."
The two squandered first-quarter scoring chances appeared to take the wind out of the Navy's sails altogether. Three of the team's four second-quarter possessions resulted in three-and-outs, leaving the defense to get worn out by the Eagles' hurry-up offense, which produced a 28-0 lead with seven minutes remaining in the half.
The 35-7 halftime deficit proved too much for Navy, which was able to overcome an 18-point deficit against Air Force. The Mids racked up 354 second half yards behind their fleet-footed quarterback, but they could do nothing to plug the leaks in a defense that continued to give up big chunks of yardage through the air and on the ground.
Navy played without leading rusher Alexander Teich, who sat out the game as part of a team disciplinary matter.
"Any time you don't have your top player on offense, it's going to affect your team," Proctor said. "But it's a team loss, it doesn't come down to any one position. That was just an overall team loss right there."
Navy must find a way to recover before a grueling four-game stretch that begins on the road against Rutgers, which defeated Pittsburgh 34-10 to move to 4-1, next Saturday.
"This was a good football team, and we've got another one coming up," Niumatalolo said. "We've just got to get back to work. We'll go back and watch the tape, re-evaluate our coaching and our practicing. We don't have any alternative. We can't feel sorry for ourselves."
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