A week ago, I wrote about the origins of Navy’s offense in the run and shoot. There was no better demonstration of that than the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. Ricky Dobbs completed 5 of 6 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown in the final period to lead Navy to an improbable 33-27 overtime victory over Temple. Eric Kettani ran for 118 yards and a touchdown, while Temple was led by a career performance from quarterback Adam DiMichele with 340 passing yards and 3 TDs. The win was Navy’s sixth of the season, clinching a berth for the Mids in the Eaglebank Bowl.
Of course, that doesn’t even come close to telling the story of this game. My father is a Redskins fan. The Skins beat the Broncos 42-10 in Super Bowl XXII, and we recorded the game. At least we thought we did. When we went back to look at the tape, the only thing that showed up was the second quarter. My father wasn’t upset: “That was all that mattered anyway.” That’s because Washington overcame a 10-0 first quarter deficit and scored 5 touchdowns in the second. I get the same kind of feeling when watching the fourth quarter of the Temple game. The Owls took a 27-7 lead when running back Kee-ayre Griffin scored with 13:41 to play. After that, it was all Navy, with an assist from Temple coach Al Golden. Ricky Dobbs led two scoring drives in eight minutes, and the Mids pulled within a touchdown with 2:52 to play. After Navy failed to convert on its quasi-onside pooch kick, Temple got the ball with a chance to run out the clock. After converting on 3rd & 5 with less than two minutes left, it appeared that they’d be able to do just that. But rather than take a knee and punt the ball back to Navy with about 10 seconds left and forcing them to go 80-90 yards, Golden decided to keep running the ball. On 3rd & 11, Kee-ayre Griffin fumbled the ball, and Navy’s fastest linebacker, Clint Sovie, recovered and ran 42 yards for a touchdown.
It was a tough break for Golden. It’s easy to rip him for his decision to keep running the ball, and it probably was the wrong decision. But it’s a decision coaches make all the time. Towards the end of the Air Force game, Ken Niumatalolo was faced with a similar situation. Facing 4th & 1 with 57 seconds left to play, Coach Niumat chose to go for it rather than punting or attempting a long field goal. Eric Kettani got the yard he needed, and Navy ran out the clock. When asked about the decision after the game, Niumat said that he didn’t want to put the defense back on the field; he wanted to end the game right there. For him, it worked. For Golden, not so much. Yes, there’s a huge difference between 10 seconds and 50 seconds, so the situations aren’t exactly the same. But the underlying attitude is. If the other team doesn’t get the ball, they can’t score. So let’s try to get a first down and not put the game in their hands. If I was coaching Temple, I probably would’ve taken a knee. But I can still sympathize. Unfortnately for Golden, Navy’s defense has perfected the art of stinking until the end of a game, where they make a huge play that makes all the difference. For all the trite commentary you hear every week about how Navy players never quit, Saturday proved that there’s some truth behind the cliche.
But let’s not let Al Golden off the hook too much. Far more inexcusable, in my opinion, was his decision in overtime to go for it on 4th & goal from the one. Remember when Marty Mornhinweg was head coach of the Detroit Lions and chose to kick off in overtime against Chicago? This was just as bad. I’m not sure if Golden had no respect for Navy’s defense or no faith in his own, but not taking the sure points in overtime is a monumental blunder. You might think that it’s a moot point since Navy scored a touchdown on its possession, but knowing that he only needed a field goal to win affected Ivin Jasper’s playcalling; he could afford to keep things conservative. If Coach Jasper was playing for a TD instead of a field goal, maybe he would’ve thrown a pass or something else that might have been a little more risky. Fourth & goal from the one, open pass play that just didn’t get executed well… *SHUDDER* It brings on flashbacks of the ’95 Army game.
Of course, Navy was fortunate to have been in a position where Al Golden’s decision-making in crucial situations was even a factor. For three quarters, the Mids were horrible. It was really, really depressing to watch the Army-Air Force game and see how well two service academy defenses could play, only to change channels afterwards to watch Temple throw the ball all over the place. Coach Niumat, wearing a microphone on the sideline, said it best: “Come on guys, you’re better than that! These guys haven’t scored on anybody!” And he’s right. Temple’s offense is bad. Hell, they were bad on Saturday too if you only count first and second down. In regulation, Temple was 8 of 14 on third down conversions (not including DiMichele’s fumble in the second quarter after he picked up a first down). The average distance Temple needed on those third downs was 8 yards. The average distance they got? 13 yards! Somehow, the defense has regressed. Against Duke, Rutgers, and Wake Forest, even when the Mids weren’t able to stop the passing game they at least had someone near the ball. That’s just not the case anymore. On 3rd & long, the middle of the field has been ripe for the picking. There has to be an answer.
On the bright side for the defense, the line had their second straight good game. This time it was Matt Nechak who stood out, making six tackles (including two for a loss), a sack, and also being generally disruptive. Nechak was also the victim of the worst non-call for holding that I’ve seen in a really long time. Ross Pospisil and Corey Johnson also combined for 21 tackles and 2 forced fumbles, helping the Mids do a pretty good job against the run with the exception of a drive or two.
I have lots to say about the offense, but I’m going to make that a separate post. It’s a bye week, so it’s not like we don’t have the time. I will say that I don’t think it was as bad as I originally thought, but there are still some significant issues.
But like I said after the Air Force game, an ugly win is still a win. And it was a pretty important win too. With uncertainty about Kaipo’s health and the defense struggling, plus Notre Dame, a midweek game on the road at an improved Northern Illinois team, and a legitimate Army defense left on the schedule, gaining bowl eligibility was no guarantee had the Mids not pulled a rabbit out of their hat. That’s one more team goal accomplished. The big winner in all this is CBS College Sports, who couldn’t have picked a more perfect game to have Niumat carry a microphone. When Wired: Navy Football airs, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be entertaining.