Let's set the table immediately and clearly, to frame the issue properly:
This upcoming Saturday's game against Tulsa is not a "letdown" game, a game in which a team -- fresh off an exhilarating conquest -- runs the risk of losing focus or starting out flat, thereby dropping a game it should win.
No, this is not that.
Navy's contest against the surging Golden Hurricane is best viewed as a moment when Navy needs to forget about a win. More precisely, Navy has to spend the week conserving energy, making sure it is ready for Tulsa's speed.
Yes, it's more common in a shared sports lexicon to worry about the attitude of a team coming off a rough loss as opposed to a great victory. A win such as the one Navy forged against Notre Dame in Jacksonville is commonly seen as a confidence booster, something which ought to "keep the momentum going" in future weeks. The 28-27 decision Navy pulled out against the Fighting Irish is often -- though not always -- viewed as a catapult, a spark, a way to re-orient the season. After the brutal loss to South Florida, the ability to return to the state of Florida and write a very different story could easily be framed as a turning-point moment for the Midshipmen in 2016.
It is this writer's opinion that such a frame does not fit the moment or the upcoming clash with Tulsa.
The one time when a big win is treated as cause for caution is the letdown factor, when a team can easily be overconfident and therefore not tend to the little details of football as vigilantly as it ought to. I don't think that's Navy's challenge this week, and I don't think that's been the Midshipmen's most difficult task this year.
The task is more about energy and clarity -- not letdowns, but comedowns; not overconfidence, but lacking equilibrium.
Here's the fact which (in my view) properly frames Tulsa-Navy: The Midshipmen have won back-to-back FBS games in consecutive weeks exactly once this season, against UConn and Tulane in the middle of September. This is partly a product of Air Force raising its game in Commander-in-Chief's Trophy contests (but not playing well or with energy at any other point in the season). It's partly a product of South Florida being really mad after losing to Temple. Navy bore the brunt of that reality. USF was spectacular, and Navy probably would not have beaten the Bulls even if it had played marginally better.
Navy's lack of FBS wins in consecutive weeks is also the product of the East Carolina game on October 13 being postponed. That last detail flows into the Tulsa background more than you might first realize.
If Navy had already played and beaten ECU, two realities would exist heading into the Tulsa game: First, a win over the Golden Hurricane would instantly clinch the AAC West. As it is, a win over Tulsa would leave Navy in need of one more win (against ECU or SMU) to wrap up the division.
Second, if the ECU game had already come and gone, Navy would have played consecutive games over the past month and a half, with more commutes in the rearview mirror.
Remember last year, when Navy had to visit Tulsa in late November, and then play at Houston on a short week? Navy's defense certainly didn't look fresh on short rest. Navy didn't "handle" a situation poorly so much as it lacked energy and verve.
Fast forward to this season: Navy benefited against Memphis by receiving a week off and not having to travel to Greenville, N.C., for a very short week and a Thursday game. The Midshipmen were relaxed and properly set up to flourish against the Tigers.
Now comes the bad side of that October schedule alteration: The Midshipmen can't view this Tulsa game as the final game in a series of contests before a November 19 bye week. The Mids have to power through November. They were hoping to have a week off before a late-November game in the state of Texas. The ECU postponement robbed them of that break. Tulsa is merely the latest in a series of games for a Navy team which just had to make consecutive commutes to the state of Florida -- Tampa for USF, Jacksonville for Notre Dame.
Navy won't be overconfident for this game. The Midshipmen's defense knows it faces a tall task against Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans and running back James Flanders. The real issue is energy -- physical, yes, but also mental. Navy played a start-and-stop season due to the ECU postponement, with two off weeks in a four-week span starting in late September. The good part of the schedule change was an abundance of rest, but the downside was a lack of rhythm. Given the consecutive trips to Florida with a trip to Texas looming against SMU, the back end of the season has become a logistical landmine for the Midshipmen.
Worth adding: Even though Navy beat UConn and Tulane in consecutive weeks early in the season, the Midshipmen did not play well in many (perhaps most) of those quarters -- roughly half the game against UConn and a similar level in New Orleans versus the Green Wave. Sure, Houston and Memphis were both magnificent offensive displays, but they didn't occur in consecutive weeks. USF did feature 45 points from the offense, but virtually all of it was in garbage time.
None of this has felt like anything related to attitude or scheme. This has been an unusual season with all sorts of abrupt changes. The key point is that Navy needs to produce a gem in consecutive weeks for the first time in 2016. That doesn't require more urgency in practice. It doesn't require more hard work during the week.
No, Ken Niumatalolo -- after notching his third win over Notre Dame and entering the Navy history books (in yet another good way) as a result -- must forget about his and his team's very rich achievement against the Irish and make sure his team is mentally fresh to play at high noon in Annapolis.
Ride the wave of momentum? Carry this surge of adrenaline?
Settle down. Gather energy. Conserve fuel. Be ready for Saturday, and what is likely to be a game akin to what we saw against Houston.