Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Paul Johnson and the 'Signature Win'

I got to thinking about this the other day when, as is typical on a Sunday afternoon, I had very little to do. Knowing that it had been some time since I had written anything meaningful on the subject of Navy football, I began to try to brainstorm topics on which to post. One of the topics I came up with was in regards to a "signature win" during these last five seasons. The question I posed to myself was simple; Has Paul Johnson had a "signature win" while at the Naval Academy, and if so, what was it?

It's a relatively straightforward question, although I can certainly see some ambiguity with regards to what exactly constitutes a 'signature win.' A signature win, in my estimation anyway, should be one that defines both the coach and his program, and with some degree shows that the program has reached a level greater than it had previously obtained. But is that really all that defines a signature win, or do factors such as rivalries, TV exposure, and/or underdog status also affect whether a win constitutes a "signature win?"

For the purpose of this conversation, I've left this as a fairly open ended question, one in which I hope can be addressed by some of the readers. I've installed a new polling function on the side of this blog, so I encourage all our readers out there to take part in this poll, whether they be lifelong Navy fans or just casual observers. I've gone through all the games Navy has won during Paul Johnson's tenure, and narrowed it down to eight wins which I think a reasonable argument could be made for. I'm also open to the idea that there has not been a "signature win" during Johnson's tenure, or that I've missed the mark altogether and not even given mention to the win in my analysis. The nominees I've selected are as follows:
Navy breaks ten game losing streak with 58-12 drudging of Army (2002)

2002 was a tough year for Navy, which lost ten straight games after winning the opener against SMU. The 2002 Army-Navy game though was arguably the first time fans across the country got to see Johnson's triple option offense work to perfection, as the Midshipmen blew out the Black Knights in a game which was suppose to be much, much closer. This game set the tone for the 2003 season and arguably for the Navy teams to follow, and can't be discounted when talking about signature wins during the Paul Johnson era. It also raised a considerable amount of interest in the program, which had been doing so poorly over the past several years that many fans lost interest.
Navy Upsets 25th ranked Air Force at FedEx Field (2003)

Well, this is my pick, but don't let that deter you from voting for another game. I just think that when you consider the intensity of the rivalry and Air Force's dominance up to that point, the win at FedEx Field probably meant the most to the team, the program, and its fans during Johnson's tenure. This was a very good Falcon football team which actually finished the year at 7-5 but lost three games in overtime and could have been much better. The Mids may not have dominated this game, but this is still Navy's only win over a ranked opponent during Johnson's tenure here and stands as the turning point in the long and heated rivalry between the Academies.

Navy Destroys Central Michigan 63-34 on Senior Day (2003)
Craig Candeto led the offense on touchdown scoring drives on all of Navy's eight possessions, as the Midshipmen scored their largest point total during the Paul Johnson era. This game, more than any other, demonstrated the high scoring capacity of the flexbone offense and demonstrated Johnson's ability to put up "mad points" on the opposition. However, this game was not broadcast on TV (at least to my knowledge) and came against a Chippewas team which had only won one game all year against a I-A opponent.

Navy Beats Air Force on ESPN in Falcon Stadium (2004)

This was a greta exposure game, even though the Falcons weren't all that great. Sure it was played on a weeknight, but going into Falcon stadium the year after upsetting Air Force wasn't going to be easy, but the Mids managed to show Air Force and the country that Navy football was back and it was ready to stay.

Navy Annihilates Rutgers 54-21 on Senior Day (2004)
Once again, this was one of the most significant beatings a Paul Johnson coached team put on an opponent since he's been at the Academy. The Rutgers team in 2004 was actually not the bad, and Navy wowed Bowl committees by running all over the Scarlet Knights. Shorty after this game the Mids agreed to play in the Emerald Bowl and the rest, as they say, was history. Subsequent PhatPhelix highlight films made this game the stuff of legend, as Kyle Eckle literally ran through the entire Rutgers defense untouched as "Super Bon Bon" blared in the background.
Navy takes down New Mexico with "The Drive" (2004)

Paul Johnson and the Midshipmen had managed to earn a spot in the Houston Bowl the year before but came up short against Mike Leach's Red Raiders. With limited national TV exposure that year (the Notre Dame and Army games were the only games on national TV) most of the country was still unsure about the Midshipmen, and there was a prevailing idea (as there still is) that Navy could only beat really bad teams. Navy's offense showed the nation it could put up points, while the defense made a stirring goal line stand late in the game to prevent a comeback. The big story here was the famed 14+ minute drive which effectively killed the game, and has subsequently been refereed to as "pulling a New Mexico." This was also Navy's first Bowl win since 1996, and capped of a 10-2 season which saw the Mids rise to #24 in the final polls and saw Head Coach Paul Johnson win the Bobby Dodd coach of the year award.

