'Bend it Like Navy' is Tough to Watch

If you missed Saturday's game and just went by the fans reaction in the Central Michigan Post Game Thread on GoMids.com, you would think that Navy had lost to the Chippewas. Of course the Mids prevailed, 38-37, but if I could sum up the angst amongst Navy fans in one small, simple order (military style) to the Midshipmen it would be this: WAKE UP DEFENSE!

I haven't been to a Navy game in person since the extremely encouraging performance at the Meadowlands, so like a lot of Midshipmen fans all over the country I've been screaming at Buddy Green and his defense from the friendly confines of my living room for the better part of the last three contests.

If one could bottle up all of the collective yelling and put it into some magic funnel, on the other end it would probably sound a lot like, ‘I am so done with this whole bend-but-don't break defense.' I sure as heck am.

For three consecutive games, the defensive horrors of 2007 have come back to light. For those who cannot remember back that far, this site will prove as a painful reminder – at least from a statistical perspective.  Since I'm all about summing up things in this column, let me just translate the 2007 Navy defense as one that simply could not stop anybody (with the exception of anemic Army) from lighting up the scoreboard. Delaware (59 points), North Texas (62 points), Duke (43 points) and others had a field day with Navy's bend-but-don't break strategy. Unfortunately, it seems as if those painful days of wanting to turn off the television when Navy's opponent has the ball are back.

As I have said in numerous columns, all of my football acumen comes from my days playing Pop Warner and watching way too many Navy football games. That hardly makes me an expert, but I really don't think it takes one to realize that if the Mids don't design up something a bit different, Arkansas State, San Diego State, and yes, even those Cadets will feast on Navy's all-you-can score buffet of a defense in the upcoming weeks. So from the comfort of my laptop, I have leaned on my years of football watching experience to come up with a few suggestions for Mr. Green and company.

1) Draw up some massive blitz – I'm talking more than one 5'10" linebacker charging from way too far of the line of scrimmage – early in the game and pop the quarterback in the mouth (so-to-speak)…just so he knows that it is possible to be hit by a Navy defender in the first half. I'd be willing to bet that most (if not all) of Navy's sacks this season have come in the second half.

2) I realize that #1 will leave our secondary open to getting beat deep because you may have just sent Wyatt Middleton on the first blitz of his life, but I promise not to yell at the television if the opponent chucks one over the defense's heads as a result of an all-out blitz. Sure, we have seen our friends up the Hudson get burned a lot this season when they try this way too often, but Navy's secondary is so much better – and faster than Army's. Surely we can try it just once.

3) Tell Aaron McCauley that he needs to cover the running back out of the backfield. That is his responsibility for the entire game. Sure, this probably goes against every possible defensive strategy known to man, but I've seen enough running backs gain acres on third down in the last three weeks to fill the entire state of Kansas. If I'm Arkansas State, dumping the ball to my running back is the call on third and anything until Navy proves they can stop it.

4) Practice tackling a lot. Everyone just watch how Middleton does it and copy him. I'm already not looking forward to next season without the senior. Navy's all-everything super rover has probably made no less than 6 touchdown saving tackles this season…maybe more.

5) Give Jabaree Tuani help. I'm not exactly sure how to do this so my default position is to suggest something funny like change his uniform number so the other team doesn't know where he is when the game starts. However, there must be a way to move him around more to try and create opportunities so he can get to the quarterback more often. I mean what chance does he have when Navy only sends three pass rushers against five linemen? I love Billy Yarborough and Chase Burge, but if I was designing a blitz, I'd throw everyone around Tuani to prevent him from being double teamed. Really is anyone not double-teaming Tuani? If not, their defensive coordinator should be fired.

6) Hit, jam, or get in a receiver's grill for just a play or two. It seems like on every play the opponent's slot receiver gets about a 7-yard cushion…even when they only need three yards for a first down. Again, I know the big fear of getting beat deep, but like I said, I'm willing to take a chance on a play or two for the sake of being aggressive in short yardage situations.

7) Speaking of short yardage situations, is it necessary for Middleton to be lining up in Baltimore or the Chesapeake Bay (depending on which end of the field the Mids are defending) on every play? Yes, I realize that a few suggestions ago I gave Wyatt props for preventing a few touchdowns, but on third and short I'd love to see him right near the middle linebackers or helping McCauley cover a running back out of the backfield.

8) Navy fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium are still absolutely dreadful on third down. I swear I could hear crickets even on Central Michigan's final drive of the game. Buddy, please tell the Navy field operations folks to install one of those noise meters with an arrow that goes from library manners (on one end to indicate minimum crowd noise) to free weekend for the Brigade (on the other end). Noise helps our defense…and they need all the help they can get right now. Maybe if fans saw that their current noise level was not loud enough, they would respond in kind.

9) Yell more. That's always my default position when things get ugly. I was watching this inside look at Duke basketball and Coach K told his players that when they get tired, just start yelling at each other on the floor. I think his point was that if you are yelling, you will forget how tired you are…or something like that. I don't remember seeing a lot of Navy defenders yelling at each other on Central Michigan's last drive. I think they were too busy watching receivers run by them.

10) If all else fails, how about trying an onsides-kick or a fake punt? I know as far as risk taking goes, a rare pass on third and one is about as good as it gets for Navy's coaching staff in terms of going-against-the-odds, but how about it? I mean if the other team is intent on just running up and down the field at will in the first half, why not make it less painful for the fans to watch? And by ‘less painful' I mean less time consuming. Even if the onsides-kick fails, at least you can turn it into a motivating moment for the defense. It would also mean that they wouldn't have to ‘bend' for another 80 yards in the hopes of not ‘breaking'. I think I can speak for most fans when I say, we've all seen enough of ‘bending' in the last three weeks to last for the rest of the season. Thankfully there have been a few moments in the second half when they haven't broken to prevent a 1-2 or 0-3 record over that stretch.

Of course Buddy Green is as smart as defensive coordinators come, so I'm pretty sure with the exception of #8 above, he has probably proved and disproved every reason to either try or not try my above suggestions. I mean it could be as simple as Navy is just a poor tackling team. So if you blitz, you are now leaving less people in space to try and bring down a receiver after a catch. And as a result, the 17-yard catches that fans are fuming about will turn into 60-yard touchdowns. Then again, what if one of those ‘all out' blitzes works in the first quarter and for the rest of the game the quarterback never gets settled, or his timing is thrown off?

I know second guessing the Navy coaching staff isn't going to make me popular inside of Ricketts Hall. Heck when fans criticized offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper's play-calling near the goal line early in the season, his head coach likened it to people wanting to "burn his house down." That's a bit of a stretch I think, especially considering how much praise has come Jasper's way since he took over the play-calling duties. I think most Navy fans realize that Jasper, just like Green, is overdue for a head coaching gig because (for one of many reasons) they make adjustments as good as any coordinators in the country. However, after three weeks of giving up 30 or more points, suggesting a course correction to the bend-but-don't-break philosophy is justified and in my opinion, needed fast.

After all, Navy's offense is overdue for a bad quarter or two this Saturday and Arkansas State can light up a scoreboard. That's a scary thought for the Midshipmen who will be looking to make it eight Senior Day victories in a row. In order to do that, Navy's defense will need to play its best game of the season in front of what will hopefully be an equally enthusiastic, noisy and relentless home crowd.

GoMids.com Top Stories