Navy won on Saturday because the defensive coaches are experienced--coordinator Buddy Green is a former college head coach--and they weren't afraid to make changes to the gameplan after the first quarter and at halftime.
The defense became more aggressive in the second half. Keenan Little's interception where he made a break for the ball rather than playing the man was a key example of this, as was the strip by Caldwell in the fourth quarter.
Special teams helped, too, at least on the kickoff return by Reggie Campbell. Navy's offense was struggling to mount long drives and Campbell's 72-yard return gave the Mids the short field they needed for the winning touchdown. (The missed 27-yard field goal hurt, but at least it wasn't the starting kicker who missed. Navy Coach Paul Johnson said the starter, Joey Bullen, will play against Stanford.)
Stanford QB Trent Edwards was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school. He is a fifth-year senior, has good size and has pretty much seen it all.
Where he has struggled is when teams put pressure on him. Oregon had three sacks in a 48-10 win on Sept. 2. Last year, Stanford gave up five sacks to Oregon and UCLA, seven to Notre Dame and nine to Cal. The Cardinal lost those four games and finished 5-6.
Navy has used outside linebackers as defensive ends quite a bit under Green, including against U-Mass. I wonder if they'll go to the formation with one nose guard and then the linebackers lined up as defensive ends on obvious passing situations. Navy has good depth at linebacker, even without Lisante, so they can afford to have Tidwell and Mahoney rush the QB and have Wimsatt, Caldwell and Sovie or Cylc at linebacker in the 3-3-5.
(Having the speed on the outside of the line is an attempt to negate Navy's disadvantage in size.)
The pressure on the QB becomes even more important because DuJuan Price is likely not going to play Saturday. That leaves the five DBs as McGown, Little, Buffin, Miles and King, though all five can make plays.
The alternative is to drop the basically everyone into coverage--a la what Penn State did to Testaverde and Miami in the 1986 Fiesta Bowl, but I think that would give a QB like Edwards too much time to sit back there and wait for something to come open.
One more note on the offense: The leading rusher, Gerhart, is a freshman. So it appears Stanford has addressed the lack of play from its running game last year--its leading rushers had 248 and 244 yards, respectively. Both those RBs are back this year--as reserves.
Navy Coach Paul Johnson said he is not worried about the passing game, which is a relief. We should find out pretty quickly--the Mids threw 29 passes against the Cardinal last year. In that game I think they used the pass to open up the run.
Stanford gives up 7.1 yards per rush, but Navy may be able to hit them with some quick passes early. It will say a lot about Johnson's confidence in the passing based on what pass plays he calls early on. In my view, they threw some underneath stuff early against ECU and U-Mass. to try and get Hampton into a rhythm.
If they eschew the underneath stuff for some deep passes early, it could really give the Mids a jumpstart and bolster Hampton's confidence if those passes are completed.
Also--Goss played quite a bit at wide receiver against U-Mass. Keep an eye on him when he's in the game, I think he can make something happen.
If Navy doesn't complete passes it will struggle to run the ball, but I think Hampton will have a big game. Navy's QBs have always answered the call under Johnson.