Cajun Karma Aside, Mids Should Handle Tech

I don't know about you, Navy fans, but I'm ready for a breakout performance by the Mids this Saturday in Ruston, La. After an ugly loss to Maryland and an even uglier win against Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs may just be the perfect opponent for Navy to get on track for the 2010 season. Even with some injury concerns, I think the elements could be right for a pretty good game from the Mids.

The Annapolis Capital's Bill Wagner reported yesterday on his blog that quarterback Ricky Dobbs has a sprained ankle, a slight groin issue, and was working with the second team offense.

In addition, the Washington Post's Gene Wang  reported that starting safety Emmett Merchant is questionable and tackle Matt Molloy is unlikely to play – both because of concussions.

Not exactly the type of news Navy fans want to hear going into the team's first of three straight road games – with the first one coming against a team who will try to turn the contest into a track meet. More on Louisiana Tech's offense in a moment, but first let's get the other bad karma about this game out of the way.

It turns out Navy is 2-10-1 all-time in the state of Louisiana, which includes an inconceivable 1-10-1 record against Tulane in the Pelican State. The Mids only other win came in the 1955 Sugar Bowl when Navy beat Ole Miss 21-0. It didn't take too long to see this little tidbit in the weekly game notes that the Bulldogs gave to the media – the Navy record while visiting Louisiana was on the front of 29 pages.

Buried a bit deeper in the notes, but equally as depressing, is the fact that Louisiana Tech has won 10 of its last 12 games at Joe Aillet Stadium. The two losses were close ones to Nevada and Boise State last season.

Back to the Bulldog's offense which was brought to town by former Texas Tech and Arizona offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes, who is in his first season as the head coach of Louisiana Tech. There is no doubt Navy fans remember the last time Dykes was on the other side of the field – it was in 2003 when Texas Tech beat up on the Mids in the Houston Bowl.

Luckily for the 2010 Navy team, Dykes' current offense resembles the team he fielded that day in Houston in formation only. In fact there is a bit of a quarterback controversy brewing early in the season for the Bulldogs. After completing 15 of 19 passes for a lean 101yards in the season opening win against Grambling, senior Ross Jenkins was benched in favor of sophomore Colby Cameron for the Texas A&M game. Against the much tougher opponent, Cameron struggled, completing less than 50% of his passes and throwing two interceptions. His struggles, combined with the game getting out of reach, led to him being replaced by junior-college transfer Tarik Hakmi. Jenkins, who had started 21 consecutive games prior to Texas A&M, now finds himself battling for the back-up job. Add to this revolving door under center the fact that none of these quarterbacks was named the starter in the spring, and there is definitely a reason for some optimism in Annapolis.

Even though Navy has had a knack in the past (at times) for turning ‘no-name' quarterbacks into Heisman Trophy Candidates, I think the last thing Buddy Green would want to face is a settled situation for the Bulldogs under center. I expect Green will draw up a scheme that will give an inexperienced quarterback in a new offense a lot to deal with. Of course this will make it even more important for Louisiana Tech to try and establish its running game – something they struggled to do against the Aggies. In 40 attempts, the Bulldogs only managed 61 yards. Inexperience is also the theme in the Bulldogs' backfield as their three top running backs have a combined six starts.

And while Louisiana Tech is still trying to figure things out on offense, Navy is just looking for a consistent performance when they have the ball. Against Maryland the triple option was in midseason form, rolling up over 400 yards on the ground against the Terrapins. However, they couldn't hold onto the ball in the red zone. Conversely against Georgia Southern, Navy had no problem securing the ball, but they couldn't figure out how to block anybody as Dobbs was running for his life most of the game.

Finally facing an opponent who has only a week to prepare for the triple option - I'm pretty sure Georgia Southern wasn't spending too much time during fall camp preparing for Savannah State – Navy should find plenty of room to run against a Bulldogs' defense that gave up 565 yards of offense to Texas A&M.  

Even though I expect Navy to have success running the ball as well as containing Louisiana Tech's pass-happy offense, it will be equally important to at least break even in the special teams department.

Phillip Livas might be the best kickoff returner in the country so far in 2010. And last season, he gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead with his 85-yard punt return for a TD against the Midshipmen. This would definitely be a good time for Navy punter Kyle Delahooke to snap out of his early season funk. Here's hoping if Delahooke is called upon that he can boot a few punts with distance – and equally important – out of bounds.

It's not very often that Navy's offense struggles two weeks in a row against non-BCS opponents. And since the days of passing attacks rolling up 500 yards through the air against the Mids are a distant memory, this game definitely has the makings of a confidence builder leading up to the Air Force showdown in two weeks. If the Mids can continue to secure the football while not committing uncharacteristic penalties, this game could be decided well before the fourth quarter. And that would be a welcome turn of events for Navy fans after two ugly, down-to-the-wire games already this season.

 


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