Carrying 47 times in the first two games -- more than twice as many as any of his teammates -- the obvious question regarding Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was how long could he last?
The Midshipmen found out the hard way on Saturday when 6-1, 257-pound Andrew Jackson of Western Kentucky crashed into the 5-11, 185-pound Reynolds in the open field. The Hilltoppers' linebacker already had a YouTube instant classic this year when he performed his Jadeveon Clowney impression on Kentucky running back Jonathan George. On Saturday, Jackson's knockout of Reynolds was the game's defining play.
At the time, Navy was leading 7-3. But with Reynolds on the sidelines -- first wearing an icepack on his neck, then sunglasses, a baseball hat, and a headset -- Western Kentucky outscored the Mids 16-0 on its way to a 19-7 victory.
Navy's dependence on the arm, legs, and smarts of Reynolds has been apparent since he took over last year, rallying the Midshipmen at Air Force, then guiding them to the Commander-in-Chief's trophy and ninth bowl appearance in 10 years.
But the grunt work Reynolds did in Navy's 41-35 opening-game win at Indiana, when he carried a career-high 32 times for 127 tough yards and three touchdowns, didn't bode well for his long-term health.
On Saturday the drop-off from Reynolds to junior backup John Hendrick was apparent. In three possessions with Reynolds, Navy got seven first downs and seven points, punting twice. In Hendrick's seven possessions, Navy got three first downs, no points, turned it over twice on interceptions, once on a safety, once on downs, and punted three times.
When Reynolds departed, with approximately six minutes left in the first half, Navy had gained 115 yards on 25 plays. With Hendrick under center, the Mids netted only 57 yards, finishing with just 86 rushing after entering as the nation's top ground-gaining team.
Running the triple-option offense is physically demanding work for a quarterback. Staying upright was a challenge for Reynolds' predecessors Ricky Dobbs and Kris Proctor. When Reynolds returns, presumably for Saturday's game against Air Force, it will be interesting to see if he is quicker to hand the ball off to fullback Chris Swain or to pitch it out to his wingbacks.
After all, Navy's season depends on his health.
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM INDEPENDENTS WEEK 5
1. BYU's Hill pitches complete game. Did Cougars' quarterback Taysom Hill turn a corner in Friday's win over Middle Tennessee? The strong-armed sophomore, who has been an electric runner but scattershot passer, was on-target against the Conference USA team despite the absence of his favorite receiver Cody Hoffman (suspension). He will try to continue Friday night against Utah State (3-2).
2. Navy's dependence on Reynolds. Navy was two different teams on Saturday -- the one with Reynolds, and the one without. With an important game looming with Air Force, Navy needs Reynolds back -- and to protect him when he's in the game.
3. Army finds its formula. Playing in an unfamiliar setting (Cotton Bowl) and sitting through two lengthy weather delays tested the mental toughness of Army and Louisiana Tech Saturday in Dallas. Advantage: Black Knights, as they rediscovered the power of their triple option offense, grinding out a 35-16 victory. It will be interesting to see if Army can ride the momentum against a Boston College team it beat last year.
4. Time for a quarterback change at Notre Dame? Through the first four games, as quarterback Tommy Rees carried the offense of the Fighting Irish, he seemingly evolved from his maligned past when he was nicknamed "Turnover Tommy." But Saturday was a return to his previous form as he threw three costly interceptions, which Oklahoma turned into 21 points. Is it time for Notre Dame (3-2) to call on true freshman Malik Zaire, a prized prospect who the Irish had hoped to redshirt, or stick with Rees in the hope of salvaging something this season?
5. Is Idaho ready for more? Saturday's 26-24 victory over winless Temple was a nice starting point for the long-term future of coach Paul Petrino and freshman quarterback Chad Chalich. With ranked Fresno State coming to Moscow next week, are the Vandals ready to take the next step in the short term?