ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo knew his defense was poised for a break-out season during spring practice.
The Midshipmen’s high-octane triple-option sputtered against the defenders during team drills. The players also continued to improve each week under new defensive coordinator Brian Newberry.
The Navy defense backed another dominant performance on the ground by senior quarterback Malcolm Perry in a 35-3 victory over South Florida on Saturday.
It was the first time the Midshipmen did not allow a touchdown since 2013.
“I’ve been in this stadium for 22 years, man, and that was as dominant as a defensive performance against a really good team that I’ve seen in a really long time,” Niumatalolo said. “The kids are playing really, really hard on defense. I am pleased with what they did.”
Perry finished with 188 yards on 22 carries with a pair of touchdowns. He surpassed more than 3,000 career yards rushing in his career, joining Keenan Reynolds, Napoleon McCallum and Chris McCoy as the only Navy players to accomplish that feat.
“I think the defense did a great job tonight,” Perry said. “Of course, they kept us in the game. They kept the momentum on our side.”
The Midshipmen have a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2017 when they won five straight to start the year.
Junior linebacker Jacob Springer notched a career-high three sacks and freshman safety Chelen Garnes had an interception for Navy (5-1, 3-1 American Athletic Conference). The Midshipmen have 17 sacks on the year after finishing with 10 last season.
“This week is the first time we played a complete game,” Springer said.
South Florida (3-4, 1-2) stacked the box with 11 defenders most of the game but Navy still managed to find seams and finished with a season-high 434 yards rushing.
Bulls redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan McCloud, who took over the starting job for the injured Blake Barnett (ankle), was 11 of 23 for 50 yards with an interception.
“I have to play better and help this team win,” McCloud said. “I just have to move onto next week.”
Perry opened the scoring with 67-yard touchdown run with 3:56 left in the first quarter. Navy had a couple of key stops and capitalized with a 58-yard rumble by fullback Jamale Carothers on the opening play of the second quarter that extended the lead to 14-0.
The Bulls couldn’t capitalize on three forced turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble recovery).
Navy used some creativity to pull further away when slotback CJ Williams took the pitch from Perry and threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to OJ Davis for a three-score margin.
Bulls’ cornerback KJ Sails gave them some life with an apparent pick-6, but the score was nullified because of an illegal block. South Florida had to settle for a 33-yard field goal by Spencer Shrader and trailed 21-3 at the break.
“You look at the first half, we gave up three big plays there to their offense,” Bulls coach Charlie Strong said. “That’s what you can’t do when you’re playing an option team. You have to take responsibility.”
After a scoreless third quarter, Navy completed the rout on a 21-yard run by Perry and a 26-yard scamper by Tazh Maloy.
The 3 points are the fewest Navy has allowed since a 41-3 victory over VMI on Sept. 22, 2012.
South Florida: The Bulls had won their previous two games, but that momentum came to a halt against the Midshipmen’s tenacious defense. South Florida now has to deal with the tougher portion of its schedule with four of five games against teams in the Top 25 or received votes.
Navy: The Midshipmen have already surpassed their win total (three) from last season and are surging toward bowl-eligibility. The revamped defense under Newberry has taken some of the pressure off Perry and helped set the tone for this year’s success.
South Florida: The Bulls play a second straight road contest Oct. 26 at East Carolina.
Navy: The Midshipmen host Tulane for homecoming Oct. 26.
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