Thursday, January 10, 2008
I’m not going away completely though, and hopefully once I get some of my personnel junk in order I’ll be working on some various other college football projects. In the meantime I’ll be making my daily perusals around the various blogs and message boards out there, and occasionally chiming in. And of course I’ll be following the Midshipmen just as much as ever, and looking forward to what awaits in 2008.
Some thanks are in order, especially to those readers who took valuable time out of their days to check in, especially those who’ve commented on an almost daily basis (Gary, FDD, various “anonymous” commenters.) I’m also very much obliged to numerous members of the college football blogospshere, who took the time to collaborate on various projects and helped expose this blog to a larger readership. And of course to the Navy football program itself, especially to the players who’ve taken the time to talk to me, and the sports information department for not freaking out when I started this whole shizzam. My usual exaggerations aside, publishing this blog was about the coolest thing I’ve ever done, and I’m going to miss it. Thanks to all who made this such a great experience.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Austin Beaty (RB/LB)
HT: 6'2 WT: 215 40: 4.59
Senior Year Stats: 912 yards, 6.0 avg, 6 TD
Highlights: [2006 Highlights] [2007 Highlights]
Austin is a two time 1st Team All District and one time All Galveston County running back out of Friendswood High School in Texas. He self reports a 425 squat, a 285 bench, and 255 power clean. I've seen listed from anywhere from a 4.5 to 4.7 in the 40 yard dash, and he reports a 1840 on the new SAT scale.
Jarren Brown (RB)
HT: 5'8 WT: 186 40:4.53
Senior Year Statistics: 140 carries, 1115 yards, 14 TD
Highlights: [Check Rivals Page]
Passed up offers from Syracuse and James Madison, and was receiving interest from ACC, Big East, and CAA schools at time of his commitment.
Kevin Eckel (FB/LB)
HT: 6'2 WT: 210 40: Unknown
Senior Year Statistics: 65 carries, 399 yards, 4 INTs
Kyle Eckel's younger brother. May project better as a linebacker.
Jonathan Hill (LB)
HT: 6'1 WT: 230 40: 4.53
Senior Year Statistics: Unknown
All County Linebacker. Reports 325 bench and 475 squat. I've seen Hill listed in both the low 4.5s and low 4.6s for the 40 yard dash, but couldn't find any combine confirmed timed. Either way, both times are considered pretty quick for an incoming linebacker. He's a local kid, out of River Hill HS in Clarksville, MD.
Gordon Law (QB)
HT: 6'1 WT: 190 40: Unknown
Senior Year Statistics: 1228 yards and 12 TD (Passing), 997 yards and 12 TD (rushing)
Highlights: [2005 and 2006 Highlights]
Duel threat quarterback. From watching his highlight video you can see he ran a variable option offense which included sets from under center and in the shotgun. He has something of weird throwing motion, but good speed and vision as a runner.
Mike McCarthy (OL/DL)
HT: 6'3 WT: 270 40: 5.2
Senior Year Statistics: Unknown
Also a very qualified wrestler.
David Zapata (RB)
HT: 5-7 WT: 173 40: 4.48
Senior Year Statistics: 1691 yards, 7.68 avg, 21 TD
Highlights: [2005 and 2006 highlights]
Three time All State selection at running back and the ninth leading rusher in New York state history. Ranked the 170th running back in the nation, Zapata looks to be one of those classic Navy running back commits who has good athletic ability and an impressive resume but lacks ideal size for other I-A programs. Rushed for over 6000 yards and 81 TD in High School career.
Monday, January 07, 2008
- First a foremost. Ohio State is losing because of a dropped touchdown pass, a blocked field goal, a bunch of personnel foul penalties, and bad tackling. This BS about we always hear about from the media regarding SEC speed and athleticism has been a minimal factor.
- Continuing off that point, great design by the LSU offense. Getting the tight ends involved and moving Flynn around really kick started the LSU offense.
- LSU's offense is moving the balls because of Flynn, Hester, the offensive line, and some nice catches by the receiving core. Those "x-factor" athletes people said LSU needed to win? Supplements, at best.
- Jacob Hester deserves to be more than a walking cliche. An honest attempt at playing tailback in the NFL to start with.
- Chris Wells has got to be a scary ass dude to try to tackle.
- LSU facing 3rd and shorts and Ohio State facing third and longs has made all the difference.
- Momentum is huge, and LSU grabbed it in the second quarter and never looked back.
Friday, January 04, 2008
Today I'm going to begin a bit differently. In fact, I'm going to begin a lot differently. For today I would like you to think of me not as a Navy blogger, but a very active and enthused participant in our understanding of the college football game.
There have been times, indeed, when I have ventured outside of the scope of Navy football and address the college football game at large. These times have been fewer and far between since returning to Pitch Right after my stint at the Fan House, but have nonetheless marked points in my blogging career. I'm selective with such posting however, and usually reserve my commentary on such matters in cases of great personal disgust or profound national misinterpretation. In 2006 it was my belief that it was the rise of the Naval Academy program which began the downfall of Fisher DeBerry's juggernaut at Air Force, and not (as many asserted at the time) the coincidental rise of the Mountain West conference. While my assertions were not, and are still not I suppose, taken as canon law, I nonetheless stand by my premise even to this day.
Likewise, the topic I wish to address today could be said to contain elements of controversy, which, believe it or not, are born out of my own personnel disgust (maybe that's too hard, let's call it annoyance) and what I believe is a misinterpretation of the topic at hand. That topic is the single most gripping term in the sport today and an all to frequent and convenient explanation that has the blog's buzzing and the talking heads talking. That topic, as you've probably guessed by now, is the spread offense.
