Swezey: Navy was near perfect

There are better ways to start a column about Navy football than with a quote from a West Point grad, but anyway, it was Stonewall Jackson who once said, "Do not take counsel of your fears."

I was reminded of the quote in the days after Navy's 25-24 loss to Boston College in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The play calling at the end has its roots in the things Navy does all the time. There are no guarantees that taking the "safe route" and running the fullback up the middle would have worked (remember the fumble on the same play on the first series).
 
Conventional wisdom heading into the game was that if Navy had any chance of winning, it had to play a perfect game.
 
And really, how would you grade the Midshipmen on Saturday? I would submit they get a 95 out of 100. They get points for the following:
 
--Rushing for 322 yards against a defense that entered giving up 90.1 (13th out of 117 Division I-A teams)
 
--Putting up those numbers without their leading rusher and third-leading rusher, both of whom were injured
 
--When a BC safety (our friend Glasper, No. 24) had a big hit on an option pitch in the second quarter, he began hopping around and flexing his muscles. Two plays later, Navy decided to test him again.
 
Kaipo appeared to be running another option to that side of the field. Glasper came running like a dog on Pavlovian training for another highlight-film hit. Except Kaipo wasn't running an option. He was throwing to Tyree Barnes, who was open in the end zone where Glasper should have been. Glasper got one big hit. Navy got six big points.
 
--Shun White's 53-yard run on an option pitch was the longest run in Navy's bowl history.
 
--Saving the "heavy" formation for the final drive, when BC had just gotten used to the timing of the option out of the "twins" formation (where the wide receivers line up on the same side of the field).
 
There were a few negatives. Navy didn't answer every question correctly. The option pitch on third down in the final two minutes (the one that resulted in a fumble)…the onside kick that was open but was hit just a little too hard…the third-and-one and fourth-and-one calls just before halftime.
 
That's how, by my count, Navy finished with a 95.
 
And I would submit that the people harping on the play calls that did not work are missing the point. I think people should be focusing on the 95 Navy got right, not the five it got wrong.
 
The same coach whose play-calling is being questioned had, up until the third-and-16, gotten just about every single other call correct. 
 
I heard a few of my colleagues in the press box after the game say that for the first time, they had seen Paul Johnson get outcoached.
 
And my thought was, if Johnson had been outcoached, BC would have won 56-2.
 
I am not saying I disagree with the questions about the play calls at the end. My colleague, David Ausiello, and the Navy fans I spoke with afterward make very good points—ones that I would be a fool to discount.
 
But what I see is that Navy played a near-pefect game on Saturday. The problem wasn't the play-calling at the end. The problem was that near-perfect wasn't enough. Turns out they needed to be perfect to win.
 
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There may be a silver lining in all this anyway. Nebraska felt it was robbed of a national title in the Orange Bowl in 1994 (after the 1993 season). Several calls went Florida State's way (just as the holding calls on three converted third downs hurt Navy against BC).
 
The Huskers led with 1 minute 16 seconds left before FSU went on a drive for the winning field goal. During spring practices and into the preseason in 1994, anywhere Nebraska practiced, its coaches put 1:16 on the scoreboard and kept it there.
 
Nebraska went on to win the title in 1994 and 1995. A few years later, I met a Nebraska assistant who said that 1994 and 1995 happened specifically because of how 1993 ended.
 
Following the loss to BC, I would imagine that any chance that Navy will be complacent heading into the spring and fall is gone. (They may not have been complacent anyway, but Johnson thought the Hawaii team that won the WAC title in 1992 would not be complacent in 1993, and they finished 6-6.)
 
The holding calls, the rather disappointing behaviour of BC's players after the game, the fumble by Navy's best offensive player, all those things will not be forgotten anytime soon.
 
Nebraska's 11-0 regular season in 1993 had its roots in a loss to Florida State in  the Orange Bowl in 1992. That night, the Seminoles scored two quick touchdowns. The Huskers played them even the rest of the way in a 27-14 loss. They got a lot of confidence from playing a team like FSU even for three quarters.
 
Several of Navy's seniors said they thought the BC loss would give the team a lot of confidence once they got over the disappointment.
 

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