I once had a conversation with a football player the week after the team played Colgate during my firstie year. Navy won, but it wasn’t exactly their magnum opus. The player was candid about how it’s hard sometimes for the team to get pumped up about playing a 1-AA opponent.
I certainly hope that’s not the case for the Mids this week. When you’ve started the season 0-2 while being out-scored 84-17 in the process, you’d better get up to play any team, especially in your home opener. I’m sure that Navy is anxious to make something positive happen, so I don’t think that there will be any lack of effort on their part. Then again, effort hasn’t really been the problem for Navy. The Mids have played plenty hard. It’s the mental mistakes on offense coupled with a lack of discipline on defense that has the Navy team still looking for its first win of 2012.
And let’s not kid ourselves– they’re going to get it this week. I know that no game should be taken for granted– hell, I preach that more than anyone– and I know that VMI gave Army a pretty good scare back in Rich Ellerson’s first season. That Keydet team ran the option and was able to control the tempo of the game to keep the score close. Today, VMI runs more of a pro-style offense and is a less-than-mediocre 94th in FCS total offense. While VMI’s defense has given up a respectable 334 yards per game, it completely fell apart last week against Richmond, as the Spiders out-gained VMI 487-197 en route to a 47-6 win. This is a VMI team that was trailing going into the 4th quarter against Division II Chowan (3-7 last year and 1-2 so far this year) before finally scoring the go-ahead touchdown with 8:29 left to play. There are lots of games where Navy can play the “we don’t win any recruiting battles against these guys” card, but this game is not one of them. VMI has 16 freshmen or sophomores listed on their two-deep defense. They have two seniors. Navy is going to win. How they win, though, is the big question. You’d hope to see a penalty-free and turnover-free game.
That is particularly true for the offense. Whatever experience VMI’s defense lacks on the field, they make up for it on the sideline. VMI’s coaching staff has extensive ties to the Southern Conference and has seen the spread option many, many times. Head coach Sparky Woods is more offense-oriented, but he was the head coach at Appalachian State during Georgia Southern’s rise to prominence from 1984-1988. He also led VMI in the aforementioned game at West Point in 2009. Defensive coordinator Jeff Farrington faced Georgia Southern as an assistant at both East Tennessee State and Furman. And of course, VMI plays The Citadel every year. You can’t tell how VMI defended The Citadel’s spread option last year just from pictures other than to say that they used an odd front. They’ll be the first odd front that Navy sees this season, and I’m sure that the VMI staff has a few wrinkles that they can’t wait to throw at Trey Miller. He’ll be challenged mentally in this game even if the team won’t be challenged too much physically.
While a win is a win (especially if you’re 0-2), it won’t feel like one if we see a repeat of the same blunders that plagued the Mids in their first two games. I wrote earlier this week that these mistakes will be corrected and won’t be a theme for the whole season, but I have nothing more than faith backing up those words until the Mids prove it on the field. VMI may or may not be able to make the Mids pay for their mistakes, but there is no such doubt when it comes to San Jose State next week. Navy must show that it is capable of playing smart football.