Thursday, October 11, 2007

After Action Report: Navy Downs Pitt 48-45

Wanting It More

If there is one theme which we can find in the 2007 Navy football team, it’s that of resiliency. We saw it against Duke, we saw it against Air Force, and of course we saw it last night against Pittsburgh.

This wasn’t your garden variety comeback type resiliency though, and dare I say what we saw last night took a little more guts and a little more heart than anything we’ve seen up to this point. This was a game that Navy appeared to have thrown away, a game in which a series of Midshipmen miscues and missed opportunities seemed certain to cost Navy a win. From Joey Bullen’s 35-yard missed field goal before the half to Nate Frazier’s incredibly inopportune neutral zone infraction in the first overtime, the headline that was building past 11 PM last night seemed to be all about how Navy should have won this game, but instead snatched certain defeat from the jaws of victory. Enter resiliency.

I don’t want to sound like I’m overly praising the defense, because God knows Good Counsel could have put up yards and points on us, but the defense did manage to stand tall in key situations. From holding Pitt to a field goal on first and goal in the third quarter to not allowing Pitt into field goal range even after a big fourth down conversation with only minutes to go, Navy’s defense did just enough to allow Navy’s offense to get the job. And did they ever. Navy raked up 497 yards of total offense including 331 on the ground en route to their 48-45 win, all of this coming against what had been a fairly solid Pitt defense. Quarterback Kaipo-Noa was nearly flawless while Reggie Campbell had a huge game with three total touchdowns.

But the real story here was the fourth quarter and subsequent overtime period, as two desperate teams battled it out to gain control of the course of their season. I tip my hat to Pitt’s players, who fought hard all game probably knowing that their season was, for all intensive purposes, an impending disappointment, while at the same time still can’t find the words to describe how awesome it was to see Navy’s players fight to the very end. There must have been three or four occasions in which I thought Navy was done for good, and after Pitt’s huge fourth down conversion inside their own thirty late in the fourth quarter I broke out the proverbial “I hate football” routine. Yet, somehow, Navy rebounded on defense, and amazingly came up with a stop before midfield.

Kaipo-Noa did a good job just getting the offense down the field, with some real help from Tyree Barnes, who finally emerged after five quiet games to become a factor in the receiving game. Yet, as Joey Bullen lined up for a 48-yard attempt with :07 second left, I’ll be the first to tell you I thought that if it did not split the uprights, Navy’s chances were surely over.

Fortunately I was wrong, and unlike the Duke game I stood fast in the hope that something could happen. After holding Pitt on third down on their first series of overtime, I felt a renewed sense of confidence that the team may sneak out of this one, that was until Nate Frazier jumped into the neutral zone on the field goal attempt and basically gave Pitt a first and goal. So, once Pitt scored a touchdown I thought I had to be over, but fortuantly Kaipo-Noa and Reggie Campbell don’t roll over so easily, and just a few seconds later the two teams found themselves tied again. At this point in the game it’s about who wants it more, and considering how desperate Pitt had been playing, I still thought it was only a matter of time until the Panthers just outlasted us. But the Midshipmen never quit, and after scoring on the first possession of the second overtime regrouped on defense and forced Pitt into a third and goal from their own two.

That’s where it gets unfortunate if you were a Pitt fan, as Dave Wannstedt called a play-action pass on third and goal. Considering how Pitt had been pounding the ball up and down the field all night, I thought it was just a forgone conclusion that Pitt would stick it in. Yet after missing the pass on third down, Paul Johnson rolled the dice, with the weak part of his team nonetheless, and asked them to stop Pitt’s offense on fourth and goal.

The rest is simply a shining example of Rashawn King’s awesomeness. Why Wannstedt chose to throw a fade I don’t know. Maybe he thought Rashawn couldn’t defend the fade because he gave up a touchdown on one earlier, or maybe he just thought Navy was going to bring everyone up the middle. But whatever the case, he call a play against Navy’s best and most experienced defensive player, and true to form Rashawn came up with a huge breakup to give Navy the game. It was a wild, nearly heart-attack inducing finish, but honestly, would you rather it had ended any other way?

Come to think of it, don’t answer that.

Game Balls

Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku Enhada- How about Kaipo? Once again Navy’s junior quarterback had a huge statistical day, operating cool and collected under pressure to lead Navy’s offense to 48 points against what had been the 9th rated defense in the country. Kaipo-Noa continued to prove naysayers wrong with his improved accuracy and field vision, going 9-12 for 166 yards and two touchdowns through the air, while at the same time running for 122 yards and a score. Interestingly enough, he said he played “horribly” in the post game press conference, most likely in reference to a number of missed reads he made. Still, he’s proven that he’s the complete package as an option quarterback, and is starting to hit “his rhythm” we always talk about Navy quarterbacks getting into. Honorable mention to Reggie Campbell, who scored three touchdowns and quite nearly broke a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Rashawn King- Rashawn had a tough first half matched up with highly touted Pitt receiver Oderick Turner, but the junior came up with two critical plays in the second half, including the game winning pass defense in overtime. Rashawn also picked off a deep ball in which he was in man coverage with Turner, who is one of the better receivers in the Big East. He also added nine tackles, including six solo stops.

