Swezey: A lot of good can happen Saturday

I really liked Paul Johnson's move to end the Notre Dame talk on Monday. I never will forget the lead-up to the Rose Bowl following the 2001 season, when Nebraska played Miami (Fla.) coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado. Then-Nebraska Coach Frank Solich and his players were still answering about the loss up until the day before the Rose Bowl. No question it was a distraction, and a needless one.

Solich should have dealt with it for a couple days and then moved on. Among other things, the repeated references dented what little confidence the Huskers had left. Their 37-14 loss to the Canes could have been much worse.

Lou Holtz pulled a similar move in August 1988. In the wake of allegations that he had committed some infractions at Minnesota, Holtz began his media day news conference by saying that he would answer questions about the allegations for one day and one day only. What could have been a distraction instead was dealt with quickly and professionally. ND went on to win the national title.

I, however, have not agreed to stop talking about ND, so a quick word about that before moving on. By my count--and by my count, I mean going into the Wash Post archives and digging out all of the old game stories and box scores--two of the three largest rushing totals for Navy against ND in the past 44 years have come with Paul Johnson at the helm.

The 258 yards on Saturday was third.

As much as last year's game was a blowout, Navy's 271 rushing yards were the second-most since 1963. Only the 277 yards in 1997 were more (I believe Ken Neomont was calling plays then).

ND changed their defense dramatically from last year. Then, they sent their free safety (Zbikowski, #9) in to the alley on almost every option. (The alley is the area between the QB and the sideline on outside options.) He finished with a ton of tackles (I think 14) but it left ND vulnerable to reverses and passes. Navy couldn't complete the passes because, much like in 2004, the QB had zero time to throw.

This year, they must've felt like Kaipo had improved a lot, because they didn't send Zbikowski into the alleys hardly at all. Instead, they fired the play side cornerback to the option pitchman. The DBs had zero pass defense responsibility. Navy countered, though not right away. Johnson kept a play up his sleeve, and then used it when he needed it. It looked like the touchdown pass in OT against Pitt was really similar to the one that accounted for the winning points on Saturday. It looked like a wheel route to Campbell between the LBs and deep safety.

I remember Duke fired the corners on the option in 2005; the first time, it resulted in a tackle for loss. The second time it resulted in a 33-yard TD pass from Owens to Tyree Barnes.

That's one thing about this offense that is so scary for opponents and so much fun to watch for us. Navy is most dangerous *after* the defense has made a big play or a big series of plays. It happened in the bowl game against BC, where the safety laid a big hit on an option pitch-man and the next play he came up again looking for a big hit. Only Navy had just thrown the ball over his head for a TD.

Anyway...a lot of good can happen on Saturday. Navy can become bowl eligible. It can continue its very good record on the road (3-1 this year, 5-1 last year including the bowl game). And Adam Ballard can get a little revenge. When he was a junior in high school his team lost 63-7 to Southlake Carroll--coached by current North Texas Coach Todd Dodge.

I am most interested to see if the defense keeps its momentum. It looked like Buddy Green had exhausted almost all of his options in terms of personnel--I felt he had used Plans A, B, C, D and E early in the season; Plan F was Vela playing OLB; there was no Plan G. Or, as it turns out, Plan G was sending Green upstairs to the coach's box for ND, and it appeared to work. It sounds like he will be there again on Saturday.

The defense has reminded me of a lot of other young defenses on teams that have had some success in the past--it looks to me like they pick their spots.

I thought the unit was much more enthusiastic (and effective) for Air Force, ND and the second half against Duke than it was for Ball State and Delaware (both losses). That's the price of having so few healthy seniors over there. I don't expect it to be the case next year.


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