Hands on hips. That’s always the sign that the defense is tired; between plays, the players put their hands on their hips. Two plays before Bobby Doyle tapped into his quarterback experience and delivered a perfect pass to Jarod Bryant for the game-tying touchdown, CSTV cameras panned over the Duke defense. Almost all of the Blue Devil defenders were standing with their hands on their hips. They were exhausted.
The hot Annapolis afternoon took its toll on players from both teams. The difference in the game was that Navy had the depth to replace players who were worn out by the heat. Bobby Doyle stepped in late in place of the injured Shun White and picked up a key first down before he threw the TD pass. Joey Bullen is the hero after booming two field goals and two deep kickoffs in place of Matt Harmon. Eric Kettani and Adam Ballard were a tag-team at fullback. The offensive and defensive lines were rotating guys through like it was grade-school volleyball. And then, of course, there was the jolt the offense received when Jarod Bryant came into the game to replace the “gassed” Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada.
Last week I wrote that Navy coaches were expecting Duke to come out and try to run the ball. The Duke coaching staff didn’t get the memo. Navy got almost no pressure on the quarterback, and as a result Thaddeus Lewis had a career day passing the ball, throwing for 428 yards and four touchdowns. All four of those touchdowns and more than half of those yards went to wide receiver Eron Riley, who averaged almost 40 yards per catch. Navy had no answer for the Duke passing game.
There’s a lot to go over, so let’s get started.
The defense stinks.
I don’t know what to say, so I will put this in pictures. Here is my pictoral essay on things that are more stout than the Navy defense:
Ok, ok, before I pile onto the defense too much, they deserve a lot of credit. On a day when players were dropping like flies, they fought hard through the whole game. In fact, their biggest plays– Nate Frazier’s sack, Tony Haberer’s fumble recovery, and Ketric Buffin’s interception– all came in the second half. “I think the biggest thing that sticks out in my mind about this game is that our kids didn’t quit,” PJ said in his postgame press conference. “They fought from start to finish and they kept playing. If you’ll do that, you’re going to always have a chance. You may not always win, but you’ll always have a chance if you keep fighting.”
The guys are playing hard. Now they need to play smart. To me, there’s one play you will all remember that perfectly illustrates the problem. In the third quarter, Duke got the ball in Navy territory after Navy couldn’t convert on a fake punt. They picked up a first down and moved the ball to the Navy 32 yard line. Then, a glorious thing happened; Nate Frazier stunted around from his NG position and sacked Thaddeus Lewis. On the next play, Lewis fumbled the snap, resulting in a 3rd and 20 for Duke. They only picked up 10 on the next play, leading to 4th and 10 from the Navy 32. Since they’re in that middle ground where they’re too close to punt but too far for a field goal, Duke goes for the first down. On that 4th down play, Lewis takes the snap in the shotgun. Kyle Bookhout is playing left DE and starts his rush outside. Not being able to get by the tackle, he spins inside and runs straight into a double-team. Meanwhile, now that the DE has spun inside, there’s nobody left with containment on the outside. Lewis sees this and cruises for an 11 yard run and a first down. That’s just a lack of discipline, and things like that are happening on every play. How many times does the defense bite on a fake, or get horribly out of position on a misdirection play? Again, the defense is playing hard. To play hard, though, does not mean to play recklessly.
The philosophy behind the Navy defense is to keep everything in front of them, but it seemed like more plays went over their heads in the Duke game than in the last two years combined. This is the third straight game where the defense has given up 475+ yards. It was a great win on Saturday, but things won’t always work out so well if the defense keeps this up. The first leg of the CIC Trophy round-robin is this week, so they better figure it out soon.
The offense does not stink.
In 2003 when Navy lost to Delaware, Blue Hens coach K.C. Keeler made it obvious in his halftime interview that he didn’t care about the Navy passing game. He was going to take all 11 guys he had on defense and bring them crashing down to stop the option. If the ball got thrown over their heads, too bad. Well, it did get thrown over their head once, as Craig Candeto hit a wide-open Eric Roberts for a long TD pass in the first quarter. Keeler didn’t care. He had decided that Navy would have to beat him through the air, and Navy couldn’t do it. Delaware walked out of there with a 21-17 win.
Duke took the same approach on Saturday. This year, though, Navy got the job done through the air. Navy’s 236 yards passing forced Duke to back off, which opened up some running room. The toss sweep worked a little better in the second half, with Reggie Campbell and Bobby Doyle combining to average 11 yards per carry. After a rough start for the offensive line, they were able to get enough push for the two fullbacks to combine for 100 yards. The two quarterbacks also combined to top 100 rushing yards. The offense limited the mental errors, with Kaipo’s interception being the only real screwup.
On the subject of quarterbacks…
Ok, everybody’s in love with Jarod Bryant right now. In fact, in the third quarter when Kaipo threw an incomplete pass to Reggie Campbell on a wheel route, a group of jerk Mids could clearly be heard starting a “Jarod Bryant” chant. Nice bilge, fellas.
Everyone needs to take a step back and look at the big picture. Jarod Bryant is succeeding because PJ is putting him into situations where he can succeed. He was the right player at the right time because his fresh legs made him nearly impossible to tackle to fading Duke defenders. “Jarod played really well, but also I think that in a game like that where everybody was tired– I mean our guys were tired too– and you put in a guy who’s fresh, all of a sudden he’s a lot quicker and a lot faster than everybody else,” remarked PJ. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in him. Coach Jasper and I talked about it. We felt like Kaipo was kind of winded. He had done nothing wrong. Gosh, he had moved the offense up and down the field and played well, but I thought Jarod might give us a little boost. We needed a little kick and he kind of gave us one.” Don’t underestimate the impact that a fresh-legged player can have late in the game. Jarod was the right player at the right time. That doesn’t mean that it’s time to make a switch.
