A full Day's work for Navy

After the win against Kent State, there was still a bad aftertaste in the Navy locker room. After the win against Rice, some—but not all—of that unsatisfying flavor was wiped away. After the loss at Rutgers a week ago, that bad taste returned with a vengeance. Saturday in Annapolis against Tulane, however, that sour sensation was fully expunged.

Strike up the band, cue the chorus, sing the praises: the Navy Midshipmen—hard-working and resilient all year—have, in the immortal words of Emeril, "kicked it up a notch." The Johnson Boys finally played a complete football game for the first time in 2005, playing by far their best first quarter of the season to swamp the Green Wave, 49-21.

Just a few days after the Navy program and Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk (formerly the AD at Tulane in the late 1980s) saved the Tulane athletic department roughly $200,000 in a beautiful gesture of outreach toward the Katrina-stricken school, Navy's football team came up with a million-dollar performance that had to make Coach Johnson happy. For once, a team with great enthusiasm and perseverance was able to win without biting its nails or graying Johnson's hair in a nerve-wracking fourth quarter. It was a refreshing change for a team that, week by week, has shown its staff and its worldwide fan base that it continues to absorb and learn lessons, evolving and maturing as a young football team that should continue to produce bowl-eligible seasons in years to come.

After improving to 5-3, Navy needs just one more win to secure yet another bowl bid in the Johnson era, testament to the brilliance of the Midshipmen head coach, who has taken a bunch of youngsters and molded them into something special. A triumph over Notre Dame would be amazing, and a victory over Army is demanded by Navy people across the globe. But to put this win over Tulane into perspective, it virtually guarantees the Midshipmen a bowl bid, because even if Notre Dame isn't conquered, the Johnson Boys get the very worst team in Division I-A football, the Temple Owls, at home in Annapolis on Nov. 19. True, Navy—like anyone else in NCAA football—can never just roll the helmets onto the field and automatically expect to win. But as a matter of simple analysis, this team—which will be fine as long as it stays focused—should have little trouble reaching the magic six-win plateau. Saturday's performance was the best one yet for a team that seems increasingly worthy of going bowling in late December.

28-0 in the first quarter. That sounds like a can of whoopin' on the order of what Southern California or Texas would unleash on hapless opponents. But Saturday, it was the Navy Midshipmen who did the deed against the Green Wave. Navy's dominance was so total and consistent that Lamar Owens needed to throw just two passes, completing one. All the Midshipmen needed to do was to run the ball, and boy, did they ever. The Johnson Boys—with Owens, Matt Hall, Marco Nelson, Reggie Campbell, and Karlos Whittaker all making significant contributions—racked up 418 rushing yards to prove that a ground-based attack absorbs and neutralizes a Green Wave when effective.

That potency on offense was supplemented with a ball-hawking defense that secured the turnovers that proved elusive the week before in key situations against Rutgers. Navy's defense was better able to turn the game decisively in the home team's direction, finding a way to make backbreaking plays that enabled the Midshipmen to coast to a rare but delightfully relaxing win.

So as the focus shifts to South Bend and a date with Charlie Weis, Navy can be comforted by two things: 1) the Midshipmen now know they can play a complete football game; 2) even if they fail to beat the Irish, a bowl game is still very likely. All's well in Annapolis—Navy football is on its way to achieving its major goals in 2005.

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