Academy Review: Week Ten

The Navy Midshipmen covered themselves in glory on Saturday in South Bend, but didn't bask in the glow of victory. The Air Force Falcons played their best game of the season against the Army Black Knights, and were rewarded with a sweet triumph after two months of pain and frustration. Sometimes, a team's best is good enough. Sometimes, it isn't. This is why we watch. This is why we care.


HIGHER STANDARDS WITHOUT THE RESULTS:

NAVY EXCELS BUT DOESN'T GET A WIN TO SHOW FOR IT


Some days, your best just isn't enough. Typically, when your best isn't enough, the margin will be close, because a team figures to be competitive when it performs to the height of its capabilities. Such was the case for the Navy Midshipmen on an inspiring yet wrenching afternoon in South Bend, Ind.

Ken Niumatalolo could not have asked for more than what he received from his players, who maxed out in one of college football's most hallowed settings, very nearly toppling Notre Dame in a stirring epic in the shadows of Touchdown Jesus. Navy's defensive line continued to absorb injuries, losing depth to the point that Notre Dame was able to simply steamroll the Mids for the better part of the second half. On the rare occasions when the Fighting Irish had to pass the ball, quarterback Tommy Rees was given plenty of time by his offensive line, which was simply too strong for Navy's depleted front to overcome. There really was very little the Midshipmen could do on defense; this was not the fault of coaching, scheme, or unforced errors. Notre Dame was simply better in that matchup. Navy's offense had to make one more play.

It couldn't… and even then, the play selection was strong. Moreover, a face mask penalty went uncalled on the end-around chosen by offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper.

Yes, Navy called a great play on that fateful fourth-and-four in the final minutes. Yes, Navy's Shawn Lynch appeared to have been grabbed in the face mask by a Notre Dame defender. Yes, the Midshipmen would have been in great position to win had that penalty been called. However, this is South Bend we're talking about. It's also part of the game for calls to be missed. Navy didn't get the one big break it needed, and that is often the margin between victory and defeat on a day when an undersized team plays its best.

The big takeaway from this game is that Navy should be able to call the shots in each of its remaining games (yes, including the road trip to San Jose State – the Spartans do not have a robust run defense this season). If Navy can take this effort and re-apply it to the remaining third of its schedule, the Men of Ken should be 8-4 six weeks from now.

For Air Force, a nearly flawless offensive performance (similar to Navy's masterpiece) generated the win the Midshipmen couldn't deliver. This was a deeply satisfying and significant moment for AFA head coach Troy Calhoun, who knew entering this game that his team wouldn't play in a bowl game in 2013. Winning a game in the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series was the last major goal for the Falcons. Snagging this prize prevented the 2013 season from being a completely empty journey. Running back Anthony LaCoste certainly picked a fine time to play the game of his career. A 263-yard field day – with a tiebreaking 78-yard touchdown run in the third quarter – will give the senior a memory of a lifetime. It will also enable all of the Air Force's underclassmen to enter 2014 with some degree of belief and confidence.

As for Army, this game marked yet another wasted opportunity in a season full of them. The Black Knights didn't play poorly. They didn't commit a turnover. They gained a 15-minute, four-second edge in time of possession (37:32 to 22:28). They rushed for over 300 yards. They just didn't make the biggest plays in the most important situations. Two missed field goals loomed large on Saturday morning (and afternoon), as did the inability to shut down the big play against LaCoste and the rest of Air Force's offense. Now that a bowl game is off the table, Army has to focus on getting a 6-6 record, which is still very attainable.

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