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How Navy Pulled Off The Upset Over #20 UCF

The Midshipmen added an interesting wrinkle to the AAC title race and avoided a third-straight loss.

NCAA Football: Navy at Central Florida Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

It hasn’t been the season that fans of Navy football fans wanted for the Midshipmen, but their latest victory will help ease the frustration. Navy took down a UCF Knights team ranked #20 in the College Football Playoff rankings in front of 44,813 fans in Orlando.

While Navy improve to just 4-7 this year, a win over a ranked team can define a season. It didn’t come easy as the Mids held off several comeback attempts after they went ahead for good in the third quarter.

These were the key factors in their 17-14 win.

An incredible day for John Marshall

Navy’s defense caused a lot of problems for a UCF offense that turned in its smallest yardage total of the season with 314 yards, including just 84 on the ground.

Linebacker John Marshall was a huge part of this success for the Navy defense. Marshall plays a position known as the striker on Navy’s defense, which is a safety hybrid that often gets brought into the box and on blitzes to help disrupt things in the backfield.

The senior broke two school records in a performance that included four sacks. The four sacks were a single game Navy record and it brought his season total to 10.5, a Navy single-season record.

“John Marshall played his butt off,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said postgame. “What a phenomenal game by him.”

“I think they’re spectacular on offense,” Marshall said of the Knights. “The way we were able to just put pressure on the quarterback, I think, really affected them later in the game and just throughout the course of the game...Our backend played, the best probably they have played all year. Just flying around. Great defensive effort”

Miscues Abound For UCF

There was no singular thing about UCF’s play that led to their loss. There were a host of mistakes throughout the game.

John Rhys Plumlee started at quarterback and completed 11 of 18 pass attempts for 107 yards. Plumlee would be picked off on the final play of the first half.

UCF drove inside the Navy 20-yard line twice in the second quarter, but they were held to field goals in both instances.

The Knights scored their only touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, after Mikey Keene replaced Plumlee at quarterback. Keene lost a fumble on the next possession. UCF’s next three possessions would all end in punts and all lasted fewer than five plays.

On their final possession of the game, UCF turned it over on downs at the Navy 43-yard line.

“Extremely tough loss...Give them credit. They did what it took to win the game,” Gus Malzahn said postgame. “[Keene] gave us a really good lift coming out of the halftime. We had trouble protecting after that...More sacks than we’ve given up all year. Just never really got in a rhythm.”

Because of the result, UCF have yet to actually clinch their spot in the AAC title game.

Xavier Arline and Dabo Fofana’s Rushing Attack

A key to any Navy win is a good run game. The Mids controlled time of possession well, even if they didn’t score with every opportunity.

Navy had possession of the ball for 39:36 compared to 20:24 by UCF. Quarterback Xavier Arline carried the ball 18 times for 24 yards and a touchdown while facilitating an offense that totaled 248 yards on the ground. Fullback Daba Fofana once again had a strong day with 114 yards on 20 carries.

The Mids did not complete a pass in the win. Under Niumatalolo, Navy is now 8-1 in games where they don’t complete a pass.

“So happy and proud of our football players,” Niumatalolo said postgame. “That was a grind, man. Our kids laid everything on the line against a really good team.”