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.
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.