You aren’t supposed to be looking forward to bye weeks after only two games, but there’s no doubt that Navy could use the time off. To put it mildly, the Mids are banged up. Ricky Dobbs was already coming off of offseason knee surgery; now he can add ankle and groin injuries to his list of maladies. He’ll play tomorrow, but Kriss Proctor is taking snaps with the first team in practice just in case. Other players aren’t so fortunate. Wide receiver Mike Schupp suffered an ACL tear against Maryland when his knee apparently took issue with playing on FieldTurf; he won’t be back until the Army game, if at all. Matt Molloy took a knee to the head in the same game and left with a concussion. It isn’t the first time he’s had his bell rung, and there’s a good chance that we may have seen the last of him. Emmett Merchant also sustained a concussion against Georgia Southern, and will most likely sit out this week. At this pace I fully expect Max Blue to be carted off the field on Saturday to have his “spare ribs” and “bread basket” removed, hopefully without lighting up his nose.
Unfortunately, the Mids have one more game to play before they can limp into their off week. The walking wounded head off to Ruston, LA to face Louisiana Tech in their home opener. It’ll be a different Bulldog team than the one they faced a year ago in Annapolis, as Derek Dooley left Louisiana Tech to become the head coach at Tennessee. His replacement is Sonny Dykes. Dykes come to Louisiana Tech from Arizona, where he worked under Mike Stoops as offensive coordinator. Prior to that he coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and Hal Mumme at Kentucky where he was heavily influenced by their “Air Raid” spread offense. Joining Dykes on the Louisiana Tech staff is offensive coodinator Tony Franklin, who coached with Dykes at Kentucky. Franklin is known as a bit of a spread offense guru after his offense put Troy on the map in 2007 with a 41-23 upset of Oklahoma State. Troy would average 453 yards and 35 points per game that season, including an average of 30 points in the three games the Trojans played against SEC competition. Franklin’s success against SEC defenses with Troy’s talent made him an attractive hire for Tommy Tuberville at Auburn, who hired him to install that offense in all of 8 days prior to the Tigers’ Chick-Fil-A Bowl matchup with Clemson. Auburn won that game, and racked up 423 yards of offense in the process. It was all downhill from there for Franklin, though, and Auburn’s failure to move the ball the following season led to Franklin’s firing in less than a year. He rebounded in 2009, with his offense leading Middle Tennessee State to a 10-3 record and a win in the New Orleans Bowl.
Franklin and Dykes are both known for their dynamic offenses, but they’ve had a hard time recreating their past success through two games this season. Grambling held Louisiana Tech to 196 passing yards in week 1, while Texas A&M outgained them 565-269 last week. Part of the problem for the Bulldogs is that they can’t seem to settle on a quarterback. Steven Ensminger was named the starter a week into fall practice, but struggled after that and came down with the stomach flu before the Grambling game. He was replaced by last year’s starter, Ross Jenkins. Jenkins went 15-for-19 passing, but couldn’t get the ball downfield, throwing for only 101 yards. He was replaced by freshman Colby Cameron in the second half, and Cameron started last week against Texas A&M as well. He split time with junior college transfer Tarik Hakmi, who wasn’t even on the depth chart at the beginning of the season; Cameron was the “passer,” while Hakmi was the “runner.” Cameron was named the starter again earlier this week, but it’s a virtual certainty that we’ll see more than one QB from Louisiana Tech tomorrow.
No matter who plays quarterback, his job is going to be to get the ball to wide receover Phillip Livas. Navy fans will remember Livas from his 85-yard punt return for a touchdown in last year’s game. He was second team all-WAC as a kick returner last season, and had a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Utah State. Livas is a force on special teams, but the challenge for Louisiana Tech has always been to find ways to get the ball to him on offense. He was hobbled by turf toe for a large portion of 2009, and at 5-8, 180, he isn’t exactly the biggest downfield target. To offset this, Tech likes to find other ways to get him the ball. Specifically, they will use Livas in the Wildcat and employ him on end-arounds and reverses in the running game. This presents a challenge to a Navy defense that wasn’t the most disciplined against Maryland. Louisiana Tech won’t be able to base their entire offense off of these plays, but if the Mids are out of position like they were against Maryland, the Bulldogs will get enough big gains to generate some points.
On defense, Louisiana Tech is coached by Tommy Spangler, who spent 10 years as an assistant at Georgia Southern and has seen plenty of spread option football. Spangler is a holdover from last year’s staff– for a recap on his defensive game plan against Navy and what Coach Jasper did to adjust, click here. Personnel-wise, Spangler uses sort of a hybrid 4-3 or 4-2-5, with an extra defensive back that can double as a weakside linebacker depending on the situation.
After a lackluster offensive performance against Georgia Southern, the Mids will be anxious to redeem themselves. Hopefully they won’t be so anxious that they try to do too much and make mistakes. The bye week will be a welcome relief for a hobbled Navy team no matter what, but there’s a huge difference between coming in at 2-1 and coming in at 1-2. Navy is the better team, but they were supposed to be the better team the last two weeks, too. It’s time to start playing like it.