If Navy's receivers hadn't gotten a case of the dropsies...
If Navy's offensive line hadn't been so decimated...
If all of these things hadn't happened, Navy would have, could have been a lot more competitive. In a game that was 21-10 at the half, a few key plays at the right time could have turned the tidal wave against the Green Wave.
But enough of those hypotheticals.
Notre Dame beat the Midshipmen earlier this year--as they always do--with pure, old-fashioned power. Saturday, however, Navy suffered a second defeat because it was simply outclassed on the edges, wiped off the field by the Green Wave's abundance of raw athleticism and speed.
When you get shredded as completely and as substantially as Navy's secondary was on Saturday in the Louisiana Superdome, you have no reason to even bring up all the other stuff. When you get totally dominated in one phase of the game the way Navy was in the Bayou, there's no room for explanations or excuses.
Paul Johnson said it flatly and without missing a beat in the postgame press conference: "We don't handle it very well when people tell us we're good and we're supposed to win. They came to play and they clearly outplayed us."
Sounds like last year's pre-Delaware hangover carried over to Tulane this year. But to be fair to Johnson as a coach, it wasn't just the mental side of the game that hurt Navy. The total devastation suffered by Navy's pass defense, particularly in the secondary, was astonishing. If the Midshipmen want to compete well in a bowl game--and especially if they see anyone remotely close to B.J. Symons of Texas Tech in last year's Houston Bowl--they'll need to bring a pass defense to the ballpark.
This defense will certainly be needed against a Rutgers team that competed extremely well with Boston College for 50 minutes on Saturday. If Navy doesn't get back to the drawing board and realize that its opponents can bring a fair amount of speed to the table, the Midshipmen will be sunk once again. And while recruiting a good secondary is now that much easier and clearer to identify as an offseason priority--a good thing within a certain, limited context--what remains is that Navy has to close the "athleticism gap" if it wants to close this 2004 season in style.
Tasting what it's like to get blown away by speed will hopefully increase the urgency and intensity in the Midshipmen's camp. Getting a big wakeup call--and in a way different from the wake-up call Notre Dame usually gives the Naval Academy--will hopefully enable the Johnson Boys to regain their winning edge, instead of letting this season slip toward an increasingly more mediocre record. There's a world of difference between 9-2 and 7-4, and if Navy wants to have a record worthy of a top-shelf football team, it will sacrifice and make the commitment to work that much harder from now on. What this team might lack in pure athleticism, it more than makes up for in heart and desire. Saturday, Navy's talent level was exposed; but that very reality should only make the Midshipmen more cohesive as the 2004 season winds to a close. This cohesion--and the energy to be gained from it--will enable the Johnson Boys to finish this season the way they started it: with a string of victories.
Then this team will be remembered for its achievements, something which--given its ability to carve out close victories--would be entirely appropriate and richly deserved. All that's left is for the urgency to change and thereby compensate for the lack of speed burners Navy has in its defensive backfield.