To be perfectly honest I was going to abstain from posting this week on account of trying to get myself in the Christmas spirit and enjoying the break between semesters, but after a week of attempting to do such I realized I had to break my silence and my boredom by coming up with something at least marginally intelligent to say.
And what better way to do so then by taking a shot at one of these so called "experts" we're always complaining about? I only kid (well, kinda) on the ripping part, although one of the story lines I'd like to address is the questionable job of breaking down this game that I've seen a number of services do. Case in point, the report I saw this morning on ESPN.com by Scouts Inc. director Todd McShay. I dislike Todd McShay for several reasons. For starters he's predictable and unimaginative in his scouting reports, and often falls into the trap of stereotyping different "kinds" of players. God forbid you ever have a white wide receiver, even one who ran a 10.63 in H.S., because McShay will undoubtedly say something to the effect of "lacks ideal speed" or "separation ability." But alas, I digress, and as much as I like Jordy Nelson I've come to talk about McShay's scouting report for the Poinsettia Bowl, and not for the All-American receiver they call the "People's Champ."
As far as the preview goes, I think McShay is first of all the wrong guy to be doing it, and question why ESPN couldn't get one of their exclusively college football guys to break it down. You can just tell McShay sacrifices facts in exchange for something to say, as he points out Navy will make a "yearly" trip to the Poinsettia Bowl for the second time in it's existence. Last I checked Navy didn't play in the Poinsettia Bowl in 2006, and won't play there in 2008. That hardly qualifies as a "yearly" event if you ask me. But I didn't break my silence to quip about Mr. McShay's hyperbole, and instead want to focus on the comments he makes regarding why Utah will win.
I think he invests too much in whatever advantage Utah may gain from the extra time to prepare for Navy. Considering that these are student athletes with exams to take, the actual time these players have to prep for Navy outside of watching film really isn't much longer than your typical bye week going into a game with Navy. How did teams with extra time to prepare do against Navy this year? Well, let's take a look:
Temple: 361 rushing yards allowed, 439 total yards allowed, 30 points allowed.
Pittsburgh: 331 rushing yards allowed, 497 total yards allowed, 38 regulation points allowed.
Delaware: 342 rushing yards allowed, 506 total yards allowed, 52 regulation points allowed.
Notre Dame: 257 rushing yards allowed, 338 total yards allowed, 28 regulation points allowed.
North Texas: 572 rushing yards allowed, 680 total yards allowed, 63 regulation points allowed.
Army: 287 rushing yards allowed, 294 offensive yards allowed, 31 regulation points allowed.
As you can see from the numbers above, the notion that extra time somehow equates to better play against the triple option is bogus. In fact, if you want to draw a conclusion about playing better against the triple option it would almost certainly have to be based on having played it before, as both Notre Dame and Army (which play Navy every year) fared the best defensively of the bunch. These numbers aside, bowl history does not support McShay's notion as well. For instance, Boston College, which played Navy on December 30th last year and thus had more time for prep work outside of the practice field, gave up 322 rushing yards and 403 total yards to Navy. And that BC defense was no slouch either, finishing the regular season amongst the top defensive teams in the country. Once again, if you go back to 2004 and 2005 and take a look at Navy bowl games against similar Mountain West conference teams, we see the Mids come in as an underdog expected to fall short of their average offensive production during the regular season, only in both cases to exceed it. The point, I believe, is rather simple. The bigtime scouts and "experts" have a tendency to fall back on general talking points, and fail to accurately do even simple research that seems to suggest a point contrary to the one they come in with. It's especially dumbfounding to me how he and many other scouts can pick Navy to score 27 points on the basis of the aforementioned premise that Utah's defense will Benoit from extra time. Not only has Navy scored more points in all their games against teams with extra time to prepare this season, but done so against defenses of similar or greater ability.
I'm a firm believer in that you just can't trust statistics, especially in a bowl game and especially when your playing out of conference. If McShay and the other "experts" want to think Navy's offense will struggle against Utah then they ought to just come out and say they think it's because of Johnson's departure. That, at the very least, is a viable argument. If you're like me, you haven't wasted too much time breaking down this matchup, because, to be honest, you don't need to. I'm sure Utah fans will take exception to this statement, but we as Navy fans have seen this story line before both in 2004 and 2005. And while I don't mean to suggest that the 2007 Utah Ute's are the same team as the 2004 Lobo's or the 2005 Rams, one must also admit that this Navy offense is superior to both the Navy offenses which faced off against those teams. This should be a fun game to watch, but unlike what Todd McShay seems to think, I give Navy- on the basis of history- a much better chance in this one.