Louisiana Tech Review – Not So Fast!

When Lee Corso says it, he means that a person shouldn't jump to easy conclusions. For the Navy football team, "Not so fast, my friend!" is a call to awareness for the remainder of the 2010 season. A terrific win at Louisiana Tech, though certainly cause for rejoicing, comes attached with some underlying concerns.

Make no mistake: It was immensely rewarding for any follower of Navy football to behold a brilliant second-half performance on Saturday in Ruston, Louisiana. The 37-23 win over Louisiana Tech witnessed the first breakout performance for an offense that could not get out of its own way in the first two weeks of the season. Navy's offense finally scored in bunches. Ricky Dobbs finished several drives instead of bogging down in the red zone. Most importantly, coach Ken Niumatalolo – along with an assuredly relieved offensive coordinator, Ivin Jasper – presided over an offense that once again used its unpredictability to generate potency. There's no question that a 37-point explosion is exactly what this team needed at Joe Aillet Stadium. Yet, one can acknowledge all the virtues of this victory while still looking ahead with caution to the rest of the 2010 season.

First, let's indeed echo the good words that this team very much deserves. Much ink is being spilled – and rightly so – about Mr. Dobbs, the field general who finally put the pieces together against the Bulldogs of the Western Athletic Conference. Navy's credentialed quarterback hit four long-ball pass plays totaling 173 yards, and Dobbs enabled Navy to achieve something much more precious than "balance for the sake of balance," an overrated element in football. In this game, the Midshipmen attained a form of balance that actually meant something, a form of balance which confused the Louisiana Tech secondary and led to a steady stream of big plays.

There are (and have been, and will be) plenty of Saturdays when Navy doesn't need to throw the ball to win. There have even been some Saturdays in recent years when the Men of Ken didn't even have to throw a single forward pass in order to get the job done. However, after posting just 27 total points in the first two weeks of 2010, the Mids needed this mix of 297 rushing yards and 219 passing yards. They needed the ability to put the Bulldogs on a pendulum, just as they'll need to confuse the defenses of Notre Dame, Air Force, and the other particularly tough teams on their schedule. Navy needed to feel full of itself on offense once again. The act of doing something well is what generates the ability to repeat that excellence every Saturday. In a real sense, the ice has finally been broken for the 2010 Navy offense. This unit – this assemblage of players in this season – has now tasted what it feels like to ring up big numbers and not walk off the field in frustration after a turnover at the 1-yard line.

Well, that last statement needs to be amended a little bit, and that represents the source of a segue to the concerns which face the Midshipmen after three weeks.

You see, there was one (more) turnover Navy committed on the opponent's 1-yard line, just 12 days after the nightmarish outing against Maryland. Indeed, with 5:57 left in the third quarter and the game tied at 23-apiece, Dobbs threw an interception at the Louisiana Tech 1. The mistake came just a few minutes after a fumble by Tech's Jacarri Jackson gave Navy a chance to claim the upper hand. It was at that point when Navy could have put its foot down; for the third straight week, Dobbs faltered when his offense had a chance to gain real separation on the scoreboard.

The saving grace from Saturday's game was found in the form of stand-up (and standout) cornerback Kevin Edwards. It was Edwards who picked off Tech quarterback Colby Cameron just 47 seconds after Dobbs threw his red-zone interception. By getting the Bulldogs' offense off the field in such short time, Edwards did more than give Dobbs the ball back; he put Navy in position to wear out Tech's defensive line, which accumulated far too much playing time in the second half. Navy leaned on Tech's front seven and executed the triple-option in the Chinese water torture fashion that makes music to Mr. Niumatalolo's ears. Navy fans will recall the 26-play, 14-minute, 26-second drive against New Mexico in the fourth quarter of the 2004 Emerald Bowl against New Mexico. While the Mids didn't uncork a drive of such size or scale against Louisiana Tech, the same basic effect was achieved. Because Navy's defense was able to snag two turnovers and claim a three-and-out on Tech's first three second-half possessions, the Midshipmen were able to establish the tempo they wanted. The rest of the game – like the beleaguered Bulldogs – was history.

Here's the concern, though, which arises from this game: If Navy can't turn over opposing offenses, and if opposing quarterbacks don't flinch the way Colby Cameron did on Saturday evening, the Mids will be pushed to the limit on a regular basis.

In the first half, after all, Tech's no-huddle offense ran the Mids ragged. Cameron hit 22-of-28 passes without an interception, and the Bulldogs scored on five straight possessions en route to a 23-16 halftime lead. Navy certainly did well to produce huge turnovers at the start of the second half, but it's important to say that a great defense – while able to produce takeaways – shows its proficiency most visibly when it can generate a series of three-and-outs, smothering whatever the opposing offense has to offer on a given gameday. This defense does not have the experience or savvy to play at that level.

Buddy Green is, as usual, making the most of what he has – let's get that on the record. Nobody on this defense is failing to give maximum effort or doing anything which merits appreciable criticism. The point is simply that Navy's defense – lacking a number of the stalwart performers who made the 2009 unit so formidable – is not in position to carry the same workload it did one year ago. This means that the Mids have to be more nimble in how they adjust to the schemes of opposing offensive coordinators.

On Saturday, Louisiana Tech offensive coordinator Tony Franklin threw the no-huddle at Navy, and the Mids had to catch their breath at halftime. Other coordinators will look at game film from Saturday and attempt to exploit Navy in similar fashion. The Midshipmen need to be prepared enough to get more three-and-outs as the season continues. In the face of various offensive looks, the youthful members of Navy's defensive 11 will have to grow up quickly and expand their ability to read keys and identify formations. If the Mids can't keep pace with the learning curve that lies in front of them, Mr. Dobbs and his offensive teammates might have to hit half-a-hundred on one or two occasions.

Let's celebrate a hard-earned win and the renewal of the Navy offense, by all means. Let's also realize, though, that the margin for error is smaller than ever for the Men of Ken. The record is now on the sunshine side of .500, but that might not last long if a young defense doesn't continue to evolve.

Will this be another typical Navy season of overachievement? That's the hope surrounding this team. Should be bank on it and consider it a done deal at this point?

"Not so fast, my friend!"

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