Joey Bullen Makes it Three in a Row, lifting Navy over Air Force (2005)

I've argued the importance of this game in the past, and have stated that this was in many ways the "nail in the coffin" of Fischer DeBerry's run at Air Force. More than any other Navy win against Air Force over the past four years, this one was clearly the most demoralizing to the Falcons, and arguably turned Navy's season around after a 1-2 start in 2005. Paul Johnson's cool demeanour and confidence in his offense played out in the end, as Joey Bullen nailed a 47-yard field goal with under a second left to make it three straight against the Falcons. This win was not only a testament to both the will of Navy's players and the confidence of the Navy coaching staff, but also to the tremendous choke-job of Air Force's offense and to a certain extent, Shaun Carney.

Mids put up 51 against Colorado St. to win the Poinsettia Bowl (2005)

This was a prime time game on ESPN2 that seemed to really validate Paul Johnson's offense and the job which he had done at Navy over his tenure. Colorado State wasn't a superpower at 6-5 coming into this game, but they were the favorites and most people expected the Rams to easily dispatch of the Midshipmen. Of course that was total nonsense, and the Midshipmen, led by quarterback Lamar Owens, soon showed the nation just how good a well coached option offense could be. This game also made Reggie Campbell something of a household name to college football fans across the country, and brought an unprecedented amount of ESPN exposure to the Midshipmen that would resonate through 2006 and is expected to continue through 2007.

These are the games that most come to mind, although if you think there are others of merit, please let us know. Don't forget to vote in the poll to your right!

Non-BCS Question Edition: New Mexico State

I'm not a very popular person in Las Cruces. You see, earlier this year I rolled out my Top Ten Most Obscure Programs list, with New Mexico State and its woeful program coming in as the third most obscure program in the country. To this day I stand by this pick, and despite the clarification that Las Cruces is actually inside the United States and happens to be a burgeoning retirement community, the program remains mirrored in a cycle of losing. But things are looking up, as Hal Mumme's Air Raid offense returns with one of the best quarterback to wide receiver connections you've never actually heard of.

Past Question Editions: [Buffalo][Wyoming]

Is this Team Going to Play Defense or What?

That's really the million dollar question, as Head Coach Hal Mumme's offense should be good to go with quarterback Chase Holbrook back under center and All-WAC wide receiver Chris Williams (92 catches, 1425 yards) lining up as the Z receiver. The problem is that the defense couldn't stop much of anyone last season, giving up just over 30 points per game and generating almost no pass rush. Last year's 15 sack total was absolutely pathetic, and for the Aggie's to have any kind of success this year they are going to need ends Brandon McKinney and Maurice Murray to "get the man," as they say. The defense also to find a way to force more turnovers, which coincidentally, usually comes as a by-product of aggressive play and getting pressure in the backfield. Talent wise this unit is at the bottom of the pack for the entire country, so coordinator Woody Widenhofer certainly has his work cut out for him. With the returning experience you'd expect this unit to be better next season, but in a conference where offense is everything, it remains to be seen just how much better it can get.

Can New Mexico State's Offense Carry the Team?

So we've established that the defense returns nine people and should be better next season, but let's be honest, this team is still going to need to score a boatload of points to win games. Fortunately they only lose two players from the offense during the offseason, and return a plethora of wide receivers who've shown the propensity to put up some big numbers in the past. The aforementioned Chris Williams is a legitimate All-American candidate after leading the nation in catches and receiving yards last season, while both A.J. Harris and Derek Duboise recorded more than 50 catches and 750 yards last season. Tight End Nick Cleaver is a dangerous target as well, hauling in 50 balls for over 600 yards last season. Basically, this team is as "loaded" as any other high-octane offense in the conference. But don't be that surprised; This was, after all, the fourth best offense in terms of total yards (475/game) last season, and the second best in terms of pass yards (399/game.) One thing that the offense will need to improve on is turnovers, or rather the need to stop them. After all, it means relatively little to put up 534 total yards on Boise St. if you're going to lose by 12 points (which happened last season.)

Is Chase Holbrook just a "System Guy?"

