Navy could not keep pace in a 49-36 loss to visiting Houston Oct. 20. The Midshipmen have lost four straight games for the first time since 2011 and fell to 2-5 on the season. In the past three games, Navy has been outscored 66-19 in the second half.
"We're not playing very well. We're not playing Navy football. That's obvious," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We're just doing things we normally don't do, making critical errors we normally don't make."
Here are five things we learned:
1. Second half struggles
Senior Garret Lewis got his third career start at quarterback and had another uneven performance. The senior completed 9 of 13 passes for 135 yards with a touchdown. He also threw an interception that was returned 50 yards for a touchdown by Houston cornerback Nick Watkins. Lewis also finished with 61 yards on 21 carries. The Midshipmen had 527 yards of total offense, while Houston amassed 570.
The Midshipmen held a 24-21 lead at halftime were held scoreless in the third quarter, which allowed the Cougars to pull away.
"I don’t know exactly what is going on, but for whatever reason, we’re not executing in the second half like we need to," Lewis said. "We've got to find out what is going on and get it corrected."
2. Perry injured again
Malcolm Perry stayed at slotback and ran for 97 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown. Perry, however, missed most of the second half with an apparent leg injury, which coincided with the Midshipmen’s slump on offense.
"It definitely hurt us because he is one of our best players," Niumatalolo said about Perry's injury. "It was typical Malcolm doing good things and he rushed for almost 100 yards. But some of the things we did wrong were not because we lost Malcolm."
Perry has been taking a pounding each week, making it tough for him to stay on the field. Perry sustained a concussion Sept. 22 against Southern Methodist University. Junior slotback Tazh Maloy ran for 57 yards with a touchdown and could play his way more into the rotation.
3. Navy’s defensive woes
Navy's secondary had no answer for Houston quarterback D'Eriq King, who threw for 413 yards with three touchdowns and also ran for a score. The Midshipmen could not contain a trio of Cougars receivers -- Marquez Stevenson, Courtney Lark and Keith Corbin -- who routinely got behind the secondary and finished with more than 100 yards receiving each.
The key for Navy was to establish a consistent pass rush, but King avoided trouble and was not sacked on the day, enabling him to sit back in the pocket and throw the ball downfield.
The Cougars (6-1 overall, 3-0 AAC) could be ranked this week.
4. Houston's big plays
Another key for Navy against tough opponents is to put together long drives that keep its defense off the field. The Mids were able to execute that strategy early and held a 24-14 lead with 5:19 left in the half. However, Navy could not sustain that momentum and the Cougars roared back with a couple of big plays.
"I thought we started off kind of how we wanted game-plan wise with trying to keep them off the field," Niumatalolo said. "I was actually feeling pretty good about the way we were eating the clock and keeping them off the field."
Navy held the ball for 42:33, compared to 17:27 for Houston. But the Cougars were able to score quickly on several plays including a 17-yard touchdown run by running back Patrick Carr in the first quarter and a 65-yard touchdown pass from King to Lark two possessions later.
5. More challenges ahead
The Midshipmen are in jeopardy of enduring just their second losing season in the 11 years Niumatalolo has been at the helm. Navy faces perhaps its most daunting challenge of the season against No. 4 Notre Dame Oct. 27 in San Diego. The Fighting Irish (7-0) will be coming off a bye. Navy then has road games against No. 25 Cincinnati Nov. 3 and No. 10 Central Florida Nov. 10.
A string of six consecutive bowl appearances is in also peril.
"It only gets harder next week," Niumatalolo said. "We're playing a team that is better than Houston. We just saw how good Houston is and now we have the Irish, who are No. 4 in the country. We have a tall order coming up."
This has been updated.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox