It’s two days after Navy took down #16 Wake Forest, and I’m not sure how I feel.
I should feel elated. If I sounded upbeat at the end of the game preview, I was. Before the game I was pretty confident about how the Mids matched up with Wake Forest. The offense played well against them last year when Kaipo was in the game, and most of Wake’s same players were returning. Defensively, Wake seemed to play into what Navy did best against Rutgers. The Deacs have not been able to run the ball very well at all this year, so it didn’t seem likely that they’d be able to sustain drives the way Rutgers did riding the back of Jourdan Brooks. That meant that Wake would have to rely more heavily on its short passing game, which Navy defended well against a Scarlet Knight team with a more talented group of wide receivers than the Demon Deacons. With Kaipo healthy enough to finish the game and a defense that was improving from week to week, it looked like the best was yet to come for Navy football.
(I can’t in good conscience pat myself on the back too much, though. When Kaipo went down in the second quarter and started clutching at his hamstring, I pretty much gave up. I actually texted a friend, saying, “No Kaipo, no hope.” Little did I know that Navy’s defense would be so dominating.)
But that brings me back to my mixed feelings. This was as big a win as Navy’s had since the program was resurrected in 2003. But at what cost? Beating a top 25 team is fantastic, but losing Kaipo makes me feel as if this was a Pyrrhic victory. It’s cruel… We get a taste of what this team is capable of when Kaipo is healthy and the defense is born again hard. But just like that, it’s taken away from us. Well, maybe; Coach Niumat described Kaipo as “questionable,” so he didn’t rule out a return this week. But even if Kaipo’s status is up in the air at the moment, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll be available to start on Saturday. Then again, my medical knowledge is even more questionable than my knowledge of football, so who knows. I’m sure I’m just setting myself up for heartbreak by holding out hope.
Anyway, I guess there will be more on that later this week. Right now, it’s time to laugh at people.
LOL at people who say this offense can’t work in the ACC. Not that we didn’t already know. But seriously, it’s laughable how many supposed “experts” that once said the option was dead are now lining up to kiss Paul Johnson’s butt at Georgia Tech. Pretty sure I heard some ESPN talking head say the Yellow Jackets were his pick to get to the ACC championship game since “they’re the hardest team to prepare for.” O RLY? Hop on the bandwagon, everybody. You might as well start worrying about what BCS program is going to scoop up Ivin Jasper to run its offense, Navy fans. It’s going to happen sooner or later.
LOL at people who didn’t see improvement in the defense against Duke. Don’t get me wrong; the Ball State game was pretty bad. But even though the Mids lost to Duke the following week and gave up some big plays in the process, it was clear to anyone with an open mind that the defense was making strides. Now, they’re confident. Safeties are stepping in front of crossing routes and making plays. They’re swarming to the ball and jumping on fumbles that they couldn’t seem to recover last year. Missed tackles are WAY down. Quarterbacks are being pressured. It’s a revelation.
LOL at ACC referees. It’s time to dump the ACC. I know that every fan will probably say that its conference’s referees are terrible. I’m sure that’s partially true, too, as there are good crews and bad crews in any group of refs. Things like the overturned face mask and the no-call on the helmet-to-helmet would probably happen with any conference. But those aren’t the calls that really get to me. The two chop block calls against the Mids on Saturday were atrocious, and a result of ignorance of the rules. I am certain that chop blocks were something the referees were told to look out for before the game. And how often do we see flags for an illegal formation against the Mids thrown by a referee that was simply unprepared for Navy’s unconventional– but legal– formations? The problem with the ACC’s refs is that they are clearly unprepared for and uneducated about Navy’s offense. Now, don’t get me wrong; chances are that the same kinds of calls will be made no matter what conference Navy turns to for referees. The Naval Academy will always be at the bottom of the totem pole vs. actual conference members when it comes to referee assignments. But at some point, enough is enough. Whether it’s Big East, Big Ten, SEC, C-USA, MAC, whoever… It’s time to try someone else. You’d hope that with Georgia Tech running the same offense, things will change in the ACC. I’m not sure it’s worth the wait.
LOL at people saying that the team just isn’t as prepared without Paul Johnson. When Johnson left, I had my worries the same way everyone else did. We all know how hard it is to win at Navy, and how it isn’t something that can be done by just any coach. But holy cow, some people wanted to abandon ship after the Ball State game, saying things like “the team wasn’t ready!” and “the team is flat and uninspired!” and “PJ would’ve had them ready to play!” Sometimes I wonder what people like that actually see to make them say things like that. We still have a lot to discover about how Niumat will handle the long-term direction of the program, but as far as game-to-game preparation? The Mids are fine.
Anyway, back to the game.
There were two things that really stood out about Navy’s performance on Saturday. The first was Eric Kettani. Navy’s fullback averaged 9 yards per carry on the way to a career-best 175 yards rushing. It was clear early on that Ivin Jasper wanted to use the fullback to slow down Wake Forest’s sideline-to-sideline pursuit. The Deacs were focused on Shun White, who once again had double-digit carries (11), but managed only 20 rushing yards. To counter that, Jasper used misdirection with the fullback… In a way, he out-Wake Forested Wake Forest. You can see here how the middle linebacker starts following the flow of the play one way, then gets caught up in a block and is unable to make the tackle when Kettani cuts back in the lane opened for him by Jeff Battipaglia and Anthony Gaskins:
Like many of Eric’s carries on Saturday, this was a designed fullback give, not an option play. Coach Jasper clearly made the fullback a priority.
The other thing that obviously stood out about the game was the performance of Navy’s defense. There have been other great defensive performances in the last few years– last year against Army and the shutout against Tulsa to name a couple– but this was arguably the best of the bunch. After shutting out a top-20 team in the first half, the game was placed in the defense’s hands once Kaipo left the game. Things didn’t get any easier, as the fumble on the opening kickoff gave Wake Forest a short field and an easy drive for 7 points. In fact, the majority of the second half was played on Navy’s half of the field, as the offense could do absolutely nothing in the third quarter. But time and time again the defense responded with either a big third down stop or a turnover.
Navy held the Demon Deacons to a mere 43 rushing yards on 31 attempts. The key to that performance was the defensive line, particularly Nate Frazier. Nate was an absolute force on Saturday, drawing double-teams and a holding penalty. It was exactly what you need your nose tackle to do in a 3-4 defense. Jabaree Tuani made the most of his start, getting 6 tackles (two behind the line of scrimmage) and forcing a fumble. The defensive line also played a part in rattling Riley Skinner. Skinner completes a high percentage of his passes, mostly because Wake’s offense uses a lot of short passing. He’s a competent distributor of the ball in the confines of Steed Lobotzke’s offense. But he’s never been much of a downfield passer. Last year Skinner threw 13 interceptions, which is somewhat ridiculous considering the nature of the passing game in his offense. On Saturday, Navy’s defense took full advantage. They forced Skinner out of the pocket and dared him to throw downfield. The result was 4 interceptions. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether turnovers should be blamed on the offense or be credited to the defense. Wake’s two fumbles might be the former, but I think Skinner’s 4 INTs were a result of excellent gameplanning by Buddy Green and Mids making plays.
Tomorrow is the second installment of the Navy football luncheon series, and maybe we’ll hear more about Kaipo’s status then. Pray for the best, because with a healthy Kaipo and a resurgent defense, there’s no telling what this Navy team is capable of. For now, I’ll enjoy this victory for one more day.