I've followed enough college football in my day to realize that quarterbacks from Lubbock who throw for a billion yards in their careers usually aren't as talented as you would think. And while NMSU quarterback Chase Holbrook may not play for the Mad Man and his Red Raiders, the guy is originally from Lubbock. Mumme's Air Raid passing attack has always been tagged as being overly "system friendly," and aside from Tim Couch, none of his quarterbacks have ever really made it big. But then again, who am I to say Holbrook doesn't have ability, and as long as people are going to continue to say how amazingly great Colt Brennan is, I don't know if you can discount Holbrook.

Just for Fun: For a school with such little exposure and a history of playing at a rather low level, the Sports Information department here does a great job. The website is one of the better ones I've seen, while their are even highlight videos of last year's games to watch. Also, have you ever noticed the plethora of good quarterbacks with the name Chase? Also again, has anyone else noticed that the state of New Mexico is actually loaded with High School talent when you consider the relative small size of the population?

Adam's Take: This team has just as good a shot as any in the bottom of the WAC to make the move into the middle part of the conference, and when you consider the (relative) stability of the coaching staff and Mumme's ability to get the offense to score a million points, New Mexico St. could actually compete for a Bowl bid in 2007. I personally believe the team will come up short, and the win total will once again be padded by two games against FCS (I-AA) opponents. Yes the offense is explosive, but dammit this is the WAC we're talking about, teams are suppose to have an explosive offense. I look for the Aggies to win five or six games in 2007, but no more than 4 games against I-A competition.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. There is little I can say that has not been said before, but let us never forget the service and sacrifice that all members of our nation's armed forces have given, both past and present. The photo above is of USMC 1st Lt. Ron Winchester, a former Navy football player from the Class of 2001 who was killed in action during combat operations in Iraq three years ago. Take some time today to think of Lt. Winchester, or of former Navy football players J.P. Blecksmith and Scott Zellem, and remember their lives and honor their sacrifice. My thoughts and prayers go out to their families, as well the families of all our service men and women who serve around the world in areas of danger. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and we will always remember the sacrifices of your fallen brothers and sisters.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

And Now Back to Navy

I really apologize for the lack of content in regards to Navy football as of late. I know its been some time since I posted something of particular relevance, but there really hasn't been much to post recently. I will be making the yearly expedition down to the Magazine store on US 40 sometime this week to scout out some of the preseason publications, although the recently much-maligned Phil Steele guide probably won't be in stores until the first full week of June (It's been my experience that they come out a few days early.) Whatever the case may be, I'll buy whatever looks good, and have a full report of all the major publications. Until then we're all just going to have to sit tight, but keep in mind we're now under 100 days until the season opener at Temple.

On another note, congratulations and Godspeed to the United States Naval Academy Class of 2007. Not only has the class of 2007 returned the Naval Academy's football program to the forefront of Service Academy football, but the entire class of 2007 has distinguished itself and made citizens like myself incredibly grateful for their commitment to serving our great country.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Non-BCS Question Edition: Buffalo

Today we continue to take a look at the biggest questions facing non-BCS conference teams in 2007. Today we take a look at the University at Buffalo, which looks finally poised to overcome its title as one of the worst teams in I-A football.

Is Drew Willy Ready to Take the Next Step?

Junior Drew Willy may be the most experienced quarterback in the MAC, but he has had neither the stats nor wins to show for all his starts. He's also been bothered by several nagging injuries, including a hand injury which prevented him from playing the final four games of the 2006 season. Willy isn't anything special, and he's not likely to recall the great tradition of NFL-bound MAC quarterbacks, but he is the rock which Buffalo's offense is founded on. He's a competent passer and a good leader on the field, and with two years under his belt should be able to lead a more experienced offense to its best year in Buffalo's young I-A life. He flourished early in Turner Gill's new system, and I see the continued relationship between that quarterback minded Coach Gill and Willy as being nothing but beneficial to the entire team. He looks poised for a breakout year, at least, you know, as much as a University at Buffalo quarterback can have a breakout year.

Does Returning Experience = Will Be better?

As is the case in most circumstances, the returning experience on both sides of the ball should equate to more wins in 2007 for the Bulls, although perhaps not as dramatic as an effect as other, more established programs. The Bulls return 17 starters on both sides of the ball, including eight on the offense and nine on the defense. Four returning starters are back on the O-Line, as is last year's leading rusher, James Starks (2nd Team All-MAC), as well as the team's two top receivers. All this experience should help the Bulls match up favorably against some of the lesser teams in the MAC, but the overall talent here, while better than in past seasons, is still not to the point where the Bulls could make a run at the MAC title. I look for the Bulls to capitalize on the amount of experience returning, but with a challenging non-conference schedule I don't see the Bulls having a dramatic, turn-around season.