I'm man enough to admit that I have many personal bias', although would point out that I'm usually very careful to disguise them. Outside of a personal affinity towards Jarod Bryant in the great (or not so great) quarterback debate of midseason 2006, I've also hinted at being a closet-supporter of the BCS system and have made it known (on multiple occasions, although none too recent) that I would follow Phil Steele into a volcano if I thought it would advance the intelligence of the college football community. And, unlike some Navy fans, I don't innately hate the Air Force Academy, and even found it within my limits to cheer them on against the University of Communism, er, California. So, with that in mind, I have to tell you all how sick I am of hearing about how great the spread offense is, and specifically how great the spread offense is as it relates to inter-subdivision competitive parity. Whoa now, is that even a term? I think it is, but if not, I’d like the rights to it. Basically my beef is with the idea that the spread is the sole reason for the upsets we saw in 2007, and more specifically the upsets that saw I-AA teams defeat I-A teams (old terminology used because of frequent complaints.) It's a point of much debate around my house; often involving my incessant yelling at a TV screen with a few words I wouldn't use in the company of say my three year old godson. Nevertheless, I’ll try to be a good deal more civil in my attempts to rebuke this widespread myth.
It’s About the Kids, Man
In the months following Appalachian State's extraordinary and historic upset win over the University of Michigan (and it was indeed historic) the spread offense (more specifically the read option based spread out of the shotgun) has been the beneficiary of praise from everyone from Stu Mandel to Joe Schmoe blogger in his parents’ basement. The spread has been called, on far too numerous an occasion, the great equalizer of the college game. This is not without merit, as many upset wins of the 2007 season have shown us. While overly cliché and perhaps hastily interpreted, even the detractors to the "in" crowd of the college football landscape could see that Michigan's defense struggled to play in space with Appalachian State, and that the Mountaineers spread offense caused matchup problems for what has been described as a slow Michigan defense. However, since that historic day we’ve been hit with constant barrages glorifying the spread, and somehow have arrived at a point where the craziness and parity of the 2007 season is being explained away by the single, often ambiguously termed offense.
I believe we have interpreted the parity incorrectly, and have overlooked the real reasons for the growing competitive balance, specifically in regard to inter-divisional play. Don't believe me? For every mobile, spread option based Armanti Edwards beating Michigan I will show you a slow, pro-style quarterback Joe Flacco beating Navy. For every "fast" and "elusive" CoCo Hilary running wild I will show you a 240-lb "big fella" (ESPN speak for white guy with the football) in a power running offense run wild on bowl bound Central Michigan and Big Ten member Minnesota. These examples, often overlooked, suggest that I-AA teams can beat I-A without the use of what we understand today to be ‘the spread.’ Furthermore, if you take a look at some of the bigger I-A upsets of the year, you’ll find that in many cases the spread had little or nothing to do with the underdog’s victory. Take Pittsburgh for example. The Panthers had an absolutely anemic conventional offense for most of the year (finished 108th in total offense) but won the game largely because of their defense. Stanford, meanwhile, ran a similarly conventional style offense and beat USC in what is arguably the greatest upset in college football history. In both cases, the traditional factors for an upset were present –turnovers, injuries, and penalties- but were they really enough to get such heavy underdogs over the top?
In my mind they weren’t, which is why I’ve set out to explain why there has to be some other reason for these kinds of upsets, while clearly not giving way to the all too simple citation of ‘the spread.’Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not here to completely discount or discredit the spread. That would make me an idiot. However I cannot sit idly by and watch the spread take all the credit for something that it has only contributed too. The key word here is contributed, as in play a part in. The real culprits for college football's parity are much more subtle; factors which are not as easily apparent to you or me as we spend our Saturday’s watching the myriad of college football action. For the sake of a coherent thesis, I've identified two of these factors, and would like to take an opportunity to discuss both of them, while inviting anyone who has made it this far in the post to offer suggestions of others.
The first factor (and I believe the most profound in the long term) is the growth the game at all levels of competition. What do I mean by this? Well, I mean that if you were a casual observer with no kids or no particular reason to penetrate the very issue, you may be lead to believe that we are in fact a nation of fat kids. While nobody is disputing that childhood obesity is a very real and problematic issue, I would offer up that at least some of those fat kids developed into somewhat athletic fat kids, which coincidently is what this great sport is predicated on. I only kid (partially) but the numbers speak for themselves. A 2006 National Sporting Goods Association Survey found that nearly 12 million kids over the age of seven had played tackle football more than once, up from 7.4 million kids in 1998. As far as High School football goes, the National Federation of High School Sports found that some 1,071,775 young men were playing high school football in 2005-2006, a number which not only signals the highest participation on record, but confirms that football is the most popular of the various high school sports for boys. The survey found that in 2005-2006 alone, high school football saw a dramatic rise in participation, adding some 26,281 teenagers into the fold. And that’s just for 11-man football, excluding the eight man teams and leagues that are present in areas of lower population density around our country. I did some poking around, but was unable to find further statistics. However, I believe even the above support my premise. The game is growing at a very high rate- not just in fandom, but in participation.
It is, in fact, economics at it's base. There is a demand for football in this country, both in terms of playing it, and in terms of watching it. As football becomes more popular more kids are going to want to play it. As more kids play it, and play it at youth and high school programs determined to churn out a better product, players inevitably get better. The talent pool, while expanding because of the sheer growth of the sport, becomes even larger as more and more colleges add football, in effect determining the size of what is "acceptable" talent based on their relative standing in the college football hierarchy.
“The Key Word Is Value. Do you Have Any? Not Yet”
Now here's the second, and potentially more interesting part to my premise. We've established there are more kids playing youth and high school football than they're were ten years ago, and we've also established more colleges have added football in the past ten years, regardless of Division. But you may still find my point bogus, not applicable because, as VarsityEdge.com put it, “[recruiting] has nothing to do with numbers of high school players and all to do with how many players want to continue at D1 and can continue at D1.” This is a valid point, but an ignorant one. Isn’t it possible, I dare say, that as you increase the amount of people playing the sport that you’re inevitably going to uncover and/or develop more players who will be able to continue to the next level? I would certainly think so, unless someone actually suggests that each and every one of those 26,281 teenagers was a 5’3, 124-lb middle linebacker who runs a 5.7/40 and couldn’t tackle a dummy. The point, as I’ve been saying, is simple. The increase in participation has moved us to a point where the supply of I-A caliber talent outweighs the demand for it at the I-A level for it. Obviously when something like this happens you end up seeing very capable players take the next best option- aka playing I-AA football. So while we’ve built these classifications of I-A and I-AA (as well as BCS conference and non-BCS conference) as meaning something in terms of talent differentiation, the reality of the situation is that the increased supply of capable football players has dramatically shrunk the supposed “talent gap” between divisions. Obviously this change began before the 2007 season, but as so often is the case, our perception of such a change remained nonexistent until 2007, when it finally took several groundbreaking upsets to alert the majority of us to it. Yet what of these “excess” Division I-A prospects that inevitably get funneled through the ranks of Division I-AA because of the laws of supply and demand? Are they in fact underrated, or are they undervalued?
