Early in the second half of Saturday’s game against Florida Atlantic, the Navy football team faced fourth and eight from the Owls 31-yard line. The Midshipmen’s triple-option offense often struggles to convert such long-yardage situations, but quarterback Keenan Reynolds has transformed that thinking.
Instead of calling for a pitch or short pass, offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper asked Reynolds to throw down the field despite the precarious circumstances, and the first freshman to start at quarterback for Navy since 1991 completed a touchdown to wide receiver Brandon Turner for an 11-point lead on the way to a 24-17 win at home.
With the pass rush closing in, Reynolds delivered the ball off his back foot, and Turner put himself in position between two defenders to secure the catch in a victory that also made the Midshipmen eligible for a bowl game for the ninth time in 10 years.
“I feel good about throwing the football,” Jasper said. “I feel good that it’s going to get there, that [Reynolds is] going to put the ball where it’s supposed to go and be accurate with it.”
Not that Navy (6-3) has plans to adopt the spread offense, but the extra dimension Reynolds provides has yielded many signature moments during Navy’s five-game winning streak. A throw he completed to wide receiver Shawn Lynch against the Owls, for instance, was perhaps the best the coaching staff has seen of any quarterback over the last decade.
On second and four from the Navy 21, Reynolds spotted Lynch running toward the right sideline and, despite tight coverage, delivered the throw over the defender and right into his teammate’s hands. Nine plays later, Reynolds scored on a one-yard run to put the Midshipmen ahead to stay, 14-10, in Navy’s third comeback win in five games.
Reynolds has completed 35 of 57 passes for 560 yards and eight touchdowns in five games this season. He doesn’t have enough attempts to qualify for the national statistical rankings, but Reynolds’s 186.7 passer rating is higher than even the likes of Kansas State’s Collin Klein, a leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy.
With six more touchdown passes, Reynolds would break the Navy single-season record Ricky Dobbs set in 2010. Reynolds also has a chance to finish in the top three in single-season completion percentage. Roger Staubach holds the top two marks at 67.3 and 66.5. Reynolds’s current percentage is 61.4.
“You hear a lot about kids having God-given talent. Keenan has a lot of God-given talent,” Turner said. “Not only that, he’s smart. With those two together, it’s amazing what he can do.”
Reynolds’s ascent has coincided with that of Turner, whose three touchdown receptions this year are three short of matching the Navy single-season record. Turner has become the Midshipmen’s primary deep threat with 15 receptions for 212 yards, including a long of 31 yards.
Turner learned the finer points of playing wide receiver in an option-based offense not only from his coaches but also under the tutelage of former teammate Greg Jones, who’s third all-time at Navy in yards per catch (20.8). As a senior in 2010, Jones had five touchdown receptions as Dobbs’s favorite target while Turner served primarily as a blocking wide receiver.
After leading Navy with 14 catches for 300 yards as a junior, Turner’s final season began with him ineligible to practice at the start of training camp when he failed the academy’s physical readiness test required of all midshipmen. Turner eventually passed the test and rejoined the team but did not regain his starting job until the third game of the season.
“I feel like I embarrassed my family, embarrassed my friends, embarrassed this team and the people who care about me,” Turner said. “I never want to do that, so it’s good to kind of make up for those things.”