Grading Navy's Offense at the Halfway Point

Amazingly, for the sixth time in eight years, Navy finds itself with a 4-2 record at the halfway point in the season. And while red zone blunders have recently given way to late game heroics, losses to Maryland and Air Force have already spoiled some lofty team goals. There is still plenty to play for including a potential match-up with a bowl-eligible Army team. Now for the first half grades…

Quarterbacks

There was no way Ricky Dobbs was going to be able to live up to the unbelievable hype that preceded the season. It was also highly unlikely that the senior would go through the entire 2010 season without taking a considerable pounding – especially considering the enormous target on his back due to in no small part to the aforementioned pre-season attention. Check and check. Dobbs has not only failed to live up to the hype, but he has also been hobbled by nagging injuries. His opening statement of the year couldn't have gone much worse as his mistakes in the red zone against Maryland were game-changers. And against Air Force, he struggled to hit open receivers in crucial situations.

Of course Dobbs wasn't the only one to play poor in Navy's two losses, but as the quarterback in a triple-option team, his errors on the ground and through the air are always going to be magnified – just like when he does well. Speaking of which, Dobbs was spectacular with his arm against Louisiana Tech and his best effort came in leading the Mids back against Wake Forest. Are Dobbs' early-season and nagging injuries behind him? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure, a healthy and effective Dobbs in the second half could mean the difference between an average year and another special one.

THIS TIME LAST YEAR: Dobbs' stats were better across the board in 2009. The biggest discrepancy is in rushing touchdowns. After six games last season, Dobbs had 14 scores. He has 5 halfway through the season thus far.

2009 FIRST-HALF GRADE: A- (Read the summary here.)

2010 FIRST-HALF GRADE: B-

Fullbacks

Quick question, through six games last season did Navy's fullback tandem of Vince Murray and Alexander Teich have more or less yards rushing than so far in 2010? If you just mumbled ‘less' to yourself, congratulations, you are correct. Through six games, Navy fullbacks have rushed for 512 yards and a 4.7 yard per rush clip. In 2009, they were averaging 4.3 yards per rush at the same point. However, even though Vince Murray ran for 112 yards against Maryland in the opener, Navy is still waiting for either fullback to have one of those classic breakthrough performances this season. Murray, who is nursing a leg injury, caught fire in games 7 through 10 in 2009 when he rushed for 589 yards and 4 touchdowns. Perhaps Teich is ready for a similar run after posting a career best 95-yard, 2 touchdown effort against SMU.

LAST YEAR AGAINST NOTRE DAME: Vince Murray ran the ball 14 times for 158 yards to lead the Mids over the Irish. If Teich can repeat that effort, the Mids will have a good shot of beating Notre Dame for the third time in four years.

2009 FIRST-HALF GRADE: B- (Read the summary here.)

2010 FIRST-HALF GRADE: B

Slot backs

Overall carries are down slightly from a year ago for Navy's slot backs (85 to 78) but yards per rush are up (6.7 to 7.13). And for the first time in three years, the workload is being shared much more evenly. To compare, in 2009, Marcus Curry was clearly the number one option at slot back as he led the group in rushes in the 11 games he started. Already this season, Andre Byrd, Gee Gee Greene, and Aaron Santiago have led or have been tied amongst the slot backs in attempts during a game. However, none of them have had the most success with each touch. That distinction goes to John Howell who is averaging 9 yards per rush if only on a mere three carries.

And although there have been calls by some Navy fans (like me) to throw the ball to the slot backs more, compared to 2009, offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper is doing just that. Through six games last season, slot backs only had 10 catches for a whopping 282 yards. This season, the group has caught twice as many passes for 325 yards.

The third, and perhaps most important dimension of the slot back's performance, is blocking. Last year, the group struggled early on, and there have definitely been some significant lapses in this area in 2010 as well. But just like last year, there is no reason to believe that the blocking won't improve.

NOT SO SHABBY: Good things usually happen, on the ground and through the air when Santiago, Howell, or Byrd touch the ball…they are averaging close to 10 yards per catch or rush.

