Right Where we Need to Be?
Let's head back a ways, specifically to the weeks proceeding the kickoff of the 2007 college football season. If, at that time, you would have asked the average Navy football fan what Navy's record would be halfway trough the year, chances were they'd tell you 4-2. If you were hopelessly optimistic like me, you may have even said 5-1. This optimistic forecast wasn't just Navy fans either, as Athlon, CollegeFootballNews.com, and most preseason publications pegged Navy to start off 4-2 for the season. While we haven't exactly gotten to this point by way of which we all thought, the point is that after a rocky start to the year the Midshipmen are, by many accounts, right where they need to be. Obviously the defense has not been very good (104th out of 119) but the offense has risen to new heights behind Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku Enhada. It may not have been pretty, and it doesn't figure to get much better, but the 2007 Navy Midshipmen haven't dropped the bar yet when it comes to winning, and are right where they need to be to accomplish most of their preseason goals.
After beating Air Force by a more "comfortable" margin two weeks ago, the Midshipmen have the inside track at capturing their fifth consecutive Commander in Chief's trophy. While Army has not fared too poorly this year (the Black Knights are currently 3-4) Navy has beaten Army the past five consecutive years and matches up well against the Cadets from West Point. Paul Johnson will try to make it six in a row when he the two teams square off December 1st in Baltimore.
Navy has already taken it's fair share of injuries this season, including three critical players on defense. Losing safety Jeff Deliz and Clint Sovie was huge in that it took away the defenses' two most experienced players, while losing Ketric Buffin the other night takes away a valuable asset in the secondary and forces coach Green to go with another inexperienced backup. While Navy's defensive problems run deeper than just inexperience and youth (tackling is, uh, kind of a big deal these days) the loss of these three players have made it especially difficult for coach Green to field a cohesive defense.
Leading the Way
After six games this season Navy leads the nation in rushing, and is halfway home to becoming the first team in FBS history to lead the country in rushing three consecutive seasons. The Midshipmen are currently averaging 345.5 yards a game, which is more than 30 yards more than the next closest team (West Virginia is averaging 311.2 yards per game.) While we've all come to expect Navy's offense to put up rushing yards, the Midshipmen aren't too shabby all around either, currently ranking 21st in the country in terms of total offense with still the "easier" portion the schedule to come.
Offensive Play of the Half
Jarod's Bryant's 39-yard run with less than forty seconds left in the game against Duke put the Midshipmen on track to getting in field position for Joey Bullen in one of the more improbable comebacks during Paul Johnson's tenure here. With overtime looking certain, Jarod seemingly made every defender on the field miss as he advanced the ball to Duke's 39 yard line, which gave the Navy offense a more manageable position to inch closer towards field goal range. Bullen's kick as time expired evened Navy's record up at 2-2, and may just have prevented an early season collapse.
Defensive Play of the Half
No brainer, although there is a clear second. Rashawn King's pass defense against Oderick Turner on fourth a goal from the two against Pitt gave Navy a win over a BCS conference team which many people did not expect Navy to beat. Rashawn had given up a touchdown on a fade pattern earlier in the game, but was in perfect position when it counted in overtime. Honorable mention goes to Ketric Buffin's interception of Thaddeus Lewis against Duke and Tony Haberer's fourth down stop against Air Force.
The second half of Navy's schedule is not daunting, not by any means. Obviously, Navy isn't going to scare anyone by just "getting off the bus" as Coach Johnson likes to say, but the Mids should achieve bowl eligibility. Whether or not that comes with a certain degree of cardiac strain, well that's yet to be decided, but considering North Texas and Northern Illinois are both one win teams at this point, six wins is in reach for Navy. But let's be honest here, while six certainly looks attainable, who among us would be completely satisfied with going six and six? Ok, ok, I know, the gravy argument. But after starting the season 4-2 the Midshipmen have a real shot at 7-5 or 8-4, with even 9-3 not out of the question (although, admittedly, very unlikely.)
Four weeks ago it looked like Navy may be lucky to limp to 6-6, but after winning their past three games the Midshipmen now seem poise to achieve bowl eligibility and then some. Wake Forest is going to be a huge game that the Mids will be heavy 'dogs in, while Delaware, North Texas, Northern Illinois, and Army should be be wins. Notre Dame is the question mark a lot of people don't want to touch, and after a couple of improved performances it no longer looks as though the Mids stand as good of a chance as they may have two or three weeks ago. But regardless of what happens against Notre Dame or Wake, the aforementioned games are in fact very winnable, and even with Navy's defensive shortcomings the offense should be able to reach a new level as the season goes along. I would not be shocked to see a team like Delaware beat Navy, but by the same token I wouldn't be shocked either if this happened to be the year Navy finally beat Notre Dame. If there is any insight we can draw from the first half of Navy's season, it's that we've got to take it game by game, and despite the positive outlook for the rest of the season, this team isn't likely to get a "breather" the rest of the way.