It was supposed to be Tago Smith's season.
It was supposed to be a due reward for a patient man, a team player who watched a college football legend do his thing... and then prepared to take his place this year.
It was supposed to be a season of challenge and uncertainty, but a season in which Tago Smith got a chance to showcase his skills and continue Navy's proud 21st-century tradition of creating great triple-option quarterbacks.
That season, that reward, that opportunity, didn't even last a full half of football. Navy easily disposed of Fordham, but a victory rarely if ever felt so hollow. The Midshipmen have to pick up the pieces. They're undeniably in a very difficult position. The fog of sadness and frustration might carry through the course of this whole week. Nothing would be wrong about allowing that to happen. Human beings are emotional creatures. Sadness is not easily contained. If it sabotages a week, a game, it's merely a product of human nature, not something to be denied or wished away.
That's the first step in Navy's process of recovery: being free to feel the weight of this pain and not trying to quickly flush it out of the system. The pain will be there, and Navy has to allow that pain to run its course. Transforming pain into performance might not happen right away, but the first part of pain is acknowledging it and learning how to make it a friend. Then pain can become an ally, creating the very real feeling in the locker room -- carried to the playing field -- which says, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."
If Navy can enable this injury to Smith to create a tighter bond -- one in which every teammate plays a little bit better, helping the next man a little bit more -- this team can turn a corner. That's down the road, however. First, Navy just needs to stay on the road, and Week 2 offers an opponent which will require that kind of discipline from the Midshipmen.
Connecticut might have struggled against Maine of the FCS in Week 1, but the Huskies plant their flag on defense and have one of the finer defensive minds in the country, Bob Diaco, as their head coach. UConn might not be supremely talented, but Connecticut did upset Houston last season. Moreover, UConn consistently forces opponents to work hard to achieve victory. Connecticut might not force opponents to score in large quantities, but the Huskies always require a full and lucid effort from every team they play. Navy -- a wounded team, a team missing one of its leaders -- must arrive at the realization that Connecticut will not relent in its intensity. The Huskies' skill might be lacking, but their vigor will remain at an elevated level.
Will Worth, thrown into the fire at quarterback, must acquire a specific mindset: Because Connecticut does not relent in terms of energy, Worth must be willing to play a long game. If he can't get a big gain on one play, he has to fulfill the familiar football maxim about "living for another play." Committing himself to a tough contest -- hard, grueling and laborious -- will enable Worth to avoid being greedy. Accepting that Week 2 will be difficult will enable Worth to trust his teammates, to pull him into a zone where he doesn't try to do everything himself. He can't. He won't.
He needs help. If he allows his teammates to help him, Navy can build a level of cohesion which can knit this team together more quickly than it might otherwise be able to do. Relying on Dale Pehrson's defense to win this game -- against UConn's noticeably limited offense -- forms the template for victory.
That's an incomplete statement, however: The victory to be sought this weekend is not just against UConn, but against the possibility that this season will crumble, that Navy will be overpowered by grief.
There's nothing wrong with losing a game after a teammate experiences a crushing injury. Let's see, however, if -- in this theater of competition, where tests and challenges and hardships always crop up -- Navy can steadily and successfully build belief from the ground up.