Make no mistake about it, yesterday's loss was among the most devastating of the Paul Johnson era. Right up there with Maryland, Tulsa, and Boston College, yesterday's 34-31 overtime loss hurt a little bit more because for a ten minute period around 8 PM, it looked like Navy had it. And not had it in "I think we might pull this out" had it, but "I believe that we will win" had it. In that respect, only the Meineke Car Care Bowl loss compares.
Navy should have won this game. Not that it would have been a pretty win by any means, and to be perfectly objective, I'm sure that if Navy had won the game Ball State's fans would be telling themselves the same thing. But still, anytime you're in a position to kick a game winning field goal and it gets blocked, I'd say you certainly should have won the game.
Yet too view this game within the context of Matt Harmon's blocked 31-yard game-winning attempt and the subsequent overtime debacle would be to neglect to view the problems Navy had all day on the defensive side of the ball, and the miscues that cost the offense much needed points. Consider for a moment that Navy gave up a whopping 262 yards rushing and 277 yards passing while allowing the Ball State offense to go 11-15 on third down conversations. Navy's defensive line failed to get any kind of rush while Navy's linebackers struggled to fill the gaps and cutback lanes, allowing running backs MiQuale Lewis and Frank Edmonds to rush for over 200 yards and average over six yards a carry. Yet even with this defensive ineptitude, Navy's offense still had a chance to build up some "breathing room" after the defense held in the third quarter, but was unable to do so. A promising Navy drive that began after a Ketric Buffin interception was halted at the Ball State 15 when Shun White fumbled a Jarod Bryant pitch, effectively taking at least three points off the scoreboard. This came after an earlier drive died in Ball State territory right before the half, when Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada took a sack that pushed Navy to the edge of Matt Harmon's field goal range. The 48-yard attempt was blocked. Navy had it's chances in this game, but like last week the Mids failed to play fundamentally sound defense and were unable to finish at key moments on offense. These miscues, coupled with the general inability of Navy's defense to stop Ball State during the entire game, lost the game just as much as any Matt Harmon blocked field goal.
So where do we go from here? This now becomes the question, and, three weeks into the season, I still refuse to be pushed into "panic mode" and call into doubt the prospects of a CINC trophy and a bowl berth. That being said, Navy needs to show us something next week against Duke for the team to have any chance at accomplishing any of it's goals in 2007. We did see some positives in this game (most notably Navy's 585 total yards) and saw some players really come into their own (Jarod Bryant, Eric Kettani, Darius Terry,) but when the 1-2 Blue Devils visit Annapolis next week, it's going to take more than subtle moral victories to appease the team and the coaching staff. At this point, I could care less how a win "looks" and would be more apt to side with the old Al Davis line of "just win."
I wrote last week that this game wold tell us a lot about the character of this Navy team, and to a certain extent I think we received an answer. Guys stepped up, individuals made plays, and even the defense rebounded somewhat in the second half despite being without Irv Spencer, who left early in the third quarter with an ankle injury. Yet we've only gotten a partial answer, and for this team to prove itself, it's going to take a collective effort to step up and finish on both sides of the football. Until we can do that, I feel as though this team will become embroidered in close, nail-biting shootouts like we saw last night.
Unrelated Note: I have an FTX I have to go to on the 29th-30th so I won't be around for the Air Force game. Because I don't have CSTV I can't tape the game and for obvious reasons I won't be able to watch it online. I am thus looking for anyone who would be willing to tape the game and send it to me via the mail. I will of course reimburse you for your time. If you'd be willing to do this please send me an email by this weekend. Thanks!