ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The first major prime time game of the football season was welcomed after COVID-19 shut down college sports for almost six months.
Both Navy and Brigham Young entered the game with high expectations.
The Midshipmen tied a school record for win in last year's 11-2 campaign. As usual, they lost several key players, but enough talented players returned to have optimism.
The story was different for the Cougars after going 7-6 last year. Most of their offense and several key defensive stalwarts were back, leaving them poised for significant improvement in 2020.
The game, unfortunately, failed to match the anticipation with BYU dominating early and cruising to a 55-3 victory.
BYU running back Lopini Katoa runs for a touchdown as Navy cornerback Michael McMorris (5) give chase Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. (Photo: Tommy Gilligan, AP)
Here are three observations from the big win by the Cougars:
BYU might not lose again this season
In a year when most of their marquee opponents fell by the wayside, including Michigan State, Arizona State, Stanford, Missouri and rival Utah, the Cougars played what was expected be one of their most difficult games on opening night.
The Cougars took control early with their veteran offensive line clearing the way on a 74-yard touchdown drive on the opening possession. Two more touchdowns followed by early in the second quarter and the game was effectively over with Navy's offense not geared to come from behind.
The defense was equally impressive, too, holding Navy to one total first down on its first four possessions and just two in the first half. The Midshipmen, who led the nation in rushing last year, managed just 119 yards on the ground, much of which came after the game was out of hand.
The Cougars are hoping to add more games to their schedule. For now, they have seven more matchups, with Houston and Army expected to be the remaining toughest opponents. They can run the table, and it likely won't matter with the College Football Playoff committee, given the lack of schedule strength to schools in the Power Five.
Should Houston win the American Athletic, it is conceivable BYU could find its way into the mix for the Group of Five's spot in one of the New Year's Six bowls.
COUGARS STRIKE FIRST ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/njFw0wDfsu
Navy needs to right the ship quickly
It's always dangerous to read too much into opening week results. However, saying this was a disappointing debut for the Midshipmen would be a major understatement.
The offense was always going to take a step back after losing quarterback Malcolm Perry to the NFL — he made the Miami Dolphins' 53-man roster. The lack of any sustained ground success, though, was a serious concern as they will consistently face opponents that are bigger and more physical. Dalen Morris, the successor to Perry, struggled in his first career start. He was replaced at the start of the second half. The defense got pushed around, leaving concerns about its ability to stop the run. The lone silver lining was a 48-yard field goal by Bijan Nichols for the team's only points.
Having 12 days before his team's next game will give coach Ken Niumatalolo time to assess where things need to be fixed on both sides of the ball. Niumatalolo won't panic. He's been here before in his 13 years at the school. The trip to Tulane on Sept. 19 should give a greater indication of whether this was an example of BYU being really good or Navy being in a rebuilding year.
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A new way to experience college football
This is going to take some getting used to. No fans to be found. A national anthem sung on the video screen with no teams present. No crowd roars for the home team taking the field or for big plays. Much of the traditions of college football that make the sport unique aren't going to be experienced this season unless health conditions significantly change.
That said, there's still something special seeing intersectional matchups like Monday night. It was just the third meeting between the schools, which came together hastily when both lost their season openers in the offseason.
Next week should be a better overall experience with the ACC and Big 12 kicking off, especially the former playing a handful of conference games.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Erick Smith on Twitter @ericksmith.
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