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Navy has shown how well it can compete; the next step is performing well

It is a distinction which always needs to be brought back to the surface in discussions of sports and the people who play them: Competing well and performing well, while not entirely exclusive, are largely different things.

Yes, to compete well is to perform well in a certain sense, and to an evident degree. The athlete or team which responds well to adversity is able to perform under pressure.

The quarterback thrown into the fire of a one-point deficit late in the fourth quarter on the road -- not having expected to play much this season -- shows the ability to perform when he leads his team on a game-winning drive. Will Worth performed well and competed well in the crucible of crunch time against Tulane on Saturday.

Yes, to a genuine extent, competing well and performing well share space -- they overlap in a Venn diagram... but they aren't entirely the same thing. They share that space in the middle, but then there's the exclusive space on the edges of the diagram.

This is the properly understood relationship between competing and performing.

Navy, in 2016, already has the competing part down pat. Navy never gives up the ship, never flinches in the face of adversity, never grows weak when the opponent presses onward. The Midshipmen have now faced two AAC tests from opponents who have wanted to knock them off their pedestal as an AAC West Division contender. Navy has resolutely stared down those teams -- UConn a week ago, and Tulane this past Saturday in New Orleans. More precisely with Tulane, Navy has overcome an opponent which seems to get up for the Midshipmen in much the same way that the Los Angeles Rams -- a below-average team most of the time they take the field -- have won four out of the last five games they've played against the Seattle Seahawks. Some teams simply give others a hard time, regardless of their overall quality. The Rams are that team for the Seahawks. Tulane is that team for Navy.

The difference between the Seahawks and Navy? Navy still wins when it struggles.

That's what it means to compete well -- to scuffle and struggle, to fumble multiple times, to fail to finish drives or seize opportunities for much of the day... but then deliver when it really counts. Resolve, resilience -- Navy doesn't need to discover those qualities; it has already demonstrated how abundantly they exist on the 2016 roster. It's a great thing to behold.

The next challenge, as Navy prepares for two of the toughest and most important games on the schedule, is performing well.

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it is all well and good to keep fighting, to display pluck and grit and all those words sportswriters use (too often), but "scrappy" teams generally don't win championships if they can't eventually find ways to clean up their methods and polish their rough edges. 

Performance is something much more than resolve, much greater than the ability to compete and force one's opponent to work for everything he gets. Performance is technique; more precisely, it's technique which is constantly replicated to the point which it avoids breakdown. Performance for the athlete means doing what you're trained to do to the point that muscle memory takes over and leads to the necessary level of precision which creates success between the painted white lines of gameday.

This is the part Navy hasn't mastered yet -- it displayed the capacity to perform well in those first 20 minutes against UConn, but that performance hasn't been sustained for even 40 minutes this season, let alone 60.

Navy's next two opponents stand in the way of great prizes for the Midshipmen. They're also very good, one good enough to be considered a part of the College Football Playoff conversation.

Air Force will try to take the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy away from Navy this season, as it has done in the recent past. Houston stands in the way of an AAC West title and an American Athletic Conference championship for the Midshipmen. If Navy wants the hardware and the gridiron glory, it has to fly higher than the Falcons and consummately outplay the Cougars.

Grit won't be enough.

It's terrific that the team has fought through its QB limitations, and that Will Worth has put Navy in position to return to a bowl game, provided the ship keeps moving forward. However, everyone in that locker room has to know that more mistake-littered performances will lead to defeats against Air Force and Houston, no matter how much resolve each Navy player displays.

Tulane was a great -- not merely good -- win under the circumstances. It should be relished, given what this team has had to endure this season.

Once that celebration runs its course, though, this team has to perform as well as it competes. If that doesn't happen, trophies will elude Navy's grasp.


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