I am a lazy person. Several different forces pull me in all kinds of directions, but laziness usually rules the day. Honestly, I don’t even like writing this blog. It’s a pain, although it’s worth it just to generate some discussion. Either way I’m definitely glad that the burden of meeting a weekly deadline is gone for a few months.
Don’t blame me; blame Newton. An object at rest tends to stay at rest, you know. That is until some external force acts upon the object; Newton’s first law applies to mediocre bloggers, too. I have sort of an internal scale. Doing nothing weighs the heaviest on the scale until enough crap piles up on the other side to make me feel guilty enough to say something about it. Now, with the EagleBank Bowl, Kaipo’s comments, Coach Jasper’s reaction, and Army’s new head coach, there’s just too much going on for me not to be writing. So no more excuses about Christmas (cook your turkey on the grill, it’s the best) or the awesome weather in Florida (top-down driving FTW!) or any other pursuits like “family” and “church” that keep me from posting here. Time to hop back into the saddle and get a-typin’.
We’ll start with the EagleBank Bowl, which we can break into two parts– the game itself, and all the bowl hoopla that surrounds it. First, the game. Unfortunately, being at the game, I did not record the game. I’ve watched the replay a couple of times on ESPN360, but there’s no video breakdown for you guys. (Sorry.) It also made it pretty much impossible for me to watch each play three or four times like I usually do, so this will admittedly be below the usual standard I set for myself for game recaps. But at a high level, it was clear that Wake Forest was determined to keep Eric Kettani from running wild on them the way he did in the first game. It was also clear that Coach Jasper expected this, which is presumably why he employed the heavy formation from the very beginning. With the problems the offense has had blocking on the perimeter this year, an extra lineman to block the likes of Aaron Curry is a wise strategy if you know you’re going to be running outside. It worked at times, but there were just too many missed blocks to move the ball consistently. That, and Wake’s defense is really, really good. Even considering all that, I felt that if the Mids would have scored at the end of the first half to go up 20-0, that probably would’ve broken Wake Forest’s back. Instead, they intercepted a hurried pass from Kaipo on the 2-yard line and started a 98-yard drive for a TD. A possible 20-0 halftime lead became 13-7, and the game’s momentum had turned.
Navy’s defense played well yet again, and helped give the Mids a 10-0 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to a Rashawn King fumble return for a touchdown. (It felt really good seeing Rashawn run in for the score after the senior missed his last Army game following the loss of his father). The Deacs had a much better game plan this time around, though. Their running game was geared for more carries between the tackles than in the first contest. In the first game, I don’t think they expected Navy’s linebackers to be so fast. They had more success in the second game running straight at the Mids rather than trying to get around them. Riley Skinner played a much better game, too. The Mids weren’t able to pressure him the way they did back in September, and given enough time, his receivers were able to get wide open downfield. That led to the dreaded 3rd & long conversions we all hate. But the defense played well. It was a good game between evenly matched teams. If Wake was hoping to prove that the first game was a fluke, they didn’t.
I was a little bummed about the game for a while, but not too much. I guess I view bowl games a little differently than some of you. I want Navy to win, of course, but I’m much more concerned about getting there. I get way more wrapped up in regular season games. Bowl games, as far as I’m concerned, are a celebration of what the team’s already accomplished. Winning the game on top of that is just gravy.
Which brings me to part two of this little ramble-a-thon, the EagleBank Bowl experience. I can understand those of you who didn’t go to the game because of family obligations or a tight budget (especially this year), but screw the rest of you guys. I didn’t want to see a rematch any more than you did, but there’s no way that would keep me from going to the game. My celebration of Navy isn’t dependent on who they’re playing. I’m going to see Navy, not Team X. As for playing in Washington… How can you not have a good time in Washington DC? In the few days I was there I ate at a ton of good bars and restaurants, got out to Annapolis, saw tons of friends, and had the single most frightening cab ride of my life. All kinds of stories for the grandkids (except for the cab ride, the details of which shall never be repeated). For the more family-inclined, there’s a glut of monuments and museums, plus the Wizards and the Caps both played home games that week. Was it cold? Yes. But it isn’t like you’re going to the beach in San Diego in December, either. Washington is a fun city, especially when an 11:00 kickoff leads to a tailgate that starts at 9:30, starting what became 15 straight hours of drinking. OH THE HUMANITY. Well, 15 hours for some. Closer to 14 for me, because I spent the last hour nursing one beer and trying not to fall asleep while watching the Ravens-Cowboys game. I was one tired dude.
