“We’re going to have a hard time beating high schools teams if we don’t take care of the football, much less a program like Penn State,” Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We know that. Playing Notre Dame, playing Penn State, we’ve got to almost play perfect to have a chance.”
Navy quarterback Trey Miller ran for 21 yards on 18 carries, completed 6 of 13 passes for 17 yards and was responsible for three turnovers before giving way to backup Keenan Reynolds late in the third quarter after the Nittany Lions’ fourth touchdown. Penn State added a fifth touchdown when linebacker Mike Hull retrieved fullback Noah Copeland’s fourth-quarter fumble and returned it 74 yards to the end zone.
Senior slotback Gee Gee Greene’s 12-yard touchdown run with 10 minutes 3 seconds to play kept Navy from being shut out for the first time since 2002, but the Mids’ triple-option offense otherwise was little more than a nuisance as Penn State won for the first time under first-year coach Bill O’Brien.
Navy was coming off its earliest bye week in a dozen years, but the extra time to prepare hardly showed from the opening possession, when Penn State (1-2) scored on a 72-yard drive lasting seven plays. Quarterback Matt McGloin’s two-yard completion to tight end Jesse James less than four minutes into the first quarter provided the initial points after a misstep in Navy’s secondary yielded a substantial gain.
On first and 10 from the Navy 49-yard line, wide receiver Allen Robinson got behind cornerback Parrish Gaines, who slipped and wound up badly out of position. The play landed the Nittany Lions at the Navy 4 and was a precursor to more unsteady footing in the secondary.
On Penn State’s second series, Robinson again left Gaines in his wake on a 45-yard touchdown catch-and-run. After alluding Gaines, Robinson (five receptions, 136 yards, three touchdowns) faked to the left and cut inside to avoid Tra’ves Bush on his way to the end zone for a 14-0 lead with 6:40 to go in the first quarter.
Navy then embarked on its most promising drive, only to have it dissolve when Miller’s pass on third and goal from the 5 ended up in the arms of Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges. Just like that, the Midshipmen had zero to show for a possession that began at their 25 and included slotback Bo Snelson’s 21-yard run and 11-yard gain from slotback John Howell.
“It was just a bad decision,” Miller said. “A throw I shouldn’t have made.”
Niumatalolo sought out Miller on the sideline and rebuked the junior for his mistake on Navy’s only red zone chance of the game. Instead of launching the ball out of bounds while under pressure, Miller tried to force it to Howell on the run, and the weak pass fluttered to Hodges.
Navy’s defense was able to rest for nearly six minutes during that drive, but the unit provided little resistance on Penn State’s third touchdown. The Nittany Lions moved the ball in large chunks, with the shortest gain during the possession a two-yard touchdown pass from McGloine to Robinson.
“None of these guys are going anywhere,” Navy senior linebacker Keegan Wetzel said when asked how the team intends to regroup after dropping consecutive games by its widest margin since 1994. “They’re at this school because they’re fighters, they’re scrappers. That’s how they got recruited. We have great leadership via our captains and our captains and our quarterback, and I don’t think any of these guys are going anywhere. We all know it. We’re going to come back Monday ready to work.”