A little bit of both, in my mind at least. Obviously they are undervalued to an extent, since their value is largely dependent on their demand at the I-A level. And since we’ve already established there is an excess of I-A talent (more I-A caliber players than I-A scholarships available), those players who don’t get scholarships for I-A teams inherently have less value, because they simply are not needed. However, consider the process by which comparative value is determined. In other words, what makes Team X decide to give a scholarship to Player A and not Player B? This is where you have to account for the idea of underrating; since, in a completely black and white world, Player A and B (both being Division I-A capable players) would have the same value and such a decision would either be incapable of making or have to be completely random.
This is clearly not the case in the real world, as I-A teams make decisions with regards to recruiting which should all be familiar and basic to us by now. However, for a variety of reasons (needs, system fits, etc), many schools discount the ability of certain recruits, and by doing so seemingly determine their value. It’s not always cut and dry though, and actually rarely is when you think about it. All too often in fact players are underrated based on circumstantial events or even taboo factors such as height, weight, and even race. For instance, if Notre Dame, Indiana, and Ball State all choose not give a scholarship to Joe Schmoe, then an outside observer may conclude that Joe Schmoe isn’t capable of playing I-A football. What if however Joe Schmoe had some kind of taboo against him? What if (God forbid we use a case which has actually has happened before) Joe is a 6’, 220-lb running back who ran a 4.58/40 and also happened to be a white guy. What if Joe has been offered to walk on at two of those three schools at linebacker? Does an invitation to walk on make him less capable of playing I-A football? If you said yes, you may want to reconsider. After all, there are dozens of highly distinguished former walk-ons around the country who’ve made names for themselves and gone on (or will go on) to NFL careers. These players weren’t necessarily undervalued if invited to walk on, but because they weren’t given a scholarship they are inherently underrated by there own coaching staff. Eventually though, many of those players go on to win scholarships at the I-A level and some even become stars (Jordly Nelson comes to mind.)
Up until very recently, services such as Scout.com and Rivals.com, along with SuperPrep and Tom Lemmings’ organization, were among the few services which actually covered recruiting, and, in doing so, were able to effectively set the value of players based off of rating them. Now it’s not like they just did so arbitrarily, but then again you have to understand that there were and are limits to what recruiting services can do. Simply put, recruiting services just can’t track of all the capable players in the country, especially when they’re using out-of-date and archaic indicators of value in an increasingly plentiful landscape. Translation? They’re still influencing the value of players, but they’re doing so based on the number of I-A teams (as well as their traditional, and often flawed indicators) and not the number of players. You may be scratching your head right now, thinking that programs, with help from the scouting services, rate and ultimately determine the value of players based on pre-described categories and clearly defined boundaries (Let’s say I-A football.) But in reality that’s not how it works. Players are their own indicator of value, since they’re the one’s who actually do the playing (shocking I know), and ultimately determine the value of that program or team (from a competitive, not fiscal standpoint.)
Let’s use another example. Let’s say John Johnson has offers to play cornerback in I-A football, but only at cornerback. But let’s say John wants to play quarterback, which he can only do at the I-AA level. If he says “no” to those offers and elects to play at a “lower” level of competition does that make him any less capable of playing I-A football? I understand that this is a potentially grey area, but the answer is still no, and that’s he’s still a capable I-A talent. Scenarios like this, and the one of Joe Schmoe, have happened en mass, and I believe hold the key to understanding a competitive balance which will only continue. In the years following the obsession of pre-described and unrealistic categories for what makes a I-A football player, a large number of undervalued players simply “slipped through the cracks” as it were (actually more like a chasm) and found themselves on I-AA teams. These teams, which always had a few good, underrated players, now had more and more undervalued players to go along, and in doing so became to resemble a team which was more I-A in talent. For the last few years such teams were chipping away at I-A teams, but it took 2007 for the floodgates to open and a whole slew of upsets – including, but by no means limited to Appalachian State over Michigan – for such a premise to actually become a possibility.
In ten years the zone read will be defeated. If only but for a time and only in a circumstance, the perception of such a defeat will nonetheless spurn the wheels of change and usher us into a new fad of offensive or defensive merit that itself will be proclaimed the next "great equalizer." Do not be fooled however, as such a system or philosophy will inevitably give way as well. Yet the game, and it's seemingly newfound competitive parity, will remain the same, if not altogether greater. As I have shown, this transformation is due more to a growth within the sport at the youth and high school levels, coupled with the undervaluing and underrating of capable I-A players, than to any offensive fad which has stolen the imaginations of fans across the country. The spread, it can be said then, only augments these factors. The spread then is successful not because of some innate matchup problems that it causes, but rather because it is different, and when executed by capable players (undervalued or otherwise) it can put a defense not used to game planning for it on it's heels. The spread doesn’t make the players successful, but is rather made successful by players who at their very core could be successful in any offense. So it can be said that the above, factored with the traditional emotions that come with being an underdog, not only help us to explain the upsets of I-AA teams over I-A teams, but more importantly help us to understand upsets in the greater context of 2007.
