High Texas Tallies

It's been a year for defense in Annapolis, but for some reason, the Lone Star State enables Navy's attack to operate on all cylinders. Two years ago, Kaipo Noa Kaheaku-Enhada presided over a 74-point explosion in Denton, Tex., against the University of North Texas.

This past Saturday in Houston, Ricky Dobbs—fresh off a poor performance against the Air Force Academy—found the finest form of 2009, leading his mates to 63 points in a 49-point throttling of a reeling Rice roster.

Sure, the Men of Ken expected to win this game, as did their fan base. With that having been said, it still says a lot about Dobbs that the up-and-down signal caller was not just a caretaker, but a conqueror, on this afternoon at Rice Stadium. On the very same field where Super Bowl VIII was played in 1974, Dobbs played like a champion and gave the Midshipmen the hope that the second half of their season can feature even more balance and brilliance.

Don't look at the all-too-obvious stats to find the finer points of pigskin polish displayed by Dobbs against the Owls of Conference USA. It's as clear as day that Navy dominated from start to finish, rolling up a 28-0 lead in the game's first 20 minutes, but if you want to gain meaning from Dobbs's performance deep in the heart of Texas, you need to look at only one number: 3.

Yes, Navy produced another one of its high Texas tallies, just two years after the nuking of North Texas, but it's a small number—the one between 2 and 4—which explains why Dobbs can attain a heightened level of excellence as this season progresses.

Three is the number of fourth downs Navy encountered on Saturday against Rice, and three is the number of times the Midshipmen converted in those situations, with Dobbs handling two of them and backup quarterback Kriss Proctor taking care of the third. While it's undeniable that Rice—now winless at 0-6—represents a lower-tier foe, Dobbs still made the right reads and reactions on fourth down, and entirely with the running game.

This point is significant because against Ohio State and on many occasions since that season opener in Columbus, Dobbs hasn't always made proper adjustments at the line of scrimmage, in either pre-snap or post-snap situations. Turnovers have represented a separate and substantial waterloo for Dobbs, but even more fundamental in his failings has been a lack of reliability as a diagnostician of defenses. As Navy prepares for the second half of its season, which will involve stiff tests against the likes of Wake Forest and Notre Dame (and don't sleep on this week's upcoming foe, Southern Methodist, which just toppled East Carolina in a show of surprising strength), Dobbs needs to be better at dissecting the looks and movements that are thrown in his direction. This performance against Rice not only shows Ken Niumatalolo that his signal caller is growing; it will allow Navy's running game to become that much more dynamic, which will—in turn—set up a surprise pass or two when defenses least expect it.

All in all, every season has its own unique chemistry and its own elaborate succession of dominoes that tumble and turn. This game against Rice involved a dual domino effect: On one hand, the whole Navy team played with the mental liberation produced by the Commander-In-Chief conquest of Air Force, always a moment that sends spirits soaring in Annapolis; with that said, the positive vibes that flowed through the visitors' sideline in Houston extended to Dobbs in particular. One of the few Midshipmen who didn't play well in that goal-affirming, status-enhancing eclipse of Air Force was the same man who refined and reformed his on-field performance against Rice.

For much of the first half of this 2009 season, Ricky Dobbs stood in the background while Buddy Green's defense and "Big-Play Bobby" Doyle stepped into the forefront. But now that Dobbs has posted a big fat "63" in response to Kaipo's sensational "74" from two years ago in Texas, it could be that Navy's quarterback has fully joined the fun.

How will we know this is the case? Next week's game against SMU is a roadie… in Dallas. Don't let the high Texas tallies and foot-stomping good times stop. It's time to make use of this boatload of confidence and sink even more opponents as 2009 marches on.

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