This of course is the so called "confidence factor" of the team and specifically of the defense. While I did not cover it in my analysis of Navy's defensive problems on Sunday, Coach Johnson made a convincing point when discussing the role of individual and team confidence when talking to reporters on Monday evening:
"The old adage is it's never or bad or as good as it seems and that's true with the defense. We are making critical mistakes. We have to do better on third down. We have gotten people in third-and-long and when we do that we have to get them off the field. We are going to have to go back and simplify things some more and throw some stuff out. It's clear to me that guys aren't playing fast and they don't know what they are doing so we have to do a better job of getting them up to speed and it's our job as coaches to find something they can do. It's not what we know (as coaches). It's what they (the players) know. At the same time, they (the players) have to do a better job of listening, of putting their eyes where they belong and doing what they are coached to do. They can do that. It's not all physical. The worst thing that can happen is you put a guy out there that isn't sure what he's doing or where he's going and all of a sudden a guy with average speed becomes really slow. We have to get to a point where our guys just line up and play, because I think they want to and I think they will play hard. We have to find something they can do. You have to understand what you are doing so you can play fast. You have to play and you can't be afraid to make a play. There is no question we have to get better. I am surprised we haven't played better on defense, but part of it has been injuries and part of it is the confidence factor hasn't been there. We have had way too many guys play. You aren't going to get better if you keep rotating all the time, but that's been hard to do because of injuries. I will still say that these guys are more athletic than the guys that played before, but they aren't playing football as well as the group that played before them. Those guys were seasoned and they were heady. If one guy didn't get lined up right, somebody would correct him. There is no question that losing Sovie and Deliz hurt us, because they knew where everybody was supposed to line up and they would move guys into the right position if they lined up wrong. I'm sure some of them know what to do, but they are afraid to tell somebody else to move because they are afraid they aren't right."
Frankly, I think Coach Johnson is right on, and gives a simple, but poignant, explanation to a problem which we as fans have been scratching our heads about all season. That's not to say that the contributing factors haven't played a huge role in the process, but the continued slide in defensive ineptitude has clearly been hastened by a lack of individual and team confidence. So what exactly does that mean?
I tend to think of it as a deterministic factor, a sort of (excuse my language) "oh shit" factor that plays into the collective conscience of the defensive unit. It is the old saying of "playing not to lose" instead if "playing to win." It's thinking too much on the field, it's not reacting because you're nervous about giving up a big play, and it's not being instinctive or playing with controlled aggressiveness. It is, in it's essence, being unsure of yourself on the field, and not playing up to your ability because of it.
It's almost like the Midshipmen defense is embroiled in a "funk" of epic proportions, with each new, rotated player struggling to play to full speed because he's more than aware of the defenses reputation. This lack of collective and individual confidence has been exasperated greatly by the loss of veterans like Deliz, Sovie, and Buffin, who have in fact "been there and done that" and have a proven ability to make game changing defensive plays. One thing that comes with having a young defense is an added emphasis on emotion and momentum, two key and overlooked factors which the Midshipmen have lacked for much of the year. Having momentum is huge, because it gives players confidence, which in term allows them to take chances and play with more courage and intensity. Lack momentum and you lack confidence, and begin to doubt your ability to make a play and thus don't play to the level your capable of.
I think Coach Johnson's comments should be taken as a positive. Remember, it's not all physical. That means the pieces are there, although at the present they just horribly spread out over the radius of oh, say, China. The key going forward is to develop some kind of continuity and to get guys to plays as they are capable of. It's a lot easier said than done, but who knows, it could just be as simple as a big third down stop to get some kind momentum on this defensive team. And I'm not talking to holding teams to a couple of touchdowns, because we all know that ain't gonna happen, but I remained convinced that if the defense can regain the confidence factor then they will be able to produce the 2-3 defensive stops per game that will allow the team to win. And that, more than any defensive ranking, is the most important thing.The Pro Version: Some of you know I'm a Bills fans, and for those of you who don't, well I'm a Bills fan. You may also be aware that the Bills suffered an unreal amount of injuries this offseason, and after having one of the worst defenses in the NFL were forced to adapt with second and third string players. As my father said, there is a good lesson to be learned from this example, and even though it's not completely applicable in the case of the Midshipmen, it's worth thinking about.
Injuries: Maybe it's because I was distracted from the 59 points surrendered to a I-AA team, but I failed to really notice the injuries the Midshipmen sustained on Saturday. Word on the street is things are not good, as Coach Johnson was somewhat mum on Rashawn King, although he did say that he expected McGinn and Kettani ready to go for Saturday. I can't overemphasize the impact Rashawn going down would have on the team, as Coach Green would likely be forced to reach into the bowels of the roster to produce a replacement. Factor in the fact that Kevin Snyder mysteriously was held out of Saturday's game, and we could be looking at a working secondary composed of guys who were exclusivly second and third stinger's coming into the year. Suit up Jordan Reagan, your time to shine may actually be at hand.