First-Half Grades for Defense, Special Teams

It's time to hand out those mid-season report cards for the Navy football team. On the heels of a three-game winning streak, you'd think that the Mids would score pretty high marks across the board. However, one must not forget about the Ball State and Duke games, the later of which may at season's end look like one victory that got away. Go ahead and debate the grades in the GoMids.com forum.

Defensive Line

From a Statistical Standpoint:

Raise your hand if that after six games you thought someone other than Nate Frazier, Matt Nechak or Michael Walsh would lead all Navy defensive linemen in tackles, sacks, and tackles for a loss (TFL). Now keep your hand up if you predicted that player would be a plebe. If there are any hands still visible, perhaps one of them belongs to freshman sensation Jabaree Tuani who has registered 22 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Speaking of sacks, it took Navy nine games and six overtimes to record its eighth sack last season. This year, they have eight in the first six games. The defensive line has five of them.

From a Fundamental Standpoint:

The defensive line has been the surprise of the season so far for Navy. Last season through six games, Navy's opponents were averaging 4.6 yards per rush and about a lifetime after each snap to pass the ball. There was no pressure being applied to the quarterback and as a result, Navy's secondary was being lit up. It's tough to call any performance by a Navy defensive line ‘dominating' when you consider the size and weight disparity against the majority of its opponents, but can Navy fans remember a better stretch of three games in a row from the Mids d-line than the past three? In addition to Tuani, Nate Frazier has been a force inside, consistently taking on double-teams, and Matt Nechak has been solid as well. And with Michael Walsh, Navy's best lineman going into the season, scheduled to return against Pitt this week, the Mids all of a sudden have some depth to keep Tuani and Nechak fresh.

Grade: B+

Linebackers 

From a Statistical Standpoint:

After making eight tackles in the opener against Towson, inside linebacker Clint Sovie struggled against Ball State and Duke, making only eight tackles in those two games combined. He has since responded with 16 tackles in his past three games. On the other hand, after a slow start in the first game, Ross Pospisil has been providing great run support including nine tackles against Air Force. Pospisil has also been a force in defending the short passing game with two interceptions including the game-clincher against Rutgers. On the outside, Corey Johnson has come a long way from the hard floors as he is currently the fourth leading tackler for the Mids with 38 stops. Opposite Johnson, the combination of Craig Schaefer and Ram Vela has added 25 tackles while both having suffered injuries thus far this season.

From a Fundamental Standpoint:

Navy fans have always taken pride in the aggressive play of their linebackers, and so far this year has been no exception. However, in the early going that style of play may have contributed to Clint Sovie's struggles with taking proper angles. As a whole though, one would be hard pressed to find a more complete compliment (especially in terms of speed) of linebackers in the option-era.  Navy's outside and inside linebackers have been as good as any during the previous six seasons, with the emergence of Ross Pospisil exemplifying the unit's rapid maturation from last season. Two areas of concern are stopping the run on the outside (struggled with that against Air Force) and better timing of blitzes.  So far the linebacker corps has only registered two sacks.

Grade: B+

Secondary

From a Statistical Standpoint:

Much like the slot back position on the other side of the ball, if you look just at the statistics, Navy's secondary would win the most valuable position award for the first half of the season. Senior rover Jeff Deliz and sophomore free safety Wyatt Middleton lead the team in tackles with 42 apiece and Rashawn King is not far behind with 29 stops. In addition, back-up safety Emmett Merchant has played consistently well when called upon and has been credited with 23 tackles. As a unit, Navy's secondary has already matched last year's total of 5 interceptions, including three against Wake Forest. In the Demon Deacons game, senior Ketric Buffin had his best day at Navy as he led the team with seven tackles to go with his one interception.

From a Fundamental Standpoint:

And while the statistics look good now, the Navy secondary struggled through the first three games of the year. In the first half against Towson, and against Ball State and Duke, the secondary was exposed on several third downs, and even beaten deep for a touchdown. However, in the past three games it almost has seemed like a completely different unit. At times, it looked as if players were not only flying out of nowhere to the ball, but if you were unlucky enough to cross the path of Deliz or Middleton, you felt it. Perhaps the biggest difference in this year's unit, compared with 2007, is its' physicality.  The emergence of Merchant has allowed defensive coordinator Buddy Green to use Deliz more aggressively in run support and it has paid off on several critical short yardage situations. If it wasn't for their shaky performance early on, Navy's secondary would have received a Kettani-like grade.

Grade: B+

Special Teams

From a Statistical Standpoint:

Believe it or not at this point last season, Navy's Reggie Campbell was only averaging 4.7 yards per punt return. Of course due to Navy's defensive struggles last year, Campbell had limited opportunities (3) when you take away fair catches and touchbacks. By season's end, Campbell had averaged 13.7 yards per return. This season, well, Navy has had more success blocking punts than returning them; however Mario Washington has managed to average over 7 yards per return. It has been the same scenario on kick-offs. Even with John Angelo's 57-yard return against Rutgers, Navy is only averaging 18.8 yards per return. Now nobody expects Navy to equal Campbell's 25.3 yard average from last season, but averaging below 20 yards per return is awful. Meanwhile, Kyle Delahooke has been consistent booting the ball to the tune of a 37.3 yards per punt which is almost a half yard better than Greg Veteto's average after six games last season. Delahooke's season-best 52-yard punt against Rutgers was even more impressive considering it came in his first attempt after a block by the Scarlet Knights. At kicker, Matt Harmon has gotten off to perhaps the best start in Navy history kicking field goals and extra points. Harmon is among the nation's best making 19-19 extra points and hitting on 14-15 field goals.

From a Fundamental Standpoint:

Special Teams: Aside from the return elements, Navy's special teams have done an outstanding job during the first half of the 2008 campaign. Matt Harmon has quietly become one of the best kickers in the nation while freshman Jon Teague has given Navy's defense a huge boost with his ability to drive kickoffs back to the opponent's end zone. And of course who can forget about the punt block team? As a trio, Greg Shinego, Bobby Doyle, and Blake Carter virtually secured the season's most important win by blocking two punts and recovering them for touchdowns against Air Force.

Grade: A-

 

Overall Thoughts and Looking Ahead

One area the Navy defense has improved upon greatly this year, especially in the last three games is on third downs. So far this season, Navy has forced its opponents to punt 20 times – seven more than during the first-half of the season last year. Navy fans have been waiting a long time for the Mids' defense to carry the team to victory and they have gotten their wish the past month. And even though the Navy defense has earned a very respectable grade for their first-half efforts, there is definitely still room for improvement. However, unlike the offense, which has yet to put four good quarters together, the Navy defense's performance against Wake Forest will easily go down in history as one of the best games for a group of Navy defenders. They set the tone early in Winston-Salem, and they did not relent when the Demon Deacons mounted their second-half comeback. If the Navy defense can replicate that effort at least two more times, Navy will be assured of its sixth straight bowl game. If they can play like that for the rest of the season…ok, maybe we should just take it one game at a time.  After all, Pitt will be a huge challenge for the Navy defense, and a Wake Forest-like effort may be necessary once again to win the game.

 

OVERALL FIRST-HALF GRADE DEFENSE: B+  

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CollegeFootballNews.com's Adam Nettina contributed to this article.

 


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