Navy: From Shelf Life to Top-Shelf

Pardon this writer for assuming that a rousing win over Rutgers could not be followed by a deliciously delightful drubbing of the Demon Deacons from Wake Forest. Last week's victory in Annapolis possessed a fair amount of shelf life; this week's crowning conquest, however, was simply top-shelf.

My, how much Navy football has grown in these past two weeks. With the kid named Kaipo lacking anything close to complete health, Jarod Bryant steadied the ship for these gallant gridiron gladiators, and the same defense that was diced by Duke and battered by Ball State has suddenly turned into a formidable football force.

Want some quick perspective on what this triumph means for Navy? Far more than the Rutgers game (and if this season continues to soar, that narrow escape job with John McCain in attendance will only increase in stature…), this win in Winston-Salem will do so much to affirm the credentials of this program and the new man in charge of it.

Think about these thoughts, some of which are factual, and some of which—while subjective—still carry a considerable amount of weight:

Thought No. 1: A guy named Paul Johnson—ever heard of him?—over at another ACC school in Atlanta, would have been hard pressed to beat Wake Forest on the road.

Thought No. 2: Ken Niumatalolo has already beaten Wake Forest and Jim Grobe on the road.

Thought No. 3: Beating Notre Dame on the road last season—as bad as the Irish were—represented a huge and historic accomplishment, but for Navy to beat its first ranked opponent since 1985 speaks even more highly of this program's newfound place in the college football pecking order.

Thought No. 4: Navy won this game against Wake primarily with—yes—defense. "Navy has a defense." Just putting those four words together, especially after previous September struggles, has to make any Navy fan ecstatic.

Thought No. 5: The Midshipmen didn't fluster or flummox just any quarterback in the Carolinas on Saturday. Wake's Riley Skinner is a battle-tested senior warrior, an ACC champion, an Orange Bowl participant, and a bowl winner (last season's Meineke Car Care Bowl against Connecticut). Moreover, Skinner entered this showdown with a streak of 133 consecutive passes without an interception. Navy picked him off four times.

Thought No. 6: Not only did Navy never trail in this contest, the Midshipmen never led by fewer than seven points once they took the lead. Wake's final points represented a "garbage" touchdown, a cosmetic window-dressing type of "tack-on" tally. This game was actually not as close as the final score would indicate, which shows just how much the Men of Ken maxed out against the Deacs.

Thought No. 7: Wake's defense is the backbone of the Demon Deacons, and even without Kaipo for a decent portion of the day, Navy was able to approach 300 yards rushing, its normal benchmark for offensive success. Simply spectacular.

Yes, there are so many ways in which this win jumps off the page as a first-rate accomplishment that's as big as anything Navy football has done over the past six sensational seasons. But outside of the specific details of today's win, one must also consider some other realities as well, some emergent truths that couldn't have been seen or grasped over the previous few weeks:

For one thing, the Duke team that dusted Navy a while back has turned out to be something more than the bottom feeder of the ACC. The Blue Devils just thumped Virginia by four touchdowns, and stand at 3-1 overall, 1-0 in the ACC. Navy actually lost to a decent team, something this correspondent wasn't able to appreciate at the time.

Secondly, Ball State—even with its main receiver out for the season—is tearing up a storm in the Mid-American Conference. That's another underrated ballclub Navy lost to (and like Duke, that loss occurred on the road).

Third, all the titanic upsets from the past weekend show how many talented teams can take advantage of a favorite's mistakes. Much as Oregon State maxed out against USC, Navy was also able to produce a peak performance against Wake. It says a lot about Navy that the Midshipmen were able to join the pigskin party on a Saturday filled with surprises. Not all teams are good enough to beat someone a few rungs above them; Navy evidently proved that it can pick off a big boy in this sport. Words can't fully describe what that reality must mean for the Men of Ken.

So, with Wake a vanquished opponent now in the rearview mirror, Navy plays the first of its two Commander-in-Chief games against Air Force. The Midshipmen—who have been known to read press clippings in the past (anyone recall stunning losses to Tulane or Delaware in recent seasons?)—cannot afford to relax. Just the same, though, this team will be able to face the Falcons with the kind of confidence that comes from a conquest as big as the one delivered on a sweet Saturday in North Carolina. If Navy can feed off its confidence instead of becoming overconfident, more games like this Wake Forest win will emerge in a future that just got a whole lot brighter for an ascendant Annapolis outfit. Top Stories