Wednesday, January 02, 2008
I don't know if you can say enough good things about Kaipo and his continued development within the system. After an impressive ending to the 2006 season much was expected of the Hawaiian signal caller in 2007, and by all accounts he delivered. Statistically Kaipo shined, completing over 50% of his passes for 952 yards and eight touchdowns, while rushing for another 12 touchdowns and 834 yards. But it was what didn’t show up in the statistics which made all the difference. It was his decision making and knowledge of the system which allowed Navy’s offense to reach it’s highest output in year’s, while it was his leadership and energy which helped to keep the team together even in tough situations.
Honorable Mention: Reggie Campbell, Antron Harper, Eric Kettani
Defensive MVP: Irv Spencer
One can only wonder what Navy’s defense would look like in 2008 if Irv Spencer had another year. The senior from Oakwood Village, Ohio was a force in the middle for the Mids this past year, recording 95 tackles (team lead), 57 solo tackles (tied for team lead), 8.5 tfl (second on team), and a team high seven pass breakups. Simply put, Irv was a beast on an otherwise uninspiring defense for Navy this year, and brought a refreshing energy and enthusiasm to the defensive unit.
Honorable Mention: Matt Wimsatt, Michael Walsh, Chris Kuhar-Pitters
Defensive Breakthrough Player: Wyatt Middleton
In a season which saw the secondary undergo a complete transformation due to injury and inconsistency, the Navy defense did get a pleasant surprise with the emergence of freshmen free safety Wyatt Middleton this past season. Middleton, a plebe who attended NAPS last year, finished second on the team in total tackles with 88 and tied Irv Spencer for the lead in solo tackles with 57. While he did not record an interception on the season, he showed consistent improvement against both the run and the pass as the year progressed. I’ve heard a number of people say how Middleton seemed to be out of position for as many good plays he made. I don’t particularly buy that notion, and even if he was you have got to ask the question of “who wasn’t.” In a year which could probably best be described as a “learning experience” for the defense, Middleton was at the top of his class.
Honorable Mention: Ross Pospisil, Blake Carter, Ram Vela
Offensive Breakthrough Player: Eric Kettani
Coming into this season we all new Eric Kettani was good, but c’mon, who actually thought he’d lead the team in rushing? Eric had a monster year in 2007, rushing for 880 yards and 10 touchdowns on an outstanding 5.8 yards a carry. The fact that he virtually usurped Adam Ballard (who had been talked about as having pro potential in his own right) speaks for itself, as Eric brought explosiveness and shiftiness to the fullback position. He’s brought the physical tools of a pro-style running back to the Navy backfield, and has become one of the offense’s most dangerous players.
Honorable Mention: Zerbin Singleton, Anthony Gaskins, Paul Bridgers
Offensive Unsung Hero: OJ Washington
You may be asking why Antron Harper’s name isn’t here. It very well could be, but to me an ‘unsung hero’ is a guy who doesn’t get enough credit for the job he’s done, and if you ask me we’ve all been quick to identify Antron Harper as one of Navy’s best and most productive players. One player who often slips the spotlight however is OJ Washington, the senior receiver from Tacoma, Washington. Ok, so he dropped a few balls throughout the course of the year, but he’s been that solid blur on the outside of every play stalk blocking the wide receiver and allowing for those big holes we see the slotbacks running through. He’s greatly improved his route running over the past couple of years, and even gets into the action receiving (12 catches, 248 yards, 1TD.) He’s been a solid contributor on this team for the past three seasons, and despite returning a fairly veteran group of wideouts next year his services will be missed.
Honorable Mention: Josh Meek
Defensive Unsung Hero: Michael Walsh
The term high-motor is trite and cliché for undersized defensive lineman, and often used to denigrate a player's natural athletic ability and explain away his production by effort alone. My question is why we have to view such explanations as a bad thing. With 57 tackles (t0 TFL) and three sacks Walsh may be a walking cliché for Navy defensive lineman, but something tells me he wouldn’t have it any other way. He was Navy's best defensive lineman in 2007, and returns to lead what should be a much improved line in 2008.
Honerable Mention: Greg Thrasher
Special Teams Player of the Year: Zerb Singleton
I’ll be honest; it wasn’t a great year for the Navy special teams unit, but then again I may have just wanted an excuse to sneak Zerbin Singleton in here somewhere. I am of the firm belief that Zerbin cannot be praised enough for everything he has both overcome and accomplished on and off the field. He’s a bright spot in a sport which is constantly bombarded with cheating scandals, off the field suspensions, and over the top on-the-field antics. He’s a solid all around player in every aspect of the game; a disciplined tackler, determined runner, and heady receiver. He is, to borrow a phrase from the heading of this blog, one of those few players who makes this game “most nearly itself.” It’ll sure be weird not seeing #28 out there next year, but we all know that bigger and better things await him.
Honerable Mention: Reggie Campbell, Corey Johnson, Craig Schaefer
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Play of the Year (Nominations)
The already iconic image of Ram Vela flying over Armando Allen's head to disrupt Evan Sharpley and Notre Dame's offense on a 4th down play that may have given Notre Dame it's 44th consecutive win over Navy. The play was so much more than just the critical stop that pushed the game into overtime, but a play which swung the game's momentum decidedly in Navy's favor after Notre Dame stole momentum midway through the 4th quarter. It's come to symbolize the never say die attitude that is a hallmark of this Navy program, and the triumph of the guy who they thought was too small or too slow to play Division I-A football.
Bobby Doyle to Jarod Bryant
In a game filled with big plays and game changing moments, this one stands out to me as the most memorable. There was Buffin's interception and Jarod's 35 yard run in which he seemingly made every Duke player miss in the open field, but none of it would have been possible had reserve slotback Bobby Doyle (a former QB at Chardon High in Ohio) not thrown a picture perfect pass to backup quarterback Jarod Bryant for the two point conversion. Not only did it tie the game at 43, but it helped to save a season that seemed to be rapidly heading for disaster.
Bullen Does It Again
Taken as statistics only, an outside observer may have seen Joey Bullen's kicking career at the Naval Academy as decidedly average. But for periods of inconsistency and even losing his job for much of the 2006 season, Bullen always proved himself in the clutch and came through when the game was on the line. As incredible as his 44 yard field goal as time expired to beat Duke was, maybe more incredible is how the former backup came in almost stone-cold to redeem himself and prove that it wasn't just the starters who don't quit.
