Navy Outlasts Duke

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.

17 thoughts on “Navy Outlasts Duke

  1. Navy97

    Great point about Bryant’s success being attributable to having fresh legs. The way PJ has used the two quarterbacks the past two games is similar to having two stud tailbacks like Clemson. Kaipo has done a very good job running the option. That being said, he needs to make smarter decisions throwing the ball. While he was 9-9 before the interception, completions 8 and 9 were thrown into double coverage and could have easily been intercepted. I would like to see him throw the ball away or even better pull it down and run. Those complaints aside, seeing the offense open up with more passing was exciting.

  2. thebirddog

    Double coverage doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a deal-breaker. The pass to Sudderth was double-covered, but by underthrowing it Kaipo gave Greg a chance to come back and make a play. The interception was bad, but overall I was pretty impressed with Kaipo’s arm.

  3. 4thDown

    Agree with the QB situation. Dance with who brung ya, right? Fresh legs were needed at that time in that weather, which actually got warmer as the day went on (79 up to 88 from warmups to Bullen’s blast). Maybe a rotation of some sorts would prolong the starter and give an extra wrinkle or two for the defense to figure out.

    As for the Fay/McCoy battle, I can still hear the echoes of “Put in Ben Fay!” ringing out in the Brigade. I, for one, believe the Fay would’ve been better starting all year, but that’s not take anything away from the fun we had with Chris McCoy at the helm. Besides, if it was the other way around and Fay got a breather in the Aloha Bowl, McCoy would’ve given a better hula dance in the endzone! Also, it’s 11 years in the past so who cares.

    The numbers and stats don’t lie as to how porous the D has been, but I am not above sensing a small yet significant shift late in the third quarter. I can’t put my finger on how/why, but the D seemed a tad bit unified despite a restless (and quiet) stadium/Brigade. It’s almost as if something clicked as to the possibility of Dook hanging 50 and, consequently, the season slipping. Call me crazy, but this won’t be the same D as the previous 4 games.

  4. Rob

    Birddog, Good points all. However, I still don’t understand why Jarod can’t start and show us what he can do before he gets “winded.” It comes down to who you think is the better QB. To me, it seems that Jarod has better instincts and is more “crisp.” Even though Kaipo has been doing well, I would not second guess a Bryant start if only to assess what we have. If he doesn’t do well against a defense with fresh legs and Kaipo comes in in the second quarter and tears it up, I would consider the issue resolved and Kaipo should get all the starts. It just seems that you are totally sold that Kaipo is the better QB and 100% against giving Bryant a start. I was hoping you could explain why Kaipo is clearly better than Bryant and why Bryant shouldn’t have a start to show what he can do.

  5. thebirddog

    Bryant looks crisp because he’s stepping in fresh after the defense has been worn down for three quarters.

    Bryant shouldn’t start because the time for assessment is over. Each game is too important to carry out trial-and-error experiments. That’s what practice is for, and by all accounts Kaipo is much better in practice. The offense is performing better than it ever has at Navy under Paul Johnson, so I just don’t see the issue that needs to be resolved.

  6. Navy97

    Birddog, do you really believe that Kaipo intentionally underthrew the pass to Sudderth? Kaipo hasn’t shown anything in the past three games to indicate he has the intentional underthrow in his arsenal. He got lucky.

  7. thebirddog

    Joey Bullen came into the game because Harmon was hurt, not because the coaches were experimenting with Bullen. Bullen was also the starter before he got hurt. It isn’t the same.

    Navy97, if you have the means, go back and watch the Eastern Michigan and Boston College games from last year. Kaipo actually does a good job putting the ball up and letting his receivers make a play. I know the consensus is that Kaipo can’t throw, but he has done this consistently. It helps when he isn’t running for his life.

  8. Gary

    This is pure “coach speak” about JB having the huge advantage of fresh legs.
    Sure it was some but wasnt our O line and team just as dead in the second half?
    What made the difference was JB`s infectious “lets do this ” attitude.
    You could feel it on the TV so you must have felt it in the stands too.
    What now against AF? Do we have to wait and see if Kaipo wilts before PJ makes the switch?
    How many Navy QB`s in the years has had to beg out because they were gassed?
    The thoughts you provide are exactly what PJ will say to diffuse the situation where I am sure many want JB in there too and the media will surely bring it up.
    He should have come in at the half last year vs Rutgers and should be given some “serious game time” not being tossed in when its all over.
    In some ways I think PJ is very hesitant to make the move.
    Will JB be expected to pull miracles from now on or can he get a fair shake?
    As you say lets see this week vs what will surely be a psyched AF team.

  9. Pingback: AFTERMATH « The Birddog

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