Loved the Playcalling

I thought coach Johnson called his best offensive gameplan of the season, going toe to toe with Wannsted and not blinking in a game in which they both seemed to coach with a calculated, if not sometimes frantic, desperation. After the game Wannstedt admitted he would have never of went for so many fourth down conversions had his team not been so desperate this year, and for Navy to withstand all those conversions and match on fourth down conversations offensively shows the confidence coach Johnson has in himself and his team. One interesting note is that Coach Johnson did not call for the fake punt, which clearly Pitt was expecting (I though I heard Pitt’s defenders saying “watch the fake” on the ESPN broadcast.) Instead, Veteto took matters into his own hands, and if he actually takes it back outside after cutting inside it looks like he may have had a first down.

TV Coverage Woes

Lou Holtz has been criticized up and down by Navy fans, and with good reason. Last night he was completely off his rocker, often making nonsense statements and failing to give Navy much credit for anything. That he could say Pittsburgh was sending a message to the Big East was ludicrous, while his constant referral to Navy’s offense as “the wishbone” made about as much sense as May Day’s obsession with Eric Kettani’s wardrobe. I don’t hold much animosity towards the old coach, and to tell you the truth when he’s not talking about Navy I don’t mind him. Yet he was completely out of control last night in what I would dream a sub-par performance of coverage by ESPN. On the plus side Rece Davis proved once again to be a knowledgeable, in-the-loop broadcaster who at the very least has the audacity to pronounce Kaipo-Noa’s name correctly.

What This Means

Navy gets another pseudo bye-week heading into their October 20th match up with Wake Forest, which, believe it or not, should be a close game decided in the fourth quarter. Navy’s offense has reached a new level of execution for this early in the season, to the point where I would suggest we could start seeing point totals above 50 in the coming month. The defense, however, continues to play fundamentally poor, as tackling has been, as they say, “optional.” For Pittsburgh, the loss last night takes away any hope of somehow climbing back to .500, as the Panthers now enter a tough Big East conference schedule in which their only chance for victory may come against Syracuse. While Navy may not have beaten the Pittsburgh team we expected coming into the year, this was nevertheless a “good” win over a BCS conference team with no shortage of talent. Obviously there is still a lot of work to be done defensively, but believe it or not I think we are starting to see a young group mature. Now all they have to learn how to do is tackle.


football dad dan said...

Great write-up Adam, ... and you certainly seemed to hit all the salient points right on the head.
Kaipo-Noa had an excellent game overall ... albeit I was "wondering" how inserting Jarod Bryant's fresh legs/arm & elusive running skills might have worked in in that final one minute drive just before the end of regulation? ---> Sure would have been great to have won that baby prior to OT.

My guess on the two consecutive pass plays called by Wannstadt @ the end was that Navy had effectively "run-blitzed" a few times, stopping PITT for no gain earlier on, ... and he felt that's what was coming on both 3rd & 4th downs???

Way too many missed arm tackles made that game almost too "difficult/unenjoyable" for me to watch. Missed assignments can be accepted for an inexperianced defense, ... but NAVY/Buddy Green has got to fix the fundamentals of tackling. )o:

Bottom line was that Navy "never gave up the ship" ... and in the end, ... something positive happened. Granted this PITT team was somewhat "flawed", ... but it's a "W" that few folks had marked off in the victory column for Navy I'd wager.
Don't think that anyone got severely banged-up for Navy ... so time to get focused on defending ACC champs Wake Forest --> Sure hope it won't be ACC Zebras again. Hate those bums!

Gary said...

Regardless of what Pitt is- this was still a "quality" win against a quality opponent.
If Pitt plays like that against Rutgers they will beat them (and sure hope they do).
I have to admit I ran into another room after Nates bonehead play - I knew Bullen would not come close on that 48 yard field goal- so my hopes were not high there either.
When Pitt passed on 4th down I knew seconds into it that was it because the pass just did not look good- if they ran McCoy it may have been another story.
Regardless of how- it was a great win in the national spotlight.
Kaipo was superb no ifs and or buts- I am impressed with his passing and we should do more.
But its not how many- its when so they did just fine.
I thought Ballard deserved some more carries.
It did seem like one of the more physical games with some tough hits both ways (other than poor arm tackling).
Where is the D line and LB pressures?
We cant come up with something to get a few sacks with?
That kid looked like Johnny U. until thankfully his last pass.
Thank you Coach Wannstadt for that poor play call.
Thanks for another Navy bashfest from Sir Slurpy (Holtz) who spent more time promoting Pitt and his sandwiches while making Navy seem like they did not belong in this matchup.
He completely dismissed them as a "gimmick" team and almost made them sound dirty with their legal blocking technique-bringing out shin pads and making a big deal out of it was a bit "whiny".
It would be nice to see real professionals like Kirk and Lee do the game but of course Navy gets shown the "no respect trio".
I know Lee Corso would give Navy their proper respect.
Well onto Wake but a plea to all those with tickets:
These kids deserve to see a loud and appreciative crowd that thanks them for all their hard work and a big win vs Pitt.
I dont care- ITS BIG EAST BABY and we beat em and played Rutgers well too.
Keep the momentum going Mids- we can be 6-2 heading into the big challenge- END THE ND streak!!