2009 FIRST HALF GRADE: B- (Read the summary here.)

2010 FIRST HALF BRADE: B

Receivers

Even though Gee Gee Greene leads the Mids in catches (14), it has been the development and performance of Greg Jones that has caught the eye of Navy fans. With 11 grabs, Jones has easily become Dobbs' favorite wide receiver target – especially in pressure-filled situations. The senior helped seal two victories with critical receptions against Georgia Southern and Wake Forest. And his best game, from a statistical standpoint came against Louisiana Tech when he had two grabs for 68 yards. Jones has also run two reverses for an impressive 86 yards. On the other hand, with the exception of one 63-yard catch by Brandon Turner, the rest of the receiving corps has been serviceable at best in terms of offensive production. But just like the slot backs, blocking is just as important, if not more so, for wide receivers. And there is definitely room for improvement in that area as well.

COMPARED TO 2009: Both Greene and Jones have already surpassed the number of receptions by any Navy receiver for the entire 2009 season. Last year, Curry and Bobby Doyle led the Mids with just 10 apiece catches in 14 games.

2009 FIRST HALF GRADE: B (Read the summary here.)

2010 FIRST HALF GRADE: B+

Offensive Line

There was a time not so long ago that the unit took a great deal of pride and even set it as a goal to lead the nation in rushing yards. It's going to take a real good effort on their part to be the best rushing service academy team in 2010, never mind the best rushing team in the country. Navy (259 yards per game) is not only way behind Air Force (347 yards per game), but they are also a good bit behind Army (276 yards per game) as well. Sure, the Black Knights haven't exactly played a formidable schedule (currently ranked 126th by Jeff Sagarin), but I'm sure if they are still ahead of Navy entering THE game in December that it will add a bit of motivation for the Mids' offensive line.

To put Navy's 259 yards per game rushing average into perspective, in the past six years, the lowest per game average was 280.5 yards in 2009. The highest was a whopping 348 yards per game in 2007. So even though Dobbs is having more success through the air, there is definitely room for improvement up front. As head coach Ken Niumatalolo pointed out two weeks ago, losing senior tackle Matt Molloy in both the Maryland and Air Force games, and now for the season, is a huge hit from both a performance and leadership standpoint. Junior Ryan Basford has done an average job filling in for Molloy, but the drop-off has been pretty significant. And it has also put a lot more pressure on juniors John Dowd and Brady DeMell to hold things together from the right guard and center positions respectively.

On a much more positive note, the offensive line's pass blocking has been much improved. I wouldn't go as far as to say that Dobbs has had a lot of time to find open receivers, but he certainly has had enough of it in obvious passing situations against Wake Forest, Louisiana Tech, and SMU.

2009 FIRST HALF GRADE: C (See summary here.)

2010 FIRST HALF GRADE: C

ROAD AHEAD LOOKS LESS BUMPY: Duke (110th) and Arkansas State (112th) are two teams still on the schedule that have had a tough time stopping the run this season. And East Carolina (93rd) and Central Michigan (51st) will be seeing Navy's option offense for the first time in recent history.

Overall Thoughts and Looking Ahead

Each of Navy's first six opponents this season have either had a lot of time to prepare for the Mids' triple option offense (Maryland and Georgia Southern); have seen it several times in recent years (SMU, Air Force and Wake Forest); or were at least familiar with it (Louisiana Tech).

Of the six remaining opponents, only Army has had recent success as well as multiple weeks to prepare for the attack. And even though a lack of familiarity is not always the best indication of what to expect, I'd rather be facing Central Michigan and Arkansas State than say Temple or Rutgers.

Add to the relatively easier remaining schedule with the fact that it appears Ricky Dobbs is showing considerable signs of breaking out of his early-season funk, and there is reason to be optimistic in Annapolis about a strong finish. I think a big key will be the continued progress of Navy's interior line. If Cabral, DeMell, and Dowd can be more consistent, it will spring Dobbs, Teich, and hopefully Murray for big gains...and hopefully the much elusive two-score cushion.

Speaking of scoring, the biggest key will be Navy's ability to keep scoring touchdowns in the red zone. At this point last season, Dobbs (14 TDs) had more rushing touchdowns than the entire Navy rushing offense (12 TDs) has this season. If the Mids can stay dialed in while visiting the red zone, 8 TDs in its last 8 visits, and find a way to put together four good quarters of offensive football against a few remaining opponents, then eight or more wins should be expected.

OVERALL OFFENSIVE GRADE: B- (83 to be exact)


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