Saturday felt great, but hold the applause

The Navy Midshipmen were quite impressive in disposing of East Carolina on Saturday. If we're being candid in assessing one performance, the Midshipmen earned very high marks against an opponent which was robustly competitive a week earlier against the Florida Gators. No one should dismiss what Navy did on Saturday. Yet, it's quite necessary to turn the page quickly. We'll explain why.


It might be a weary and tired cliché, but in September, “it’s a long season” should always be kept in the forefront of the mind.

Yes, East Carolina represented an opponent several notches more difficult than Colgate. Yes, it has to be extremely encouraging that Navy – especially on offense – looked so crisp coming out of a bye week, instead of manifesting the rust and sluggishness which have caused so many other offenses to bog down in September. Yes, Keenan Reynolds is playing the way Ken Niumatalolo wants him to play. Yes, if Reynolds continues to play like this, Navy’s defense won’t have to set the world on fire; it will just have to be reasonably good in the red zone and in a handful of relatively important moments each game.

There’s a lot to not only like, but LOVE, about the Midshipmen’s first-ever conference game, their American Athletic Conference lid-lifter against East Carolina. It’s easy to revel in the occasion and the accomplishment. Yet, as any good coach would tell you, wins shouldn’t be thought about too much… just as losses shouldn’t overcrowd the mind as well. Again, there’s certainly a noticeably clichéd quality to all of this, but why go out of one’s way to emphasize it? Let’s tick off a few points as the focus immediately moves from ECU to Connecticut this upcoming weekend in New England:

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The first reason to not get too excited about a romp over East Carolina is that Navy’s offense has regularly flourished against the Pirates. Navy played ECU in 2010, 2011 and 2012. With this 45-point outburst on Saturday, Navy has now averaged 53.5 points per game in its last four contests against East Carolina. Ruffin McNeill has never really been able to figure out how to stop Ivin Jasper’s offense as ECU’s head coach. If Navy had done this against, say, Connecticut (next week’s opponent), it would be much more of an eye-opener.

Say what you want about Connecticut’s offense – which is indeed dreadful – but head coach Bob Diaco knows how to teach defense. The Huskies allowed one scoring drive to Missouri this past Saturday. They smothered Army the week before. They haven’t turned in a bad defensive performance to date in 2015. Navy waxing ECU’s defense is nothing to get too gleeful about. Delivering the goods against UConn would be different, so it’s time to really focus in on how to outmaneuver a generally disciplined defense.

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Another cluster of reasons for not investing too much joy in the win over ECU, and making it a point to quickly move on to UConn:

1) Last year, Boise State – a team which turned out to be pretty good when December rolled around – struggled against the Huskies. The grass at Rentschler Field was not cut very much. The high grass slowed the Broncos on their plants and cuts. Navy should find a thick grass field on which to practice this week if it can find one. Rhythm and timing might be knocked out of whack by UConn’s defense, but the Mids could also suffer due to the field conditions in East Hartford as well.

2) This will be Navy’s first 2015 game played one week after a previous game. The Colgate-ECU start, cushioned by a bye week, is not representative of the grind facing the Midshipmen in the weeks ahead. Being able to play two quality games in an eight-day period would truly show the team that it’s on the right path. A mediocre performance, on the other hand, would show that not much has truly been accomplished.

3) This is a trap game. The first conference contest in Navy history was met with a lot of hoopla. On Oct. 3, Air Force arrives in Annapolis in what will almost surely decide the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy. It would be very easy to overlook and underestimate the opponent this Saturday. Navy could be thinking about Air Force; it could also think that UConn's offense makes this game unwinnable for the Huskies. After all, plenty of fans are surely thinking as much. Athletes and coaches, however, don't have the luxury of thinking the things fans do. If Navy wants to win 11 games this season, it will take UConn seriously and not succumb to human nature. Fierce determination -- and not the easy-breezy complacency which can very easily follow a lopsided win -- has to characterize the way in which Navy attacks this next week and this next foe.

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Again, there’s no intent to diminish what Navy did against East Carolina. The point is more precisely to emphasize that playing well against Connecticut would cement this team’s and this season’s potential to be great. It’s simply too early to assign too much meaning to a home win against an opponent Navy’s offense has been able to outflank with great regularity. If Navy figures out Bob Diaco’s defense, it will enter the Air Force encounter in a good frame of mind. Then we can begin to consider how special this season can be.

Not yet, though. Not yet. “Eyes on the prize” must be the theme for Navy as this practice week begins.

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