You can brush aside a poor third- and fourth down defense that, all told, enabled the Blue Devils to sustain drives on 14 of 22 occasions. (Though that has to stop if the Johnson Boys are to continue to win games.)
It all boiled down to this: after Navy's defense, in a scene all too reminiscent of the Maryland game, conceded a late touchdown and two-point conversion to fall into a 21-all tie, the Midshipmen offense—led by Lamar Owens—scored with but 78 seconds left to pull out a gritty win made all the more special because a rusty team—forced to wait three weeks to play a game because of a bye week and the power of Hurricane Rita—found a way to get a victory nonetheless.
The signs of rust showed all over the place: the defensive instincts, the penalties, and the slower-than-usual, not-so-crisp execution of the triple option all held back the Navy cause. But even without a lot of mustard on their collective fastball, the Midshipmen won. They didn't tackle the best or perform the best, but they won. Just as college football can be cruel—punishing the Johnson Boys in earlier weeks, even when they performed better from a technical standpoint—it can also be exhilarating. If joy had a picture, it was found in the Navy locker room after this cathartic, pressure-releasing triumph in the first road game of the year.
The catharsis came from the realization that 2004's culture of winning hasn't been forgotten by this 2005 squad. And as the rust wears off—and make no mistake, it certainly will; Owens will only grow and develop exponentially as a result of this clutch performance on Saturday—the technical aptitude of this team, in its execution and attention to detail, will improve. And since attention to detail represents so much of what a great triple option is about, not to mention a good third-down defense that must solve an offense's best plays and most complex formations and personnel groupings, one has to say that Navy—merely by winning this game—has set itself up for a great rebound from that nagging, frustrating 0-2 start.
This game—coming three weeks after the Stanford contest—was all about getting a "W." No one said it had to be pretty, and by gosh, it wasn't. But the fact that the mission was accomplished by the Johnson Boys only serves to make this defeat of Duke all the more beautiful... not in traditionally visible ways, to be sure, but in the ways of the mind, heart and spirit. For one Saturday afternoon, Navy's best asset wasn't ruthless execution, but a beautiful mindset that refused to buckle when the going got tough. Armed with that newfound confidence, things ought to get better and better for a resurgent bunch of players who dipped into the 2004 memory bank at the best possible time.