Breathing In The Deep: Navy's Challenge

Navy men learn how to survive in deep waters, and that’s the obvious image for Navy’s current football season. A team that has been sinking and losing hold of its winning edge is no longer trying to get the 10- or 11-win season some had hoped for on the morning of Aug. 30, 2014. Right now, Navy’s job is to survive.


RESETTING THE SEASON SO THAT IT DOESN’T CONTINUE TO SPIN SIDEWAYS

The most fascinating (albeit unpleasant) aspect of Navy’s season gone wrong – but a season that can still be made right – is that even when the Midshipmen were playing well at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014, they made big and baffling mistakes on offense.

Think of the Armed Forces Bowl against Middle Tennessee. Think of the Ohio State season opener. Navy’s defense was tremendous (that’s not an exaggeration or an inaccurate representation of how the defense played). The Midshipmen played with fire in the belly and relentless, sustained effort. Navy played with a chip on its shoulder – roused by the dirty hits of the Middle Tennessee team and inspired by the opportunity to take down the big, bad Buckeyes of the Big Ten. Forceful, physical, intent, engaged – in almost every aspect of these two games, Navy’s mindset and approach were right.

What was wrong? Ball security, the linchpin of triple-option teams.

The last time a season spun sideways for Navy, the defense hemorrhaged and weird events – the unfair unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Kriss Proctor against Air Force; the controversial ruling which denied Navy a winning touchdown against East Carolina – kept cropping up. This year, through half a season, it’s a little more straightforward. This team can’t keep the ball, and again, even in last season’s bowl game plus the Ohio State opener, excellent effort from everyone – especially on defense – coexisted with sloppy ballhandling. This is why Middle Tennessee stuck around as long as it did in Fort Worth, and this is why Ohio State was eventually able to gain leverage on Aug. 30.

It’s also why Navy’s subsequent games against beatable opponents have not made their way into the win column.

This is a habit. That word carries with it the weight of knowing that a problem hasn’t been dealt with over the course of many weeks. Attempts at resolution have been made, but the actual solving of the problem has remained elusive. A game against an FCS opponent, VMI, gives Navy a chance to reset the dial on this season. If the Midshipmen can use this game to re-establish good habits and wipe away the bad ones, they can climb back and produce a season everyone in Annapolis will be proud of. It’s up to this team to take VMI – and the craft of football – even more seriously than before.

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