East Carolina Review: The Yo-Yo Gang

There are still two games left in Navy's regular season. (The contest against Army, given the three-week break that precedes it, is really its own entity, very much like a neutral-site bowl game.) There is still a chance to establish a high-level form of consistency that has proven to be maddeningly elusive through week 10.

However, through the first weekend of November, there's no question that the 2010 Midshipmen should be known – at least right now – as the Yo-Yo Gang.

One week's downer is the next week's upper. The human brain hurts in its attempt to process what has transpired between the painted white lines this season. Trying to keep pace with these brutally baffling or boldly brilliant athletes is an exercise in intellectual futility and cognitive craziness. It's impossible to wonder how Ken Niumatalolo is handling the schizophrenic nature of Saturdays this autumn.

Let's get this straight: On Oct. 9, Navy barely beat a Wake Forest team that has sunk to the bottom of the not-very-good ACC Atlantic Division. The Mids encountered a bottom-rung BCS-conference opponent and had to dig out a win by the skin of their teeth. Then, on Oct. 16, a horrible first half against Southern Methodist – which brought about a 14-point halftime deficit – was followed by a sterling second half in a 28-21 win. Navy managed to bring Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to the same rodeo on one Saturday afternoon in Annapolis.

This team was just warming up in its grand plan to throw knee-buckling curveballs and perception-altering change-ups to the pundits and fans who have been following the Mids all season long.

On Oct. 23, Navy brought the good stuff out of its pigskin wine cellar, polishing off the most vintage selection of triple-option plays and the most savory, raisiny bouquets of execution to swallow Notre Dame in a 35-17 rout. The Midshipmen didn't sip from the cup of victory against their former (but certainly not current) nemesis from South Bend; Navy gulped from a goblet the way a triumphant Viking warrior would at a table laden with the finest meats and cheeses. The Mids feasted on Notre Dame and – for all of the Irish's profound limitations – looked good enough to beat a number of the mediocre teams that currently inhabit the back end of the AP Top 25. Niumatalolo's ballclub appeared ready to finish this season with a flourish and enter the pre-Army home stretch with a full head of steam.

Then the Duke game blew up in the Midshipmen's faces, for a whole host of reasons that were documented last week.

This team pulled off a great escape against Wake, before being split in two (halves) against SMU. The Mids brought their A-game to the field against Notre Dame, and then proceeded to puke against Duke. No one knew what to expect this past weekend at East Carolina, an upper-division club in Conference USA; however, after seeing what Navy did to the Pirates, it's clear that one week after feeling rather slipping on a banana peel, this team regained full form and feel. If the Duke game made this team ill, its sicknesses and wounds were healed in Greenville – Greenville, North Carolina, of course, the site of a ferocious 76-35 demolition of coach Ruffin McNeill's roster.

It's metaphorically appropriate that a bunch of Navy men are at the helm of a ship that teeters so drastically to one side or the other. This season – if likened to a voyage – would have made just about every sailor seasick right about now. The moments of pleasure this team produces are profound and pronounced, as is the case when one polishes off a lavish and heaping buffet on a cruise ship. However, those moments of fun quickly turn into groaning sequences for the stomach and the body. Saturday, Navy returned to the banquet table for fine dining on a buffet of touchdowns, but in a way, this massive outpouring of offense only makes it that much more puzzling that the Mids scored just seven points in the first three quarters against Duke, and only 20 points total against the defenses of Maryland and Air Force. While lamenting the lack of a smooth and steady personality on this team from one week to the next, let's at least take the time to (properly and appropriately) take the measure of what was achieved against East Carolina.

For one thing, the six-win plateau has once again been achieved. Think that's not a big deal, to not have a losing season? Look at how Army now finds itself one upset loss (at Kent State) from failing to reach the six-win mark in 2010. Look at how Texas – yes, TEXAS! – could very well finish 5-7 this season. Look at how Michigan BARELY avoided disaster against Illinois, in which case the Wolverines would have been staring at a 6-6 season at best (and possibly another 5-7 campaign). Look at how highly-resourced programs such as Arizona State, Washington, Georgia (!), UCLA, Clemson, Rutgers, and several others are all massively struggling to get to six wins (some of the just-mentioned teams will not get there). It's not a given to win six games and avoid the negative side of .500. That's the first big thing to take away from this pulverization of some Pirates from the Carolinas.

The second noteworthy aspect of this game is that while the 2010 Navy season has been a study in volatility, Saturday's 76-point surge reflects continuity in the Navy program over a longer period of time and across multiple coaching staffs.

You might recall that in November of 2007, Navy's offense did something very similar to what it achieved this past weekend.

Yes, on November 10, 2007, Navy went into Denton, Texas, and attained the following milestones against the University of North Texas: over 500 rushing yards; two 100-yard rushers; two quarters with 20 or more points; prolific numbers attained while completing fewer than seven passes and attempting fewer than nine; and, last but obviously not least, 74 points in a 74-62 win over the Mean Green.

Three years later – not quite to the day but certainly to the same week on the calendar – Navy once again hit all of those above markers (and exceeded the point total by two, of course) against ECU. You naturally know that Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada was the quarterback three years ago against North Texas, while Ricky Dobbs primarily presided over this explosion at Greenville's Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. As for the 100-yard rushers, that might be something you'd need to look up. It turns out that Shun White (131 yards) and Zerbin Singleton (103) were the two century-mark men who got the job done in the Lone Star State.

This past weekend, near Tobacco Road, it was the combination of Dobbs (100 yards) and Alexander Teich (157) who romped over the gridiron… and through gaping holes created by Navy's offensive line.

It's a testament to this team that it bounced back after the Duke debacle; it's an even greater statement about this program as a whole that it's been able to have two historic max-out performances on offense within the span of three years under two separate head coaches, Paul Johnson (in '07) and now Niumatalolo as well.

There are so many things to admire about Navy football. Now, can this team merely display its excellence on a regular basis, instead of leaving its fans seasick and shaky in the wake of a scrumptious eight-course meal washed down with ample servings of vino?

The bottom line is this: The Yo-Yo Gang needs to stop toying with all of us, and treat Central Michigan with the sobriety that should always emerge when one has a little too much fun on a given weekend. Stop drinking so much wine, stop feasting, and get down to business on the practice field. Then, next Saturday's game against Central Michigan will produce the right result.

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