Up 24-20 with just over nine minutes left in the game, Navy needed a score to keep Air Force at arms length and make it a two possession game. With a defense that had struggled and an Air Force offense determined not to be defeated for a fifth straight year, the Mids got a much needed lift when Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada accelerated past the entire Air Force defense en route to a 78-yard touchdown run off the option. The play put Air Force into panic mode, and helped lead Navy to it's fifth consecutive win over the Falcons.
Not One Step Back
Resiliency. We talked about it so much in the course of the season, but there is no more perfect example of it than in the final play of Navy's 46-44 overtime win at Notre Dame. After four quarters and three overtimes the 2007 Navy football team was not about to let it's best chance in year's pass them by. Need I say more?
Be sure to check in tomorrow afternoon when I present my individual awards for the 2007 Navy football season.
Friday, December 21, 2007
I want to talk about Zerb Singleton and Adam Ballard and Irv Spencer. I want to talk about Matt Wimsatt, Antron Harper, OJ Washington, and the rest of a senior class which has distinguished itself amongst the most winningist classes in the Academy's history. I want to talk about a group of guys who came into the Academy when there was still a good deal of uncertainty surrounding the program, and the team which developed from that. I love this team. I love everything about it. They're gritty but not to a fault, there resilient but they can still get the job done. They embody every cliche you could throw at them and much much more, and they've made the 2007 football season one of, if not the most memorable season in decades. And even though for the second straight year I unfortunately thank them the day after a heartbreaking loss, it by no means diminishes everything they've accomplished in their four years at Navy, and the greatness which surely awaits them in the coming years.
I think this program is in good hands. I'm going to miss Reggie slicing through opposing defenses or Irv coming out of nowhere to lay the wood, but I know that the program is as strong as it's ever been and that there is a another class ready to step up the plate and take on the challenge. There are so many good things to talk about, so many exciting and new story lines to look into. As we head into the off season we look froward to another season of recruiting and spring practices, and of the perpetual hope which comes with the changing of the seasons. But even as we do so we fail to forget the players who brought us to this point, and we thank them for the enjoyment they've given us over the past four year, and for the service they are about to render for the good of our country.
In the darkened hours of this morning Irv Spncer gave an interview for a postgame report in which he said that Navy football isn't about the coaches or the ups and downs of the college football landscape, but rather about the players who make up the small fraternity they call the brotherhood. I'm grateful to have been able to watch the class of 2008 take it's place in Navy football history, and excited to watch the next set of players take their rightful place on a team and a program which has never, and will never stop fighting.
You guys are freaking awesome.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
11:00- Dude, was that Greg flying on the kickoff coverage? FDD?
11:05- Great job again by the? Navy D, especially the line to force a three and out. Time to pull away...
11:12- Back by popular demand...ESTABLISH THE FULLBACK! Eric Kettani goes in for a touchdown after a brilliant Navy drive to put the Mids up 17-7. The offense is starting to feel it, and now the defense really has some energy too. Look for Utah to try to get aggressive on this next series.
11:20- I will never make a dumb joke about Ross Pospisils name again. He is awsome.
11:24- Not a very good job of making his reads on that last drive, but I won't get too picky. Still, if we're gonna win this game we can't do it running standard triple option the rest of the way. I hope Coach Jasper is trying to set something up.
11:35- Yea, so Greg Thrasher was being held on that touchdown run...
11:40- I don't know what's going on, but Reggie continues to have a very, very tough game. You hate to see it because he's carried this team in the past, but if he makes a few plays in this game Navy is in a much more comfortable situation. Now Utah has the momentum and I have a very bad feeling.
11:43- Hernandez has had two fingertop grabs that have gone for big yards.
11:45- I Love BYU.
11:49- Austin Collie is my hero.
11:52- I hate football.
11:55- Why are we blitzing so much? Honestly...
11:59- Did Ketric Buffin not want to hit Johnson, Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. 21 unanswered points. Geez. Nothing more to say.
12:10- I was just joking about hating football. How about Coach N to call the fullback option on the two point conversion, just like PJ did against ND? Alright, real test here. We need a stop.
12:15- We gotta do something about the underneath pass...
12:19- Greg Thrasher just missed a chance at being the biggest hero ever.
12:20- I hate Brian Johnson. He however is a good player.
12:23- SHOULDA BEEN A TOUCHBACK
12:30- Losing a Bowl game like this really bothers me. You want to seniors to win so badly, and you want the program to make a statement. You figure it shouldn't be this way, that Navy should want and need this game more, but unfortunately it just hasn't turned out like that for the second year in a row. I think we saw some promise today, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but I can’t help going to bed tonight with a bit of a sinking feeling for those seniors who have invested so much in this program.
12:39- Zerb Never Quits.
12:41- ZERB NEVER QUITS
12:43- Mutherfarking turf.
12:45- This team never quits. I think we will be ok next year.
9:10- Frankly, this is why I hate basketball. The last five minutes in a game take a half an hour. Disgusting.
First order of business. College Football Live did a fairly good job today in lead-up to the game, complete with a cut-in to Rece Davis on the USS Midway in San Diego. Rece will be calling the action tonight on ESPN. It's a good thing too, as Rece is one of the most knowledgeable and insightful on-air personalities the world wide leader has on its payroll. Unfortunately he will be paired with two of the least knowledgeable and insightful personalities of ESPN college football in Lou Holtz and Mark May. Alright, so maybe Mark May is a bit insightful, and Coach Holtz must have some knowledge from all those years of coaching, but let's be honest; listening to these two discuss Navy football is like listening to the eight year olds down the street talking about which kids' brother can beat up the others'. After all, can we possible forget Lou Holtz's discussion of, uh, your not going actually make me explain this to you, are you?
