Duke-Navy Review

Someone showing up at Wallace Wade Stadium 90 minutes before kickoff on Saturday would have seen at least 1,000 young people, many of whom were Duke students, sitting in the section behind one of the end zones.

We had heard the Blue Devils believed Navy was their most winnable remaining game; was the presence of so many Duke students a sign that they were indeed ready, and that Navy was in trouble?

No. The crowd was listening to a lecture from former Redskins cornerback Darrell Green as part of some kind of youth day. They had such a big crowd--and I believe Cameron Indoor was being used for women's basketball practice--so it was held at the football stadium. As soon as Green was done, the crowd dispersed.

By kickoff, the only discernable student section at the stadium was the group of at least 500 Mids sitting in a corner of the stands.

I thought Duke would be desperate to avoid a winless season, but old habits die hard. There's a reason they've had three winless seasons since 1996, and appear headed for a fourth. Change coaches? Tried that--Fred Goldsmith went 0-11 in 1996; Carl Franks went 0-11 in 2000 and 2001; now Ted Roof has the team 0-9.

On Saturday, Duke scrapped its usual 4-3 formation for a 3-4, or essentially a 5-2 with 3-4 personnel (i.e. outside linebackers next to the ends). Navy used pretty much its base package on offense and figured they would use it until Duke made them switch.

It never happened. Quick-hitters to Ballard worked; Duke stayed in the 5-2. Kaipo ran the counter option perfectly; Duke stayed in the 5-2. A few toss sweeps broke 15-20 yard gains; Duke stayed in the 5-2.

Basically, though the game wasn't on TV, it essentially looked like the Air Force and Stanford games, if you could airbrush much of the home crowd out. Like Air Force, Duke stayed with its base package pretty much the whole game.

Like Stanford, once it fell behind it looked fairly disinterested on defense.

Johnson said after the game that he knew why Duke scrapped the 4-3, or even the formation with six linemen and a linebacker, though he didn't want to reveal why they had gone away from it.

My best guess is they scrapped the 4-3 because they were scared of Navy's passing. Last year, Navy ran only 44 plays--yet at least 7 or 8 went for 33 yards or more, which is an unreal percentage. I remember Johnson saying after last year's game that Duke fired the corners playside to stop the option pitches. Navy countered with long plays in the passing game to wide-open receivers.

Maybe they thought their superior personnel on the line and with the linebackers would be able to blow up Navy's running game. They weren't the first ones to think that. They also weren't the first to be wrong.

Navys defense, meantime, gave Duke's freshman QB quite a few looks. Buddy Green used the 4-3, 3-4, 3-3-5 with the starting 11; but he also mixed in a nickel package with Deliz playing as the fifth corner (I think Spencer was the player who came out).

Onto Eastern Michigan, and I believe Johnson when he says they're better than their 1-8 record. They have players, including a couple good wide receivers, a good tight end and a defensive tackle who originally signed with Colorado.

The Eagles are well-coached--their head coach and coordinators come from Northwestern, which had a fairly prolific day in Annapolis in 2002. No great friends to the service academies are Northwestern--remember the assistant coach who shoved Air Force's Chance Harridge in the face on the sideline in 2003?

His name is Jay Peterson, and he's now the defensive coordinator at Eastern Michigan. I thought at the time it was a cheap shot, but then again, I didn't have to listen to Harridge's trash talk all game. Maybe we should shake Peterson's hand instead of being angry with him.


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