Can the Team Get the Ball to the Playmakers?

UB isn't exactly armed to the teeth with explosive playmakers on offense, but there are some players who, if utilized correctly, could make a big impact in 2007. One of the bigger keys to success will be how the offense utilizes wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt, who has good speed (4.56/40) and should be one of the focal points of the offense after spending time at quarterback last season. Sophomore James Sparks, a second team All-MAC running back last season, returns, as do wide receivers Terrance Breaux and Brett Hamlin, who both have started in the past. But for Drew Willy to get the ball to these players he's going to need ample protection, which could be easier said than done when you consider just how poor this offensive line played last season.
Just for Fun: While my first football game was actually at the Vet a few days before I was born (Army-Navy, of course) one of my earliest memories of actually being at a college football game came in what was then the brand-new UB Stadium. That was back when Buffalo was a I-A team, and I really can't remember anything but the game being played in a blinding snow storm. Go Figure.
Adam's Take: Don't let last year's one win total fool you, this program is making strides. Head Coach Turner Gill did a great job interjecting some life inside this program last season, and despite only winning one more game than in 2005, this was arguably the most competitive Buffalo team in its brief I-A history (scored the most points of any I-A Buffalo team.) Considering how young that team was was, it's not unreasonable to speculate that the wins will come this year, especially since a more veteran squad should win some of the close games they lost last season. While the team is still at the bottom of the barrel in terms of talent, the regression of many MAC teams over the past few seasons and the addition of Temple as a rival in the MAC East should also equate to more wins for the Bulls next season. I look for the offense to carry this team and the defense to struggle, but for the team to be much more competitive in conference play and win at least four games in 2007.

Non-BCS Question Edition: Wyoming

Today begins a new series at Pitch Right, one which I hope will continue with greater regularity than some of my past endeavours here. As many of you know, I am a ardent fan of "small-school" college football ranging from the Division III level on up, including Division I-A's non-BCS conference schools. Starting today and continuing through the summer, we'll take a semi-regular look at the questions facing various non-BCS conference schools heading into the 2007 season. Today we'll take a look at the darkhorse of the Mountain West Conference, the Wyoming Cowboys.

How Good is QB Karstan Sween?

Good enough to be a Honorable Mention Freshmen All-American last year. Sween took over midway though the fifth game against Syracuse last season and led the Pokes to a 5-2 record as a starter, with his only loses coming against TCU and BYU. Karstan was a very highly touted player coming out of High School (Rivals.com had him as their 23rd best Pro-Style QB his senior season) and with last year's experience under his belt should be even better in 2007. He's going to have to get the most out of an underachieving offense though, and cut down on the interceptions in order to lead this team to a Bowl game.

How will the Defense fare without John Wendling?

One of top defenders in the MWC, Safety John Wendling departs after leading the team in tackles the past few seasons. Wendling was an aggressive and smart player in the defensive backfield, but even without him Wyoming's defense, ranked 9th nationally last season, should still be in decent shape. That being said, the defense only returns five starters, including ILB Ward Dobbs, who was second on the team in tackles last year with 69 stops. He will be joined by seniors and last year's starters Luke Chase and Sean Claffey to form an experienced and talented linebacker corps that should be one of the best in the conference. Both starting cornerbacks are back, although both starting safeties depart. The biggest problem is that there is almost no experience on the defensive line, which will be the major area of concern heading into the 2007 season. I expect some drop off, but the unit is well coached and Wendling was mis-utilized as it was last season, so don't expect the defense to suddenly start giving up 400 yards a game.

Will Wyoming Upset Virginia in Week One?

Yes, they will. Playing at War Memorial Stadium is never an easy task for the opponents, especially for teams not used to the altitude. Depending on the source, War Memorial is usually touted as the highest I-A football stadium in the country in terms of elevation, although for some reason the USAFA's Falcon Stadium is sometimes given that honer. Whatever the case may be (I've never actually been to War memoral Stadium) you get the point, the place is high up there, and isn't easy to play in. Virginia is an average ACC team that barely held off a very young Wyoming team last season in overtime, and despite Al Groh's ability to make his team look better than it actually is, I smell upset here, if you can even call it that.