Needless to say, the last time these two teamed up to call a Navy game things got a bit off topic. From Mark May;s strangely homosexual fascination with Eric Kettani's dressing habits to Lou Holtz's attempt to explain the "wishbone" with a sandwhich in his mouth, the Navy-Pittsburgh broadcast of October can be summed up in three concise words. What. The. Hell. Dude...
Ok, so that's four, but you get my drift. Well, I'm off to go eat something which will potentially shorten my life by a matter of weeks, but after the break I'll get you caught up on how the pundits are seeing this one play out.
2:1 Reggie Campbell Scores a Touchdown
4:1 Mark May makes a reference to Eric Kettani's tailor
20:1 Rece Davis slips up on the pronunciation of Coach Niumatalolo's name
50:1 PhatPhelix is sighted on national television wearing a rather large sombrero
8672:1 O.J. Washington lines up wide in a go-cart, later explaining that it was his objective to just "take everyone out."
6:05- I’m watching ESPN in anticipation for this P-Bowl preview I keep hearing about, but all I’m seeing is the Tuna’s manboobs.
(H/T: MWC Podcast and Blog)
7:35- I'm digging up random previews for your enjoyment, so stay with me. Eric from SOS previews the game and (shocker) likes Utah. What's unique about his preview is the lovely history lesson he includes to begin:
Of course, you're probably aware that a Poinsettia is a Christmas "flower". But how did it get its name? It is named after the first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. The poinsettia is native to the west coast, hence the bowl game being named after a Pacific flower. It also could go by other names such as Mexican flame leaf, Christmas star, or Winter rose.
Which brings up the question on everyone's mind. Is it PoinsettA or PoinsettIA?
*For every hastily made and poorly constructed Naval pun I or the ESPN team of commentators make tonight, $1 will be donated to the "Buy Chris Spielman an actual pair of dress pants and shoes" fund.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
And what better way to do so then by taking a shot at one of these so called "experts" we're always complaining about? I only kid (well, kinda) on the ripping part, although one of the story lines I'd like to address is the questionable job of breaking down this game that I've seen a number of services do. Case in point, the report I saw this morning on ESPN.com by Scouts Inc. director Todd McShay. I dislike Todd McShay for several reasons. For starters he's predictable and unimaginative in his scouting reports, and often falls into the trap of stereotyping different "kinds" of players. God forbid you ever have a white wide receiver, even one who ran a 10.63 in H.S., because McShay will undoubtedly say something to the effect of "lacks ideal speed" or "separation ability." But alas, I digress, and as much as I like Jordy Nelson I've come to talk about McShay's scouting report for the Poinsettia Bowl, and not for the All-American receiver they call the "People's Champ."
As far as the preview goes, I think McShay is first of all the wrong guy to be doing it, and question why ESPN couldn't get one of their exclusively college football guys to break it down. You can just tell McShay sacrifices facts in exchange for something to say, as he points out Navy will make a "yearly" trip to the Poinsettia Bowl for the second time in it's existence. Last I checked Navy didn't play in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2006, and won't play there in 2008. That hardly qualifies as a "yearly" event if you ask me. But I didn't break my silence to quip about Mr. McShay's hyperbole, and instead want to focus on the comments he makes regarding why Utah will win.
I think he invests too much in whatever advantage Utah may gain from the extra time to prepare for Navy. Considering that these are student athletes with exams to take, the actual time these players have to prep for Navy outside of watching film really isn't much longer than your typical bye week going into a game with Navy. How did teams with extra time to prepare do against Navy this year? Well, let's take a look:
Temple: 361 rushing yards allowed, 439 total yards allowed, 30 points allowed.
Pittsburgh: 331 rushing yards allowed, 497 total yards allowed, 38 regulation points allowed.
Delaware: 342 rushing yards allowed, 506 total yards allowed, 52 regulation points allowed.
Notre Dame: 257 rushing yards allowed, 338 total yards allowed, 28 regulation points allowed.
North Texas: 572 rushing yards allowed, 680 total yards allowed, 63 regulation points allowed.
Army: 287 rushing yards allowed, 294 offensive yards allowed, 31 regulation points allowed.
As you can see from the numbers above, the notion that extra time somehow equates to better play against the triple option is bogus. In fact, if you want to draw a conclusion about playing better against the triple option it would almost certainly have to be based on having played it before, as both Notre Dame and Army (which play Navy every year) fared the best defensively of the bunch. These numbers aside, bowl history does not support McShay's notion as well. For instance, Boston College, which played Navy on December 30th last year and thus had more time for prep work outside of the practice field, gave up 322 rushing yards and 403 total yards to Navy. And that BC defense was no slouch either, finishing the regular season amongst the top defensive teams in the country. Once again, if you go back to 2004 and 2005 and take a look at Navy bowl games against similar Mountain West conference teams, we see the Mids come in as an underdog expected to fall short of their average offensive production during the regular season, only in both cases to exceed it. The point, I believe, is rather simple. The bigtime scouts and "experts" have a tendency to fall back on general talking points, and fail to accurately do even simple research that seems to suggest a point contrary to the one they come in with. It's especially dumbfounding to me how he and many other scouts can pick Navy to score 27 points on the basis of the aforementioned premise that Utah's defense will Benoit from extra time. Not only has Navy scored more points in all their games against teams with extra time to prepare this season, but done so against defenses of similar or greater ability.
I'm a firm believer in that you just can't trust statistics, especially in a bowl game and especially when your playing out of conference. If McShay and the other "experts" want to think Navy's offense will struggle against Utah then they ought to just come out and say they think it's because of Johnson's departure. That, at the very least, is a viable argument. If you're like me, you haven't wasted too much time breaking down this matchup, because, to be honest, you don't need to. I'm sure Utah fans will take exception to this statement, but we as Navy fans have seen this story line before both in 2004 and 2005. And while I don't mean to suggest that the 2007 Utah Ute's are the same team as the 2004 Lobo's or the 2005 Rams, one must also admit that this Navy offense is superior to both the Navy offenses which faced off against those teams. This should be a fun game to watch, but unlike what Todd McShay seems to think, I give Navy- on the basis of history- a much better chance in this one.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Before the season began, we heard a lot about one of those potentially cheesy strength and conditioning motto's that seem to reverberate through pro, college, and high school locker rooms across the country. This year the motto was "All In," both challenging and reflecting upon the commitment of Navy's players and coaches. Well, here we are in December, and despite the loss of the head coach and the pending loss of several top assistants, the Naval Academy football players remain all in, and the program is already on the road to recovery with a series of moves to continue to momentum that Paul Johnson began six years ago.