Phil said...

Great write-up Adam. I just found your blog from the Pitt one. If the defense could make a tackle every now and then, they'll get off the field more. That's the most frustrating thing about watching the D, the fundamentals in both tackling and coverage seem to be non-existent. The only bright spot is they are young and they will get better. They can still get to where I thought they'd be this year, 9-3 (I had them losing at Rutgers, home against Wake, and at ND). And Gary, not sure where you sit in the stadium, but the crowd makes a lot of noise (at least on my side of the field), there was even booing in the Duke and AF game which might have been the first time I've ever heard that at a Navy game.

football dad dan said...

Been @ all home games thusfar, ... and not seen anyone departing early, nor have I witnessed any real "booing" (albeit there has been exasperation & grumbling aplenty over the pee-poor defense/tackling, ... but also a good amount of "loud cheering" when appropriate), ... We're up in section 207/208. Haven't experianced this "poor fan support" that you & Adam bring up --> Perhaps it from the "privilidged" folks w/ the better seats???
Watched Wake Forest beat up on FSU last night ---> Lots of really fast Talent in the "skill positions" for the Demon Deacons. Not sure how their defense will cope with Navy's triple option "O", ... but can't see the Navy "Dee" slowing them down at all. Don't think that we will "make up" that BSU loss here to maintain Phil's 9-3 mark.

Phil said...

I'm in section 31 and I noticed a lot leaving the Duke game early (ahem, Adam), but that's been it so far (other than a few parents shuffling in and out with kids to/from the tailgates). The booing wasn't much, maybe a handful of people. Again, I just never heard that at a Navy game before and thought it was interesting and I think shows a different kind of fan than say 10-20 years ago at Navy games.

Gary said...

Oh Oh - the privilaged seats????
We (my friends and I ) base it on what we have seen on CSTV and at the 2nd half of Duke game there were blue seats all over the place.
But Adam did point out that it was 100% and they were getting beat bad at the time (it happens).
I have gone to games (Rutgers/GA Tech/Northwestern) that were not as loud as they should be and many seem to wait to hear from the Brigade.
I know we will never be the maniacs that inhabit many stadiums or the trolls that sit in Rutgers Stadium-but it would nice to see Wake QB struggle to be heard on his signals.
For Wake we have seats in Sect 31 Row A (please dont tell me we are sitting in a corpse area for Gods sake?).
Personally we would never boo and it just doesnt sound right at any college game-years ago it was taboo I think.
Now throwing hands up and saying- come on throw or tackle- yes absolutely.
BTW I see the same problem with Wake -it will take another Pitt like score to win again.
They will pass for 400 yards against us.
Lookin forward to the big game and ready to shout!
You know I could not write one entry without (it would still be good to see JB sometimes).

football dad dan said...

Phil/Gary ... "Total disgust" with how poorly Navy's defense was playing by the end of the 3rd quarter vs Duke certainly understandable, ... so if there was an fan exodus then, ... it was probably done so to "prevent potential bodily harm" to surrounding fans, or go get drunk??? (o;
One of the "bad side effects" with success (ie ... during these PJ years) is that the fan base expects excellence all the time ---> Back "in the day", we Navy fans were appreciative of those scarce wins & hard-fought efforts.

Navy Dee will have a very hard time "slowing down", ... let alone stopping the WF attack ---> They are much more skilled than PITT (especially @ QB). Can only hope that the Navy "O" will ROLL all game long.

Adam said...

Thanks for the comments gentlemen. It's good to hear from you Phil. I'm in section 30 and have always noticed that section 31 is usually the first standing up in big situations.

Agree that 7-5 or maybe 8-4 looks like where we're heading. Offensively, you've got to be encouraged, as I think this may be the most explosive we've ever been at this point in the season. Defensively, well, there's no reason to beat a dead horse, so I guess we'll all just going to have to accept the risk of a fourth quarter heart attack. BTW, Ketric Buffin broke his arm in the game the other night, so we’re going with Iwuji or Kevin Snyder for the next month or so.

Gary said...

Just make sure most of the Navy crowd brings their defibrillators( do I sound like Holtz?) for the Wake game!
Talk about being psyched.

BTW I think Pitt wil have a very strong team next year and may compete for Big East title.
We get them @ NMC next year and that was already one of the games we NY/NJ guys are planning to attend.

Another point is how we will have to endure all the "non-biased" thoughts from Snuffy Smith (Holtz) about how ND will still beat our "Navals" for the 44th straight year.
Heres hoping ND upsets BC (unworthy ranking) and then gets tails beat by USC (too bad they get again the lucky 2 week break to prepare for us - how many times does that always seem to happen?