The bowl luncheon— which I did attend, despite my moaning and groaning about the price (viva la hookup)– was so-so. The food was good. I don’t know about $300 kind of good, but I don’t think any of the other bowl luncheons I’ve attended served filet mignon. John Feinstein was an entertaining speaker. Outside of that, it was the usual stuff; bands playing, cheerleaders cheering, team highlight reels, and coaches’ interviews. Wake’s team stood and applauded Navy’s seniors, which was a class move. The only real downside to the whole thing was the laundry list of preliminary speakers who rambled worse than I do. It was nice to see Napoleon McCallum, but other than that it was politician after corporate sponsor after politician. Politicians have a way of cramming a 30 second speech into 15 minutes, and it just kept dragging on. The best part for me was sitting at the same table as Dr. Fair, the head trainer for the team. His stories from his time at Oklahoma State were phenomenal.
Then, of course, there was RFK. I’ve read a few comments on the old lady that were less than complimentary. The only complaint I had was with the concessions; I got in line for a hot dog at halftime, and had moved a little less than half the distance to the counter by the time the third quarter kicked off. That was crummy. Other than that, I’m not sure what you guys look for in a stadium. I tried to give you all the good gouge about sitting in the upper deck. My seat was pretty much the Playstation angle, in the upper deck between the goalposts. It was a great view, which is all I really want. The field looked good and held up well, and bringing in the old PA announcer was a nice touch. Yeah, RFK is old and could use a bit of freshening up, but sitting in my seat and watching the game, I didn’t really notice. And yes, I’m biased, and I know that not everyone remembers RFK as fondly as I do. But still, I didn’t see much to complain about.
Speaking of complaining, I’m sure we were all a little disappointed to read about Kaipo’s postgame comments. Kaipo pretty much threw the rest of the offense under the bus. It’s easy to understand his frustration; a senior playing in his last game, hoping that if he doesn’t win, he at least goes down with his best effort. Apparently that isn’t what he thought he got from some of his teammates. That’s kind of what happens when you’re asked questions in the heat of the moment. Stuff like this can catch us, as fans, off guard sometimes. Fans– especially Navy fans– have a tendency to assume that the football locker room is this perfect little world where all is well and everyone gets along like family, united in purpose under hoo-yah Navy leadership. People forget that the team is made up of actual people. In the real world of actual people, with the foibles and frustrations of life, stuff like this happens. What was it that Paul Johnson used to say about working hard? About how the more time end energy you have invested invest in preparation for a game, the harder it is to accept anything other than success? None of this excuses what Kaipo said, but I’m not going to put him in the permanent doghouse for it either. They were heated comments after a frustrating, emotional loss. Coach Jasper’s response was fair, appropriate, and necessary, seeing as how he still has to coach the team that Kaipo is leaving behind. Frankly, I probably shouldn’t even be bringing it up this late after the fact. No need to harp on a dead issue.
A more pertinent topic is that of position changes. The shuffling of personnel is a theme of every offseason, and Bill Wagner is already reporting two potential moves that the coaching staff is considering: Clint Sovie to outside linebacker, and Jordan Eddington to fullback. Sovie’s potential move is not unexpected. He’s as fast as they come at the linebacker position, and with the emergence of Ross Pospisil and Tony Haberer inside, it makes it an easier move for Buddy Green to put Sovie’s speed outside to make up for the loss of Corey Johnson. The thought of Sovie, Pospisil, Haberer, and Ram Vela on the field at the same time is enough to make you want the 2009 season to start next week.