The situation I'm referring to is obviously with the coaching staff. I've been deliberate in watching this thing play out over the past week, but with the help of Bill Wagner and other's we're starting to get a good view about what the staff will look like for next year. As we've already established, and as we all surely know by know, Ken Niumatalolo was named Navy's 38th head coach on Saturday. On Monday after practice, Coach Niumatalolo confirmed to Wagner that former quarterbacks coach Ivan jasper will be promoted to offensive coordinator, while defensive coordinator Buddy Green will stay on as well. In addition to these two coaches, Navy is also expected to retain the services of a number of other assistants- among them Keith Jones (outside linebackers), Joe Speed (secondary), Danny O'Rourke (linebackers), and Dale Pehrson (defensive line.) Word on the street is that fullbacks Coach Chris Culton will stay on as well. Whatever the case may be, credit has got to be given to AD Chet Gladchuck, who despite losing Johnson has been able to retain his top two offensive assistants.
Basically, the entire defensive staff will stay, which contrary to some of my own words this year is probably a good thing. The last thing Navy's maligned defense needed after this year was to get introduced to a completely new staff, especially considering the lack of continuity we saw on the defensive side of the ball this year. I'm not saying there will be any "quick fix," but to have the same staff come back next season at least speeds up the process of the defense getting to where it needs to be. Not only that, but Buddy and his staff have been very good bringing in players on the recruiting trail over their tenure at navy, particularly coach Jones with regards to getting some terrific linebackers.
As far as the offensive staff is concerned, it's the whole good news/bad news situation. Obviously losing Paul Johnson- one of the few head coaches to call his own plays in major college ball- is a bad thing, while the losses of coach Monken and coach Bohannon deprive Navy of it's two best offensive recruiters and guys who have traditionally done very well in the south, particularly in Georgia. While Navy and Gerogia tech aren't likely to be going after very many of the same players (if any at all) I wouldn't dismiss their services as recruiters, especially considering the inroads coach Calhoun and his Air Force staff made in Georgia and the southeast last year. As we get closer to the offseason, this will be one of the more interesting story lines to watch. Another significant loss for Navy will be the departures of coach Spenser (assistant offensive line) and of coach Brass (strength and conditioning.) The loss of coach Brass is especially significant, as he's done a great job getting the players ready for the season over Paul Johnson's tenure. But like I said, it's not all bad news, particularly if it is true that coach Culton (fullbacks) has decided to stay. The big story here though is keeping coach Jasper, who like coach Niumatalolo has been a veteran assistant under Johnson and a guy who knows how to both coach players in the system and to make play calls and adjustments on the field. Coach Jasper won't replace coach Johnson in terms of his ability to see the game and make adjustments, but he'll do lot better job than any other guy out there.
With the coaching staff falling in line and looking in relatively decent shape, we now turn our attention to the players. Obviously, any time a program loses it's head coach there is concern about players leaving, but at a place like Navy this concern is magnified. Indeed, when I returned home last Friday and finally got a chance to check my email, one of the first messages I received was regarding the potential of a number of sophomores and freshmen to leave. while this was well before the situation was brilliantly stabilized by Chet Gladchuck and Ken Niamatololo, it still remains a concern that isn't likely to go away until the start of next season. One player Navy fans were particularly concerned with was quarterback Ricky Dobbs. Dobbs, while only a plebe, has been one of Navy's most impressive young players, showing incredible promise both on the practice field and on the JV squad. With a cannon of an arm, quick feet, and a knowledge of the system that likely surpasses the current Georgia Tech quarterbacks, Navy fans were more than a little concerned over the possibility of Dobbs following Johnson to Atlanta. When you take into account the fact that Dobbs is originally from Douglasville, Ga, it seemed like a forgone conclusion to some Navy fans that he would at least try to follow Johnson. While he wasn't shy about admitting the thought did enter his mind, Dobbs confirmed to Bill Wagner that he would be staying at Navy.
"At first, I thought if I went to Georgia Tech I would be at home. If Coach Johnson would have asked, I was gone. But the foundation I've established here... that is what made me stay....It started last year at NAPS. I would tell the guys that by the time we graduate here, we're going to make it to the Top 25.I told my classmates we would be the catalysts and that I would be the leader. I feel as though I need to try to fulfill that promise."
This is absolutely huge news, especially considering that Navy's other "quarterback of the future" - Robby Davis- decided to transfer to Woffard early this season. Not only does this show you that Dobbs is committed to the program, but it shows you he's willing to take on a leadership role, which is especially impressive for a freshmen. In fact, after my initial concern for the players, my fears are starting to be relived. It all goes back to something Matt Wimsatt said last week, when he talked about the importance of getting the younger guys to understand that Navy football does not play for Coach Johnson, and instead plays for each other and the Academy. It was after that point that I realized what an opportunity for leadership these young men had. It seems only fitting that at an institution dedicated to the development of leaders that the players, long cast in the shadow of "systems" and "schemes," should have the opportunity to communicate the importance of their program and to lay the foundation for the next generation of Navy football players. I don't know what's going to happen this offseason, and it may very well turn out that several promising players decide not return next season, but it's the statements I've read within the past week that have really put a smile on my face. We can't lose sight that this is a program we're talking about, and that the program went beyond Paul Johnson. Last week I wrote that I had faith in athletic director Chet Gladchuck, the staff, and the players themselves to continue to momentum established in 2003, and after what we've seen this week my faith has only been confirmed. We're exactly a week away from the Poinsettia Bowl against Utah, and despite the fact that the rest of the country has seemed to already lost faith in America's team, my excitement level couldn't be higher.
