Playing without the leader of its offense put a scare in Navy, but Tago Smith quickly put those fears to rest with a stellar outing in his first career start.
Smith amassed 202 total yards and scored four touchdowns in place of injured starter Keenan Reynolds as the Midshipmen rolled to a 35-21 victory over Texas State Saturday night.
"I thought he played great under the circumstances," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "He came in and played well against a very aggressive defense."
The Midshipmen (2-1) had 469 total yards, including 352 rushing yards, before the second-largest crowd in Texas State's history.
"We held them to 352 yards in rushing, that's the lowest in three games (for Navy), so we did some good things," Bobcats coach Dennis Franchione said. "We just needed to score more points and take advantage of our opportunities offensively in order to beat a team like this tonight."
Reynolds did not play after taking helmet to his right knee last week in Navy's victory over Temple.
Niumatalolo offered an incredulous look when asked if Smith's performance could spark a quarterback controversy. Still, the sophomore proved almost as adept at running the Midshipmen's triple-option attack as the three-year starter.
Smith rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 85 yards and two more scores, including a 67-yarder - the longest for Navy since 2010.
His only hiccup came on an underthrown pass a few minutes into the third quarter that was intercepted by Germond Williams. Navy's defense softened the blow, forcing a punt on fourth-and-28 on Texas State's drive following the turnover.
Noah Copeland, from nearby San Antonio, rushed for a game-high 116 yards on 11 carries for Navy.
Texas State quarterback Tyler Jones completed 24 of 36 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Robert Lowe added 92 yards and a touchdown for the Bobcats (1-1).
Smith led the Midshipmen to touchdowns on their first four possessions of the game, averaging just under 4 minutes and 60 yards on each drive.
"I think the most important part was just being focused," Smith said. "I had to realize I had one job, and I needed to get it done. Of course you have nerves, but after that first play they go away. I had confidence in myself, and the coaches had confidence in me; that made me play better."
Chris Swain opened the scoring with a 14-yard run with 4 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first quarter, capping a seven-play, 59-yard drive for the Midshipmen. Smith rushed for 19 yards on three carries and completed his only passing attempt in the drive for three yards.
Brendan Dudeck then slipped behind the defense after Navy stormed the middle on its previous two plays, leaving him wide open in the right corner of the end zone for a six-yard reception from Smith. It was Dudeck's first touchdown reception and Smith's first touchdown pass.
Smith's first rushing touchdown of the season came on a 1-yard run early in the second quarter. Geoffrey Whiteside accounted for 57 yards in the drive, cutting back at Texas State's and Navy's 45-yard lines on a 38-yard run. He also had a step on two defenders and appeared heading for a touchdown but stumbled after having to twist backwards and fell for a 19-yard reception.
Smith followed with his second rushing touchdown on the next possession, scoring again on a 1-yard run.
Texas State took advantage of a late hit on a punt return to cut Navy's lead in half at 28-14 with 13:36 remaining. Robert Lowe scored on a 1-yard run, nine plays after a 15-yard penalty set up the Bobcats at the 29-yard line.
"I feel like the defense was playing pretty good in the second half," Lowe said. "They were getting us the ball back, we just have to maximize our opportunities when we have the ball and we didn't do that a couple of times when we had the ball."
Navy regained its momentum quickly as Smith found Jamir Tillman wide open along the left sideline for a 67-yard touchdown pass.
"They are heavy on run support," Midshipmen offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. "We had to throw a couple of balls deep, something game plan wise we didn't call it any differently because he's that type of player."
Navy did not punt until there were about 7 minutes left in the third quarter.