It didn't take long after Ricky Dobbs was picked off by Brian Rolle on the game-defining two-point conversion attempt for ESPN's group of commentators to question the play-call of Ivin Jasper and Ken Niumatalolo. The argument – initially made somewhat awkwardly by a dumbfounded Bob Griese -- amounted to a question of "why would Navy call a pass play when they've been running the option so well?" After the game, Lou Holtz and Mark May reiterated this question, and I even heard NBC's commentators bring up the point during the Notre Dame-Nevada game. I find these questions unfounded. Not only has Navy converted two-point conversions off of the pass in the past, but the constraints of field position on two-point conversion attempts make running the option risky, as the angles of pursuit favor the defense. Considering Ohio State had success in clogging up the midline-option for a good part of the afternoon, it makes sense that Niumatalolo would want to spread them out at such a critical juncture. If anything, I applaud coach Niumatalolo and coach Jasper for showing a willingness to try to catch the Buckeyes off guard with the play. The problem wasn't in the call, it was in the execution. For as many big plays as Ricky Dobbs made in the passing game during the contest, his decision to try to force the ball into the back of the endzone wasn't his best on-field moment. Dobbs threw some great passes during the game, but the pass he threw on the conversion could have been picked off by multiple Buckeye defenders.
Game of Inches
In case you needed any reminder that college football is a "game on inches," look no further than the play of Terrelle Pryor, who lived up to his billing as an escape artist against the Navy defense. Pryor not only made plays when things broke down for the Buckeye offense, but he shrugged off at least two would-be sacks by Navy linebacker Ross Pospisil, who later recorded a sack when backup quarterback Joe Bauserman was inserted into the game. Pyror's ability to sidestep a sack and find Dane Sanzenbacher for a touchdown on the first drive of the game was a key score which set the tone for his play the rest of the afternoon.
Coach Niumatalolo had spoken at length during the offseason about throwing the ball more this season, but despite his insistence I've always got the feeling that many Navy fans had their doubts as to how well this strategy would work. While we're far from a complete answer, the initial indication is that this year's passing game could be the best in the last decade. Just take a look at Ricky Dobbs' stat sheet: 9 of 13 for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns. True, Dobbs was intercepted at two critical junctions in the game, but don't forget that pass protection was a major concern coming into the game, and in that regard both the Navy offensive line and Dobbs did a good job. And let's not forget the play of Navy's receivers. Mike Schupp and Mario Washington showed good hands and concentration, while Marcus Curry was incredibly precise in his route running. That's is not a broad cliché either, as the touchdown on the post-corner route that Curry ran in the third quarter was the same route which Shun White rounded off too early (and dropped) on the final drive against Notre Dame last season.
Up and Down Dobbs
Overall, I thought Dobbs showed a lot of promise against Ohio State's defense, which should be (by far) the best defense Navy faces all season. Not only did he throw the ball with great velocity, but he also had some strong runs in which he willed himself over Ohio State defenders. No run appeared bigger than his six yard stampede on 3rd and 6 from deep within Navy territory in the third quarter, in which Dobbs bulled over a Buckeyes defender to preserve a Navy drive that would eventually lead to a touchdown. While Dobbs made many jaw-dropping plays like this, he was still inconsistent at times during the game, making several questionable reads on option plays and forcing two critical interceptions. While he'll likely be the first to take the blame for these mistakes, his performance has to give Navy fans hope for the future, especially considering the level of defensive competition he was facing on Saturday.
Tune Down Talk of Tune Up
I try to be as open minded as possible when it comes to telecasts, and can be pretty forgiving when it comes to mispronounced names, simplified concepts, and off-topic banter. But was there anything more annoying than listening to the number of times Dave Pasch, Bob Griese, and Chris Spielman used the phrase "tune up" in reference to the game? Look, I know that the nationally relevant and big-storyline going into the game was how Ohio State was going to look the week before playing Southern Cal, but it wasn't something I (or every other fan watching across the country) needed to be reminded of coming out of each commercial break. With all due respect to our friends off of I-695, a team like Towson is a "tune up" for a Big Ten program. A team like Navy – with six consecutive bowl appearances – is not.
Defense Steps Up
Lost amongst the many storylines of Navy's near-miss upset has been the play of the Navy defense, which held the Buckeyes to a respectable 363 total yards (less than Texas gave up to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl last year.) I was particularly impressed by the play of Navy's defensive line, which remained stout in clogging up the inside gaps against Ohio State's power running game. Chase Burge played exceptionally well considering that he was going up against two of the better interior offensive linemen in the country, while Jabaree Tuani and Matt Nechak showed great hustle and explosiveness off the edge throughout the game. If there's one defensive point to take away from the game (and for Navy fans to feel good about) it's that the defense seems to have reached a point in which coordinator Buddy Green feels comfortable in dialing-up zone blitz schemes on a regular basis. This is a credit to Navy's defensive backs, who (for the most part) did a remarkable job of tackling in space given the level of athleticism of Ohio State's wide receivers.
A good omen for Navy fans? Auburn, a team which averaged 137 yards rushing per game in 2008, ran for 301 yards in their 37-13 win against Louisiana Tech. The Mids will play host to Bulldogs next week in Annapolis.
Adam Nettina can be contacted at AdamNettina[at]gmail.com.