Navy had just put together another impressive drive, highlighted by a long run by Shun White. There was less than two minutes to play in the first half and it was fourth down and Navy needed about two yards (or one very long yard) for the first down. With the score Navy 21-13, I turned to my friend Wayne and I said, "Alright, kick the field goal, go up by two scores and we will be in really good shape."
It was third down and forever with less than two minutes to go in the game and Navy had the ball just around midfield. The Mids were up 24-22 and I turned to my friend Bill and I said, "nothing tricky – just hand it off to the fullback and punt." If Navy did not get the first down, the Eagles would have to go at least 50 yards with no timeouts and about 90 seconds to play in order to get into long field goal range.
The next sentence would work with either start to the article…
What was Paul Johnson thinking????
Now let me preface my mild criticism of Coach Johnson with a few no-brainer comments that all Navy fans will agree with. Without Johnson, Navy would not be as good as they are. Without Johnson, Navy probably loses to this Boston College team by four touchdowns. He is the first and foremost reason for the Midshipmen's success.
Ok, now that I got that off my chest, let me once again say – what was he thinking?
First, let's take the decision to go for it on fourth down with about 1:30 left in the first half and the ball inside the Boston College 20-yard line. On the previous play, Navy tried to throw a corner route to the end-zone but Boston College's secondary didn't bite. And even though running the option got Navy deep into Eagles' territory, in the last few plays, their defense had stiffened. You are up by 8 points against a top-25 team; you have a healthy and fairly successful kicker; so all the logic in the world says take a shot at the field goal. However, Johnson decided to run quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada up the middle and Boston College made a stop. Less than a minute later, the Eagles went the length of the field and kicked a field goal to close out the scoring in the first half. It was a six point swing…and it was costly.
Johnson said that if Navy missed the field goal in that situation that people would have said he should have went for it. But Navy was winning…what exactly were we trying to do – put the nail in the coffin – against Boston College – in the first half? I agree about 99% of the time when Johnson decides to roll the dice on 4th down, but in this case, I think he got greedy. Maybe I am wrong, but I don't think he makes the same call in any other game this season under similar circumstances. Trying to get one yard against 350 lb linemen on 4th down is a reach – especially when you are already in field goal range.
Now to the other play that I will have nightmares about. It's third and forever after a holding call backed the Mids up to around midfield with less than two minutes to play. Why on earth do you call a play that involves the ball leaving your quarterback's hands?
After the game Johnson said that the way Boston College's defense was aligned the play could have resulted in a big gainer, and perhaps even a first down. Once again, Johnson made an aggressive play call in a situation when the conservative approach seemed more sensible, to me. I guess one could argue that Navy's bread and butter is the option so in a sense it was just another routine play. But in replays one could clearly see that Boston College's defense was ready for the call as Campbell would have been dropped for a loss even if he had caught the pitch cleanly.
In both situations, Johnson called on his offense to put the team in a position to make big plays in crucial, game-deciding situations. Something I guess you could say he had been doing all year and probably every year since he arrived in Annapolis. Yet, in this game, maybe it was Navy's defense that should have been called upon, at least in these two scenarios to make the big plays.
To make amends for his too aggressive play calling in the bowl game, I think Paul Johnson should immediately sign another contract extension with a clause that says he is not permitted to even talk to other schools interested in his services. As frustrated as I was with the outcome of the game, my frustration is still not even close to being my number one concern regarding what transpired on Saturday in Charlotte. The greater concern for me and for all Navy fans should be that Paul Johnson once again showed a national television audience (especially the folks in Tuscaloosa) that he is the real deal. Boston College came in with the 13th ranked defense and with over a month to prepare for Johnson's spread option. Yet for the greater part of the game, Navy broke big play after big play, mostly with slotbacks who aren't any taller than 5'8". Imagine what Paul Johnson could do with the talent pool on the other side of the field. Not to take anything away from the Boston College coaching staff, but that is indeed a scary thought.
Earlier in the week, I wrote a story about how a Navy victory over Boston College would have been one of the biggest for the program in the past 20 years. And for most of the game, Navy outplayed the 23rd ranked team in the country. The Navy team that played yesterday would have manhandled Army, beat Tulsa and perhaps even given Notre Dame and Rutgers a good run for their money. And as my dad would say, that's not too shabby.
Bowl Game Observations
- For the most part, the Navy fans were great, making a lot of noise on third downs and letting the referees know when they missed a call. Now if we could only bring these same fans to Navy Marine Corps Stadium for each home game.
- I wasn't too impressive with the selection of bowl merchandise. I thought they could have had a little more variety. The selection at the Houston Bowl, for example, was much better.
- There will probably be a lot of discussion about the final attendance numbers which were somewhere around 35,000 – 40,000. I'd like to think that about 27,000 of those fans were pulling for Navy.
- The fly-over was great…I just wish I knew it was coming. There was no warning from the stadium announcer.
- Charlotte is a great town, but even with the warmer than normal temperatures (56 degrees), I'd still prefer bowling in a more tropical location.
Navy's Shun White (26) breaks away for a 53-yard gain during the first half of Navy's 25-24 loss to Boston College in the Meineke Car Care Bowl football game in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 30, 2006. White had 116 yards rushing. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)