It might seem a little harsh to give such a low grade to someone who ran for nearly 150 yards. And Brian Hampton did look good running the football, using his strong legs to drive through the first hit and pick up extra yards. But if you ask him how he did, he'll be the first to tell you that he could do a lot better. He missed a few option reads, occasionally putting slotbacks in a bad spot. That's something that will improve with more repetitions over the course of the season. But it was really the passing game that brings Hampton's grade down. Overthrowing wide-open receivers might be something that he can get away with against East Carolina, but if Navy expects to beat Stanford in two weeks they'll need to hit those big plays. Opening game jitters? Probably. Paul Johnson seems to think so, and there's no reason not to take his word for it. Time will tell.
There weren't many big plays in the game, but what few there were were turned in by the fullbacks. Adam Ballard showed good strength in running through tackles on his 16-yard touchdown run, and Matt Hall looked fully recovered from offseason knee surgery while squirting through the ECU defense for 20 yards on a third quarter counter play. Both fullback consistently gained 4-5 yards every time they touched the ball. The only thing keeping this grade from being an A is Hall's third quarter fumble inside the ECU 20.
The slots did a great job blocking all night long and averaged 7 yards per carry. Reggie Campbell made a huge catch on 3rd down that kept the first drive alive, which led to a touchdown. Nothing flashy, but a solid night all around.
Offensive line: A-
The 403 rushing yards allowed might suggest otherwise, but ECU's defense did a pretty good job of playing assignment football; several outside runs were strung out to the sideline. With the outside fairly well defended, Paul Johnson turned to the inside game. The offensive line responded, allowing Brian Hampton and the fullbacks to consistently run for 4-5 yard gains. Equally impressive was the pass protection; for all of Hampton's throwing struggles, it wasn't because he was under pressure. Two false start penalties hurt, but it was still a dominating performance.
Wide receivers: B
Jason Tomlinson and OJ Washington were able to get open, but their perimeter blocking could have been better.
Defensive line: B+
The D-line played a pretty good game. Adams, Wright, and Chan all made plays in the backfield, including Chan's sack. Was this a sign of improvement or a young offensive line? We'll find out after the trip to Palo Alto.
In his press interviews after practices last week, Paul Johnson hinted that the defense was focused on stopping the run this week. And stop the run they did, limiting ECU to a paltry 76 yards on the ground. The linebackers did a great job filling their gaps, holding the Pirates to 3 yards a carry. Clint Sovie and David Mahoney were rangy, making plays all over the field and leading the team with eight tackles apiece. The linebacking corps was seen as the strength of the defense going into this season, and after game one that's still the case.
The secondary always seems to look worse than it really is. Buddy Green's defense makes a point out of not giving up the big play, and as a result opposing offenses nickel and dime the Mids with short passes. Expecting the secondary to shut down a team's receivers is a little unfair. What isn't unfair, though, is to expect them to tackle. For every solid open-field tackle the secondary registered, they missed another. ECU receivers racked up a lot of James Pinckney's 286 passing yards on runs after the catch. That will almost certainly be a point of emphasis in practice this week. On the plus side, ECU has an excellent group of wide receivers and the experience of defending them will be beneficial in preparing for the rest of the season.
Special Teams: B+
Reggie Campbell had a nice kickoff return, Jason Tomlinson had a nice punt return, Jeremy McGown almost blocked a punt, and our own rugby punt wasn't a disaster. All in all, a solid day on special teams. Joey Bullen missed a field goal that he makes 90% of the time, which brings the grade down.
So all in all, a solid win but not a perfect win. Plenty of room for improvement. Next up for the Midshipmen is a very good Massachusetts squad, who started the season off with a dominating 28-7 win over defending Patriot League co-champion Colgate.
--The ECU win marks the 19th straight victory for Navy when rushing for 300+ yards. The last loss? Rutgers in 2003, in a game filled with turnovers.
--How great was CSTV's television coverage of the game? Midshipmen bios, "Name that Midshipman," and Pete Medhurst on the call. CSTV has definitely stepped up their coverage this year.
--Navy has won 12 straight games after scoring first, the last loss being the homecoming game against Delaware in 2003.