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
You take adversity and you capitalize on it. What a tremendous statement it will make when we take the field in that bowl game, when we show up in force in San Diego as a program that is unified, a program that is focused, a program that is dedicated to winning while properly representing the Naval Academy and the fleet. The coach didn’t beat Pittsburgh, the coach didn’t beat Air Force, the coach didn’t beat Notre Dame, the coach didn’t beat Army. The players in that locker room are the true victors. If they can sustain their mental toughness as they have exhibited on a number of occasions through this period, it will be nothing but full speed ahead.
I refuse to look at this situation as the bitter end of a five year run. Yes, such an outcome is possible, perhaps even likely with the leaving of Paul Johnson, but I still refuse to speculate on the fall of this very much rebuilt program. And as naive and idealistic as that may sound, It's what Coach Johnson would want us to know. It wasn't but a week ago that Coach Johnson affirmed this notion, saying "I didn't carry the ball once" in reference to what he's accomplished in his run at Navy. Chalk it up to coach speak, fine, but I have to admit that I've always had a problem with the fans who attributed everything to Johnson and never give the players their just do. You have to have faith in these guys and faith in the assistants who will stay. You have to have faith that Coach Johnson imparted to them the virtues of success, and that, even if only for a short time, such success can carry on even after his departure. If you can't have faith in that, I don't even know why you would take the trouble to call yourself a fan.
Clint Sovie basically sums it up for me...
I should write something inspiring to attest to the legacy of the greatest college in college football, or at the very least a profanity laced post directed at the entire state of Georgia. But right now I just need to go kick some snow outside.
P.S.- You are all great fans.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
On the second to the last night a guy who I had never heard of addressed the high school players. They said he was Navy's Head Coach, but I have to admit that at the time I didn't even know his name. He spoke in a a typical southern accent, and talked about football, life, and God. When he spoke people listened, even 14 year old kids who could barely make their freshmen high school teams, much less dream of playing Division 1-A football. When he was done, I asked one of the other guys who that was. He looked at me quizzically, and told me it was a man named Paul Johnson.
I left the next day thinking nothing of it, that it must have been just another guy in the line of Navy coaches who fielded bad teams that my Father and I would watch once or twice a year at the stadium. I had no idea that I was only months away from following the team incessantly, and just a few years away from taking that passion and starting a blog.
Five years later I can't help but think back to that moment. I grew up a Navy fan, but I didn't become one until that day in the summer of 2003 when I heard Paul Johnson speak and it clicked, at least as much as it can for a local fan anyway. I will always be a Navy fan, that will not change. Not through coaching changes, not through losing seasons, and not even through being an Army ROTC cadet. But even I can't deny that as we move closer to the inevitable decision, that a very real and tangible experience of my fandom hangs in the balance with it.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
EDIT: Since writing this post Bill Wagner (the only journalist I trust at this point) has written an excellent blog post updating us on the situation at hand. Block quoting doesn't do justice to the work Mr. Wagner has put into tracking Johnson's movements, so head over to the Capital to get the full story. The short story is though that nothing is a done deal, and there are many factors standing in the way of Johnson leaving at this point.
Every year when I'm doing Q&A's with various blogs, I typically receive a question somewhere along the lines of "How long will Johnson be at Navy," usually followed by something akin to "When do you think he will leave?"
I've never really known how to answer those questions. After all, I've heard the man speak a grand total of one time (at a football camp in 2003) and only been face to face with him once ("uh, can I get your autograph") so how can I accurately judge a man's career aspirations? Unlike other Navy fans, I don't have a compendium of knowledge on his days at Hawaii or Georgia Southern, and aside from the usual message board chatter, I really no very little about the man outside of what I see on Saturday's.
The point is, I can't tell if we're nearing the end of Paul Johnson era at Navy, and unless you've got some actual, no BS-ing around "sources" I don't know if you can tell either. Yes, it is true that Paul Johnson met with his agent Jack Reale on Monday in Atlanta, and it is true that while down there he likely also met with representatives from Duke, SMU, and presumably Georgia Tech. Heck, it might even be true that Georgia Tech has made an offer to Johnson, although I personally would take anything Dennis Dodd of CBS Sportsline said with a grain of salt. Also within the past 24 hours, we've learned that Duke could be close to offering Johnson, which David A. of GoMids.com writes could be more dangerous for Navy fans then we may think.
So where are we at right now? Well, we're at a junction, obviously, but it's not an unfamiliar one. Coach Johnson entertained offers last year, and for the better part of a week we were being told (quite insistently at times) that our beloved Head Coach would be taking a job somewhere else. After all, with both the UNC and NCST jobs opening up after the 2006 season, it looked as though the born and bred Carolinian in Johnson would have to go fix one of those programs. Fortunately for us however it didn't work out that way, and when it was all said and done we still had our coach. This year, in my mind anyways, seems much to same, and if we've learned anything from last year it's that Paul Johnson's name will be popping up for jobs from now on. We've said it before, but I don't think we've realized it until now; it's part of the territory of having on-the-field success, and it’s something we as fans just need to deal with.
There are people out there (quite a lot actually) who feel it necessary to speculate on the nature of these openings, and to predict where Johnson will go. Aside from not being sure if he will go at all (remember, he *hearts* this job) I feel compelled to point out that just because someone says he's going somewhere doesn't mean he will. If that were the case, Johnson would be in Dallas right now, or at least so says Dennis Dodd. It's a waiting game, but it doesn't need to spent in perpetual anxiety. We'll likely know where the team stands within the next 48 hours, and, with or without Johnson, the team will have to move on and prepare for the Poinsettia Bowl.
I have faith in the program. I have faith in the staff and administration to not sit idle and watch the program sink back to where we were in 2001, and I have faith in the players, who always seem to get overlooked with the discussions of systems and coaches. But most of all, I have faith in Coach Johnson, and faith that he will try to do what’s best for both the program, despite wherever his own career may take him. And that, I think, is enough to keep me back from the edge everyone keeps talking about.