Gut Check Time for Navy

If you think the post-Air Force loss meltdown on the message board was bad, consider this: If Navy doesn't figure out its red zone woes in a hurry, they could easily be 2-5 going into Homecoming weekend against Duke. There is definitely no time for an Air Force hangover in Annapolis as three equally formidable and revenge-minded opponents are on deck for the Midshipmen.

Navy now knows how Air Force felt – the last seven seasons. The question is: How will the Midshipmen respond to a major (and disappointing) turning point in their season? They no longer have control in their pursuit of the Commander in Chief's Trophy and a well-versed team in the triple option awaits them this Saturday. But before I get to Wake Forest's impressive performance in a losing effort against Georgia Tech, let's look at how Air Force responded in the past seven years to heartbreaking losses to the Mids.

From 2003 to 2006, under Fisher DeBerry, the Falcons went a combined 9-16 after being beaten by Navy - including a 2-6 record in 2006. That statistic probably helped usher in the Troy Calhoun era, and even though it took the new coach four years to beat Navy, his teams never seemed to be phased by losing to the Mids. Following the loss to Navy, Calhoun's teams went 16-7.

Of course Navy fans have no interest in seeing (or for some, judging) how coach Ken Niumatalolo's teams respond to an Air Force loss past this season, but for now this is definitely the biggest test in the young head coach's career. Getting his players to forget about the most disappointing loss in the triple option era won't be easy, but considering the upcoming schedule, it's absolutely necessary.

If you just looked at the final score from the Georgia Tech-Wake Forest game, a 24-20 victory for the Ramblin' Wreck, you probably wouldn't be aware that for three quarters the Demon Deacons manhandled Paul Johnson's triple option offense. Through three quarters, Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt had six yards on 19 carries. When was the last time you remember a Navy quarterback averaging .3 yards a carry through three quarters? If not for Nesbitt making a few Heisman-like plays in the fourth quarter, Wake wins the game by double digits. Not too bad for a team that was a ten –point underdog and playing with its fourth string quarterback at the end of the game - and not too bad for a team that gave up 338 yards rushing in a 13-10 loss to Navy last season during a monsoon in Annapolis.

Following Wake Forest, Navy will return home to face an SMU team that has yet to score fewer than 24 points this season – and that season low (24 points) came against TCU. The Mustangs will also be licking their chops to avenge a three-point loss in 2009 to the Midshipmen. If Louisiana Tech could put score 20 points on Navy in a quarter, it's a good bet that the Mids will need more production out of their star quarterback against a June Jones-coached team. So far this season, Ricky Dobbs is averaging an unimpressive 2.38 yards per carry. To compare, since 2003 no Navy quarterback has averaged less than three yards per carry over a season. Even more worrisome for Navy fans is what has happened to the senior (and the rest of the offense) when they get inside the 10-yard line.

In 30 snaps within 10 yards of the goal line, Navy has only mustered 67 yards. 22 of those 30 plays were rushes by Dobbs. In those 22 carries, he has gained 34 yards (1.54 yard average), scored 3 TDs and fumbled three times.

That lack of production definitely won't get it done on Oct. 23 against a Notre Dame team that will be reminded by every one of its alumni that they have dropped two of the last three contests against the Midshipmen.  

Last year Navy went 3-0 against Wake Forest, SMU, and Notre Dame. They beat the three teams by a combined 8 points. The 2-2 Midshipmen could very easily be underdogs to each of them in 2010. It's definitely gut check time in Annapolis.

More Statistics to Chew On:

- In addition to the 22 rushes by Dobbs inside the 10-yard line this season, the other 8 plays inside the 10- yard line were also all running plays – split between Mike Stukel (3 carries for 6 yards; 1 TD); Andre Byrd (1 carry for 10 yards; 1 TD); Kriss Proctor (1 carry for 7 yards; 1 TD); Alexander Teich (1 carry for 5 yards); Gee Gee Greene (1 carry for 4 yards); and Vince Murray (1 carry for 1 yard). As a group the six players have averaged over 4 yards per rush inside the ten yard line.

- Against Missouri last season, Navy had 12 plays inside the 10-yard line. Here is how they turned out:

Dobbs: 6 rushes for 8 yards and 2 TDs

Dobbs: 1 pass to Bobby Doyle (TD)

Curry: 2 rushes for 8 yards

Doyle: 2 rushes for 8 yards

Murray: 1 rush for 5 yards

Dobbs didn't gain a lot of yards inside the ten against the Tigers (.75 yards per carry), but he accounted for 3 TDs on 7 plays. Top Stories