As Classic as a Mustang

Pardon the commercial reference, but it has a point behind it: The Ford Mustang represents classic American style, and a cool old-school feel that conveys complete confidence. How fitting it was, then, that on Saturday afternoon in Annapolis, the Navy football team used a classic throwback formula to run over the Mustangs from Southern Methodist.

Back in the 1960s, when the Mustang enjoyed wild heights of popularity on the open road, spread offenses hadn't yet become the rage in college football. In that era, the hot new offensive look was the option, and its best practitioners—whether in the triple-option look or the design called the "wishbone"--didn't need to throw the ball to be effective. The running game promised potency and ball security, the surest track to victory, especially against inferior opponents.

In light of this 27-point spanking of SMU, it's quite clear that the Midshipmen and coach Ken Niumatalolo didn't need to throw a forward pass to coast to a consequential victory. Navy was able to do something no major college team had done in 11 years, even on a day when quarterback Jarod Bryant got sidelined with an injury in the first half.

Shelving the pass could be thought by some critics to be a sign of excessive conservatism, an extreme reaction to the desire to avoid turnovers. For Navy, though, such an approach represents the strength borne of an abiding belief in a game plan and the coaching staff that created it. No player on Navy's roster benefited more from this approach than the man who replaced Bryant under center, Ricky Dobbs.

Sent into a rainy and windy environment that proved to be miserable only for the Mustangs from Dallas, Dobbs skillfully retraced the steps of Bryant, who so superbly filled in for Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada earlier this season. Given the grounding and stability of a set system, Dobbs merely ran for 224 yards on 42 touches.

Not bad for a debut performance, eh? The Ford Mustang didn't have a coming-out party like that.

The classic old-time flavor that defined this victory was not limited, however, to the lack of a need for a forward pass, or to Dobbs' dashing display of dynamism under center. Navy also used a tried-and-true method against Southern Methodist by capitalizing on that old-world concept called field position to establish its massive first-half advantage.

Navy didn't blow away SMU with a tidal wave of Mustang miscues or turnovers. June Jones's team only committed one turnover and three penalties, so it's not as though the Men of Ken were handed easy scores that fell into their lap. The only thing SMU allowed to Navy was a weak punting game that translated into great field position, but in the end, field position is not a function of huge plays. Rather, it's a matter of play-by-play dominance, time after time after time.

On this gray and soggy day, Navy proved to have the superior seafarers (no surprise there) who thrived in trench warfare from start to finish. In a context that rewarded safety and simplicity, the Midshipmen merely prevailed in football's most basic battles and the sport's most elemental struggles. Leveraging field position one exchange of possessions at a time, Navy used the ground game and its no-frills approach to grind down its opponent from Conference USA.

No one knows what the weather will bring next week against Temple, but given the struggles of the Owls' offense, one can safely say that if the Men of Ken don't throw another forward pass, and stick to executing the simple stuff with soundness, a sixth win—and an Eagle Bowl berth—will fly into the hands of this team that's well grounded in many more ways than one.

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