Just for Fun: Wyoming's away uniforms are some of the best looking in college football in you ask me, but the home combination of a brown shirt with yellow pants looks more like something you'd see in the stadium bathrooms than out on the field. I don't know whether these are "special" uniforms or what, but let me just say it's a good thing only 71 people in the country can pick up games from the Mtn, otherwise there would be a massive public outcry that would undercut the on-the-field potential of this program

Adam's Take: Wyoming was a solid team in 2006 that was on the losing end of some bad breaks early in the year which probably kept the Pokes out of a Bowl game. They lost by one point in overtime to Virginia and fell to Syracuse in two overtimes, and were narrowly edged by Boise St. and Air Force by a mere touchdown in each contest. While there are valid concerns on both the offensive and defensive lines, I look for last year's young skill position players, including rSo. Karstan Sween, to give the offense a boost after an anemic year. If the offense can work the ball into the hands of playmakers like Hoost Marsh, then the Cowboys should score more points in 2007, and despite the valuable loses on the defense, it's coached well enough not to regress too much after a stellar 2006. This team doesn't have enough talent to take down MWC heavyweights like TCU or BYU, but I see them winning seven or eight games in 2007 and playing in a Bowl game.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Some Random Points for May

ESPN.com is running through its post-spring previews, and featured the Independents the other day. The preview is dead on about the Midshipmen, and writer Mark Schlabach (who usually I don't care for) does a good job all around in running through the different teams. It should be interesting to see how Western Kentucky adjusts to I-A ball this year, especially with an opener at Florida.

Moving right along, it looks as though I forgot to link the latest depth chart, which can be found at NavySports.com. A number of players have either moved up or down on the defensive side of the ball, and some "ORs" have been added to indicate the closeness of two players in terms of ability. I for one don't invest a ton in these pre-fall camp depth charts, but it's something interesting to look at during a slow off-season.

As you can see from the depth chart, senior cornerback Greg Thrasher has moved back into a starting position, while sophomores Blake Carter and Jesse Iwuji seem to be in position to battle for the start at rover come fall. Ketric Buffin has been moved over to Left Corner for the time being, and will presumably compete for that starting job with incumbent Rashawn King. Michel Walsh is also listed ahead of Casey Hebert at the Right Defensive End position. Of course none of these positions can be presumed safe, and these players will continue to compete during fall camp for the starting spot come opening day at Temple.


It has been an incredibly slow week as far as college football is concerned, and we've yet to get any official word on who the Navy team captains will be for the 2007 season (although there are plenty of rumors out there.)

There is an interesting tidbit I found in a recent article on The Sports Network, where FCS (they tell me that's the new name for I-AA) writer Matt Dougherty ranks the top potential upsets of I-AA teams over I-A teams for next season. He ranks Delaware's visit to Annapolis as his 7th Most Likely "Upset" over a non-BCS I-A foe, citing the Blue Hens' victory over Navy in 2003 as well some key transfers Delaware has received this year. The Blue Hens get some much needed talent and experience from the I-A ranks, including defensive lineman Ronald Talley from Notre Dame and running back Jerry Butler from Wisconsin.

There is no question the Blue Hens will be gunning for the Midshipmen, and after Navy's close-call last year against UMass, it's should not be hard to find motivation for this game. Delaware is a perennial contender in what was the Atlantic 10 (now CAA for football) and after a down year should be back to their power status.

Just something to mull over on a slow day.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Navy Offers Dublin ATH Trey Fairchild

...via GoMids.com

The Naval Academy has offered Dublin Coffman (Oh) WR/ATH Trey Fairchild a football scholarship. Fairchild is currently a junior at the renowned Ohio high school, which some of you may remember was Brady Quinn's Alma mater. Fairchild is a 6'0, 180-lb wide receiver/ATH who boasts a reported 4.36/40 and a 3.7 GPA is the classroom. Navy is the fourth I-A school which has offered Fairchild, who also holds offers from Duke, Syracuse, and Ball State.

Scouts Inc. had the following to say about Trey (with several typos that I had to correct for them...):

He possesses excellent quickness and good overall play speed. He shows a burst and 2nd gear to go get the ball vertically. He is quick off the snap and can get on top of the corner quickly. There are more players at the WR spot who are more sudden and explosive, but this guy just makes plays and he lulls defenders to sleep because it is tough for them to judge what type of speed he has. He can be a little rigid in his movements sometimes, but you love his instincts and ability to come up with the big play. This is the type of player coaches want on their team because he is so reliable and he will make the clutch play. Good overall prospect with upside to surprise down the road.

And now, to the highlight film...

Best of luck with your senior year Trey!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Dude, that is sick"

As promised last week, Navy linebacker David Mahoney sent me a message earlier today letting us know that the highlight film of his career was ready. I'll refrain from any needless commentary, but as the kids say, "Dude, that is sick." Enjoy.