Time to Rice to the Occasion

Time to Rice to the Occasion Okay, okay, okay—we've been down this road so many times with Navy football in the Paul Johnson era, it's almost getting ridiculous by now. Almost. When you win, nothing is ever too crazy, sloppy or mistake-filled for a Midshipmen football team that just continues to come out on top after some early September lessons in perseverance.

But with the knowledge of multiple Midshipmen miscues against a very poor Kent State team this past Saturday in Annapolis, the focus must immediately shift to Houston, Texas, and a Rice University team that awaits the Johnson Boys this Saturday in a game postponed a month by Hurricane Rita. This Rice game won't have several hundred credentialed members of the national media in the stands, but it just might be, in its own way, the biggest game of Navy's 2005 season. After the mistake-fest against the Golden Flashes, there will be no better way to wipe out the taste of personal dissatisfaction among Navy's players than to execute and perform at peak level against the Owls.

Just why is this rumble with Rice so important? Let's look ahead a little bit. Yes, the Johnson Boys took Rutgers to the cleaners last season, but with the Scarlet Knights showing an improved ability to deliver knockout blows against Big East opponents, Greg Schiano's crew will pose a very formidable test to Navy. Tulane might be struggling for reasons beyond football—a disaster like Hurricane Katrina will do that to a school located in New Orleans—but the memory of Lester Ricard's demolition of the Midshipmen last season in the now-damaged Superdome should keep the Johnson Boys on edge when they host the Green Wave.

If you put the pieces together, it's not hard to realize that with Rutgers, Tulane and Notre Dame coming up, Navy must make sure to bag this game against the Owls before closing the year with an extremely winnable game against Temple, followed by the Big One against Army. If Navy can sizzle on offense and cook up some instant Rice, the Midshipmen stand to have a winning season even if they can't topple Rutgers or Tulane. But a stumble in Houston, and a bowl-eligible campaign—the realistic goal for this year, along with retaining the Commander-in-Chief Trophy—could go out the window.

We know Lamar Owens and the rest of this offense can perform, especially after a Kent State game in which the Midshipmen never had to punt. But while loose lips sink ships, so can loose footballs. Owens and his mates must display better ball security for this season to continue to get better, and for 3-2 to turn into 4-2 with a chance for 6-2 by the time Charlie Weis and the Irish welcome the Johnson Boys to central Indiana in November.

No one should ever be too disappointed with a win—Coach Johnson said as much after the 34-31 triumph over the Golden Flashes. But there's an immediate chance to erase that not-so-great taste with a bite of Rice, in a game that gives the Midshipmen a game to play instead of the bye week they initially expected to have at the beginning of the 2005 season.

If a win doesn't fully satisfy the Johnson Boys, that's awesome—it's the sign of a mature team for whom nothing less than optimum performance is acceptable. Well, guys, time to get right back on the field and prevent any of us from saying, "Houston, we have a problem." Time to work like inspired night Owls in a 6pm (EST) kickoff against Rice.

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