The Steady Build Begins
Temptation exists in many forms in life. To be more precise, it comes at us and often ambushes us from both sides of a given issue, not just one.
It’s tempting to think the worst in bad moments, but it’s just as tempting if not more so to think the best in good moments, especially the kinds of good moments which do not represent the most defining elements of a season – or a job, or a day spent with a difficult bunch of relatives. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about giving a good presentation at work, or withholding your temper in front of family members who often push your buttons, but perspective is always needed.
The presentation might have dealt with a topic you knew inside and out. You nailed the presentation, and that’s undeniably worth a smile, but let’s not pretend that the presentation was going to be a particularly difficult or challenging one. It should have gone well. You deserve credit for doing what you were supposed to do, but let’s not excessively praise such an achievement.
You might have withheld your temper in front of a number of historically cranky and stubborn relatives, but several other friends were also at this big gathering, giving you both a social circle in which to while away some hours and some people to act as a buffer against those family members you can’t stand. By all means, be relieved and happy that your temper didn’t emerge (or even come close to it), but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you authored some magnificent feat of self-restraint.
If you had to visit your relatives at their summer home, without your friends or other people who could shield you to some extent, that would be a real hardship. Meeting them at a bigger gathering with more distractions and more opportunities to hide? You had all the advantages. Yes, you did well, but keep your personal achievement in its proper (limited) place.
Such is the need for Navy football after a very strong opening-week performance… against Colgate.
It only stands to reason that when you play a team which is bigger, stronger, faster, deeper, and better-coached, you’re not going to fare as well. Opposing defenders gill gaps more quickly. They also hit harder and impose more pressure. When playing defense, this more skilled opponent can attack you from more angles and will have better, bigger receivers to go against your secondary. The limits of your back seven in terms of jugging pass coverage and run support responsibilities can be stretched, possibly to the breaking point. Also: Better teams punish your mistakes when you make them.
The above paragraph does not apply to Saturday’s Colgate contest, of course. It does apply to the Midshipmen’s 2014 season opener. You remember: the one against Ohio State in Baltimore. Navy played just as well in that game as it did against Colgate, possibly better. The effort Navy gave that afternoon just over 12 months ago came against the team that would eventually capture the national championship, and not just by winning games, but dominating them. Ohio State trampled Wisconsin; owned Alabama in a game played in the Deep South, with a pro-Bama crowd; and then flexed its muscles in a relatively straightforward triumph over Oregon, which had just demolished unbeaten Florida State in the Rose Bowl.
Navy’s 2014 opener and its 2015 opener were met with different reactions – not 180 degrees different, because smart people could see that there were a lot of good things to take from the 2014 debut, but still different because of the reality of mistakes and the defeat which flowed from them.
No matter the opponent, it is – objectively and on an absolute scale – discouraging when a team commits a fumble at a key juncture, thereby losing a game in which it had generally outplayed the foe most of the way. Such was the case last year when Navy’s ball-handling issues brought about that loss to Ohio State. So much about the performance was good, so it’s not as though optimism for the rest of the season had left the picture; the point of emphasis was that a sense of disappointment colored the postgame environment. It’s a game which easily could have been won.
This year, those unpleasant feelings aren’t part of Navy’s post-opener reality. This isn’t because the team was better than against Ohio State, however. It’s simply due to the fact that Navy was playing Colgate.
By all means, Navy players, coaches and fans should like what they saw. Naturally, a week-one win beats a week-one loss any day of the week, as long as it’s not accompanied by grim injury news. Navy should feel good about what it just did against an FCS opponent. Yet, along the lines of the non-sports examples provided above, Navy shouldn’t remain too enamored with its achievement. Every subsequent game is going to be bigger and more important – with a tougher caliber of opponent – from now on.
Moreover, it’s not as though Navy’s opener was flawless, either.
The secondary was superb in this game, but allowing 198 rushing yards to a team which clearly couldn’t offer a significant vertical passing threat has to be somewhat concerning. Navy will have to be able to throw its weight around a little better on the defensive front. When Air Force comes to Annapolis on Oct. 3, Navy will need to display a lot more physicality than what it offered against Colgate.
Only one receiver, Jamir Tillman, caught any passes. As widely as the ball was distributed to running backs, it was as narrowly given to receivers. That’s an imbalance which has to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Those are just two examples of how Navy has things to work on, despite a strong effort on both sides of the ball.
Human beings should take satisfaction from achievements. When we don’t appreciate every little achievement, morale can suffer and we become harmful self-critics rather than effective and supportive ones. Yet, you can grasp the larger point being made here: After a loss to Ohio State a year ago, the proper focus should have been on all the good things the Mids did, due to the opponent on the other sideline. This year, or in any year when a season opener comes against an FCS opponent, it is similarly better to temper the prevailing reaction – in this case, by emphasizing where improvement needs to occur.
The process of being able to put everything in perspective – limitations, yes, but also successes – forms the basis for a team to be able to approach the entirety of its season the right way.
Navy just had a week off in which to make sure that future game preparations are undertaken by a team which will never rest on its laurels.
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