In 2009 -- in his second season as Navy's offensive coordinator -- Ivin Jasper watched his offense score 63 points against Rice.
In 2010, against East Carolina -- his own personal punching bag over the years -- Jasper's Navy offense posted 76 points. In 2012 against the Pirates, 56.
Navy scored 58 points against San Jose State in 2013, but that was in overtime. In 2014, Navy rang up 52 against Georgia Southern. Last year, the Midshipmen hung 55 -- the ol' double nickel -- on SMU. Navy scored at least 44 points in four other games last season, once in the Military Bowl game against Pittsburgh and once in that crucial November game at Memphis, which enabled Navy to play Houston for the AAC West title.
Ivin Jasper has enjoyed many productive days at the office as Navy's play caller and offensive architect, but when looking at the caliber of the opposition, none of those days -- as great as they in fact were -- approximated a feat of God. They were displays of supreme craftsmanship and professionalism, a coordinator getting the most from his offense on a given afternoon or evening. That said, dismantling East Carolina or even Memphis can't be seen as "The Ultimate Performance." Those were highly flawed defenses picked apart by a tricky offense and well-chosen personnel. There has to be an allowance for a higher level of craftsmanship. If destroying a bad defense is the absolute ceiling, there's no room left for something greater.
Saturday afternoon, in wet and generally miserable conditions at Memorial Stadium, Jasper called what is -- at least to this point in time -- the best game of his Navy career.
It is very hard to make a case for any of the other games mentioned above. This display against Houston owns ample leverage in the library of "Thrivin' Ivin's Greatest Hits."
The Houston Cougars have the sexy head coach (Tom Herman) and the Heisman Trophy candidate (Greg Ward). They have the flashy offense and tall, physical receivers. Yet, for all of Houston's offensive prowess, the defense had made a strong statement in September, en route to an unbeaten record. Houston limited Oklahoma -- which has scored 97 points the last two weeks -- to only 23 points in Week 1. When the UH offense struggled in the first three quarters against Cincinnati in Week 3, the defense held the game and the team together. Todd Orlando is a high-level defensive coordinator, widely respected in the profession and successful at multiple stops in his career.
Houston has nasty, formidable space-eaters in the middle of its defensive line. The Cougars are not just a loaded offense with a tag-along defense that just tries to get out of the way. No, the Cougars' defense does not get roped into 52-45 games the way a lot of Big 12 defenses do. As just one point of evidence, UH entered Saturday's game allowing an average of 42 rushing yards per game.
That's not average. That's not even good. That's damn impressive.
Navy hadn't scored a point in three quarters against Air Force the week before. Will Worth did not enter the 2016 season expecting to be the main man under center for his team. He showed pluck and perseverance against UConn and Tulane, but Air Force represented a jump in weight class, and Worth couldn't find answers against the Falcons. Keep in mind, too, that Houston played its Week 5 game on a Thursday, gaining a few extra days to scout the triple option and play a "Worth-while" game against Navy's still-learning signal-caller.
It was a situation set up for failure in Annapolis. How was Navy ever going to run the ball well enough against Houston and score big enough against the Cougars to outpace the Ward-and-Herman Show?
Phrased differently, a very good performance from Worth -- workmanlike, but hardly dynamic; steady and moderately productive and mistake-free, but not overwhelmingly potent -- was the best any Navy fan could reasonably expect heading into Saturday. A clean game with occasional flashes of brilliance, but something short of relentless excellence, represented -- for many -- Worth's ceiling against Houston.
By all reasonable measurements and accounts, Worth clearly (not marginally) exceeded his expectations.
Navy's offense rushed for over 300 yards against Houston's (no-longer) brick wall of a front four. Navy found the big pass play for a touchdown to keep Houston's defense honest. Worth relentlessly made the right reads. The variations among keeper, dive, delayed pitch, and rocket toss were perfectly calibrated and selected.
This -- THIS -- represented elite-level Navy execution, but under circumstances (and with personnel configurations) that were less than ideal... against a legitimately strong defense and a team with considerable credentials.
It's not just that Ivin Jasper couldn't have done any better against Houston -- it's that he couldn't have done any better in a situation which looked dire (or at least, lent itself to a concerned outlook) before kickoff.
A lot of high-fivin' is due to Thrivin' Ivin. His best game in Annapolis has opened the door to the idea that Navy can indeed rule the roost in year one of the post-Keenan Reynolds era.
If Navy pulls this off -- and of course, there's a LONG way to go -- Jasper will deserve a considerable share of the credit.