Navy Anchored in Improvement

You could hear, feel and smell the displeasure emanating from the Navy football locker room this past week. The sloppiness and rougher-than-rough edges from the Kent State escape job were impossible to ignore. And even though the Midshipmen had pulled off another close win against the Golden Flashes, there was the very real sense that things had to improve substantially against Rice this Saturday.

So what happened in Houston? Navy did not win a close game against the Owls.

What? Not another gallant win fashioned in the fourth quarter with incredible poise under pressure?

Oh, no—and the news is good, too—Navy decided to put this game away early in the second half.

It's true enough that the Johnson Boys still struggled out of the gate, blowing numerous chances to score in the first half and acquire a stranglehold of the contest before halftime. However, the boys from Annapolis did manage to come out roaring after the break, immediately correcting what went wrong in the first 30 minutes of play. Lamar Owens, Trey Hines and Karlos Whittaker gained 50 yards on three running plays in 40 seconds to score a quick touchdown to give Navy a three-possession bulge at 20-3. Then, a quick Rice turnover (or should we say, an "instant Rice" turnover?) followed by a Matt Hall run to paydirt, and the lead was 27-3 Navy. The rest, as they say, was history... as were the Owls.

After a season of tightrope acts, the Johnson Boys finally decided to focus at a point earlier than the fourth quarter. Amazing what a little more tunnel vision and attention to detail can do for a team that seemed to tempt fate—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—with each and every game it played.

The remaining challenge for Navy football is to find a way to seize control of games right off the bat. Any team evolving into fuller and finer form—especially a club with young skill position players—needs to eventually find that A-game sharpness right out of the starting blocks. In September, the challenge was to discover late-game poise. In early October, the key task for the Midshipmen was to find a better killer instinct in the second half of games. Now, while retaining those two lessons, the Johnson Boys need to also learn how to jump on top of an opponent in the first quarter, aided by the rhythm and polish the triple option must acquire in order to be effective. In an offense that's all about timing and precision, early-drive success is an excellent barometer of overall quality. If Navy can come up with crisp first-quarter scoring drives, the Midshipmen will not only put themselves in great position to win; they'll also be showing their coach and everyone who follows the program that they're maturing and ripening into a unit that can produce a winning season not just this year, but in many seasons to come in Annapolis.

So as Navy prepares to play a much-improved Rutgers team that is on the verge of being bowl eligible, the Midshipmen will need to out-improve a markedly better bunch of Scarlet Knights. The Johnson Boys were much improved this past Saturday against Rice, but now, the goal is to not just improve from previous weeks, but to attain the rarified air of excellence. Navy stepped it up one discernible notch in Houston against the Owls; next Saturday in New Jersey, however, a football team with a four-game winning streak will need to continue to insist that good enough isn't good enough. A pinch of greatness within an A-game level of performance will be needed to rule Rutgers.

Does this sound scary? It shouldn't to the Navy football team; they've gotten better whenever they've needed to in 2005. That locker room should stay unsatisfied this week in Annapolis, because the only enemy of this constantly improving bunch is complacency.


Navy quarterback Lamar Owens (2) ran the ball for 30 yards during the first half against Rice at Rice Stadium in Houston on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2005. (AP Photo/Jessica Kourkounis)

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