Eddington’s possible move from linebacker to fullback is a little more out of the blue. Physically, it’s a no-brainer; at 6-0, 230, Eddington fits the mold of fullbacks past. Plus, he’s fast. Not fast for a linebacker– just plain fast. A part-time running back in high school, Eddington was also a finalist for the state 100 meters crown on the track team. How often do you see that in a linebacker? About as often as you see a LB catch a kick returner from behind, which is exactly what Eddington did against Army. The building blocks are definitely there. The question is how long the coaches have to do the building; Eddington is a rising senior. How much can he pick up in one spring? Even if it doesn’t work out, though, at least it provides some competition for the spring and will make things even more interesting than they were already shaping up to be.
And finally, Army didn’t take long to find a replacement for Stan Brock, reaching out to the west coast to grab Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson. Upon the announcement of Ellerson’s hiring, you probably instantly recognized him as the coach who recommended Joe DuPaix to longtime friend Ken Niumatalolo. DuPaix was very successful as Ellerson’s offensive coordinator; would he leave Navy to rejoin his old mentor? Thankfully, no. DuPaix announced through Scott Strasemeier that he’s staying put. That’s good news; the last thing we need is for Army to grab one of the Navy assistants responsible for recruiting Texas. One minor crisis averted.
I’ll talk about the hire more when I do my annual “state of service academy football” pieces later this month. Right now I just want to hand out a few LOLs. Not over hiring Ellerson– he’s a good coach. No, at the moment I must laugh at the rampant inferiority complex that seems to exist at West Point vis-a-vis Navy. I’m sure describing it as such will get some people’s blood boiling, but I really don’t know what else to call it. There is an obsession up there about making sure they point out, unsolicited, how everything they do is better than Navy. An easy example of this would be John Mumford’s comments before the season about Collin Mooney’s superiority to Navy’s fullbacks. And now, we have this:
“They do things out of this triple option that I’ve never seen before,” said Cantelupe, a 1996 West Point graduate and 1995 co-captain. “What he runs I think is superior to what Navy runs. Throughout college football, if you look at who is running the most advanced triple-option football, it’s Ellerson if you see the things that he is doing.”
Now, there’s a few LOLable things here. First, why? Why even bother to make the comparison? It’s as if nothing is validated until it’s stuck in Navy’s eye first. Ellerson is a good coach, but apparently not good enough for some people to let his record speak for itself. Second, Cal Poly’s offenses are good, but what has Cantelupe not seen before? The forward pass? Strange, for a former defensive back. And third, all this talk about Ellerson running the “most advanced triple option…” blah blah. Ellerson is a defensive guy. Don’t get me wrong, he’s no idiot on the offensive side of the ball; he knows a good offense when he sees it, and he brings in coordinators who can run it. But it isn’t Ellerson’s offense. Hell, the architect of his 2007 offense that led all of I-AA is now the slotbacks coach at Navy. So if anyone here is worried that there’s some magical mystery offense that’s going to confound Ricketts Hall’s finest minds– which, by the way, led the nation in rushing for a fourth consecutive year– you’re being a bit ridiculous. At this level there’s rarely such thing as superiority of scheme; only of coaching within the scheme, and then executing it. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. Cantelupe should probably wait for Army to stop Navy’s “inferior” scheme once before labeling it as such. Anyway, less chest-thumping, more LOLs. I just don’t understand.
So that should get me caught up for now. The season’s over, so maybe I’ll have some time to get caught up on some things I’ve been meaning to do around here. Season recaps & awards, some more offensive breakdowns, a book review, some Navy history, a look at Georgia Tech’s success and its effect on the future of service academy football, and hopefully another charity fundraiser, among other things… Not to mention basketball heading into Patriot League play, plus lacrosse season. The season might be over, but all is not lost at The Birddog. Even if you kind of wish it was.