Do those of you who want to bench Kaipo have any idea of how much of a juggernaut our offense is right now? We’re #1 in the country in rushing offense. We’re also #22 in total offense. Ahead of USC. Ahead of LSU. Ahead of Texas. Navy fans have talked for years about whether the offense of PJ’s Hawaii days would ever make an appearance in Annapolis. On Saturday, it did. Why on earth would anyone want to mess with that? The Navy offense is working. In this offense, no matter what you think you’ve seen, that means that the quarterback is working. Navy fans have also taken it as gospel that Bryant is the better passer between the two quarterbacks; after Saturday, I don’t think that’s a given.
Haven’t we learned anything by now? In 2002, Aaron Polanco stepped in for Craig Candeto against Boston College in the second half and moved the ball pretty well. People started to wonder if Polanco should start. Craig got hurt in the first series against Notre Dame, and Aaron did a good job filling in the rest of the game. With Craig out, the people who wanted Aaron to start got their wish the next week against UConn. That game ended up being probably the worst offensive performance in the history of Navy football. Not that it was all Aaron’s fault, but he obviously wasn’t the panacea that some people were making him out to be. Craig came back, led the offense to a good game against a bowl-bound Wake Forest team, then scrambled the record book against Army. The rest is history.
In 2004, people were wondering how the offense would be able to carry on without Candeto. Polanco proceeded to lead the team to its best season in 40 years.
In 2005, Lamar Owens got off to a rough start. He had to leave the Maryland game because of cramps. He was also having a tough time passing the ball. People started to question his heart. They went so far as hyperanalyzing his body language on the sideline and calling out his leadership ability. After a decent relief appearance against Stanford, these people called for junior Brian Hampton to start, saying that we would be better off having a two-year starter. Meanwhile, Lamar came back to lead Navy to an 8-2 record the rest of the way, including rolling up 51 points against Colorado State in the Poinsettia Bowl.
In 2006, Brian Hampton got off to a rough start against ECU. He missed a bunch of open receivers and had some of his pitches batted down. In week 2 against Massachussetts, the offense turned the ball over 6 times and the team barely squeaked out a 1-point win. People again started to panic and called for a quarterback change. The next week, Hampton led Navy to a 37-9 rout of Stanford, and all was well again…
…that is, until Hampton went down to injury against Rutgers. Kaipo came into the game and got crushed. Jarod Bryant came into the game after Kaipo and also got crushed, only some people seemed to think that he got crushed a little less. So when Kaipo was named the starter for the Notre Dame game the next week, people were already calling for Bryant instead. Kaipo played pretty well against Notre Dame, though, and went on to lead the team to wins in four of the last five games.
Maybe we should have figured this out by now.
I have read some calm and well-reasoned arguments as to why Jarod Bryant should start. I have also read everything from the ridiculous to the downright shameful. There is no reason why anyone should be questioning Kaipo’s heart simply because he ran out of steam on a sweltering afternoon. In case you didn’t notice, a lot of players came out of that game. As I said at the beginning of this rambling post, it was a game decided by more subs than just at quarterback. Maybe when you’ve played your ass off for three quarters on an afternoon like that, you can start questioning any of these kids’ dedication. Until then, you’d be better served keeping your mouth shut. You know who you are.
In the 1996 Aloha Bowl, Ben Fay came into the game in the 4th quarter in relief of an exhausted Chris McCoy. Fay provided the fresh legs that Navy needed to pull out a victory after a late Cal turnover. Sound familiar? Does anyone think that the ’96 team would have been better off if Fay had started all year? Now it’s 2007, and as the philosopher Robert Plant once said, the song remains the same. In the midst of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth that’s going on with fans, Navy’s offense is shaping up to be the best that we’ve had under Paul Johnson. Two straight games with 500+ yards of offense; some saying about fixing things that aren’t broken comes to mind.
We have two quarterbacks that the coaching staff has confidence in. In these marathon games, we know that we can have fresh legs on tap at the end. Embrace what we have. Don’t mess with success.
Birddog Game Balls
— Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada: Kaipo was 11-16 passing for 217 yards. With the success that Duke was having selling out against the option, only Kaipo’s arm kept Navy in the game in the first half. Now that Air Johnson is on film, everyone’s going to have to respect our ability to pass the rest of the year.
— Jarod Bryant: Jarod needs to submit a no-shave chit. Every good closer needs facial hair at some point. Or maybe we can play Hell’s Bells on the PA when he comes into the game. That is, if Chuck Atwater doesn’t mind. Jarod’s QB draw to start the game-winning drive was killer. It looked like old NFL Films highlights of Jim Brown running in the open field.
— Blake Carter: So who here plays Madden or NCAA Football on the Playstation or Xbox? You know what a “money play” is? That play you know you can pull out in a long-yardage situation to get a first down because the computer never stops it? Everyone has one or two go-to plays like that. On Saturday, Duke did too: that swing pass/bubble screen to the WR in the flat. It was good for 15 yards every time. That is, until Blake Carter entered the game. He blew up that play at least twice in the second half and pretty much single-handedly took it away from Duke. That made a HUGE difference.
— Joey Bullen: Duh.