FIRST HALF GRADES FOR NAVY OFFENSE

For the fifth time in the last seven years, Navy is 4-2 after six games. But unlike past years, one could argue that the Midshipmen's best performance came in a loss and its worst performance came in a win. I took all of this into consideration as I hand out first-half grades for the team – starting today with the offense.

QUARTERBACK

 

A look back: 2008

Last season the quarterback position was a revolving door mainly due to a lingering hamstring injury to Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada which gave senior Jarod Bryant plenty of time behind center. Bryant played 16 out of the first 24 quarters of the season. At the halfway point in the season, the combination of Kaipo and Bryant had rushed for 416 yards on 125 carries (3.33 yards per rush). The two also combined for 11 touchdowns (7 rushing and 4 passing). Overall I gave Kaipo and Bryant a B- because I thought that neither really had a breakout performance after six games and consistency was a definite problem.

 

2009: Welcome to Annapolis, Mr. Dobbs

This year, there has been no debate at the quarterback position where Ricky Dobbs has settled in nicely in his first year starting. However after all the hype about Dobbs' passing ability, his statistics after six games are actually less impressive through the air than his predecessors last season. Dobbs has completed a lower percentage of his throws (53.7%) albeit for more yards (550). A major reason for his rather poor passing rating can be attributed to his lackluster performance against Pittsburgh were he completed only 6 of 21 passes. The game against the Panthers was definitely one to forget for the junior as he only rushed for 21 yards on 26 carries. Take that one bad game out of the mix and statistically speaking, Dobbs is a beast, completing 23 of 33 passes (69%) and averaging almost 4 yards per carry.

 

However, the Pittsburgh game aside, Dobbs is the unquestioned first-half MVP for the Mids' offense. His 14 touchdowns leads all scorers in the country and his performances against Western Kentucky and Rice, from not only a statistical point of view, but a game management one as well, have been superb. And those two games pale in comparison to how he opened up his season against one of the toughest defenses in the country. Against Ohio State, Dobbs was spectacular through the air (9-13 for 156 yards and 2 TDs) and on the ground (18 rushes for 83 yards and 2 TDs). He is still making his fair share of mistakes in reading the option, but I think it is fair to say that as Dobbs goes, so does the Midshipmen.

 

In addition to Dobbs, sophomore Kriss Proctor was also impressive in his collegiate debut last Saturday against Rice. In mop-up duty, Dobbs' back-up rushed for 82 yards on 14 carries. Proctor also ran for 3 touchdowns, which ties him for second on the team in that category.

 

Grade: A-

 

FULLBACK

 

A look back: 2008

If it seems like forever since a Navy fullback rushed for over 100 yards in a game, it isn't. Eric Kettani did it four times last season (92 yards in two other games). In two wins over Rutgers and Wake Forest, the bruising running back carried the Mids, rushing for 308 yards on just 39 carries. Kettani never seemed to go down on first contact and he frequently outran opposing linebackers. I gave Kettani an A- for the first half last season not just because of his bullish stats (510 yards, 6.2 per rush), but because of his reliability and durability.

 

2009: A Work in Progress

As unsettled as Navy was at quarterback last season, this year it has been even more unsettled at fullback. The Mids knew coming into this year that it would be a chore to rebuild at a position that has became a staple in the team's triple option attack. Pictures of past fullbacks like Eckel, Ballard, and Kettani barreling over opponents fill the walls of Dahlgren Hall at the Naval Academy. However, after six games in 2009, it still remains to be seen whether or not Alexander Teich or Vince Murray will ever reach the level of their predecessors. Of course that is asking a lot of two players who combined for seven career carries coming into the season. Teich, a sophomore, still sits atop the depth chart; however, he missed the Rice game after injuring his ankle against Air Force. So far this year, Teich has gained 227 yards on 51 carries. However if you take out his 42 yard scamper against Pittsburgh, his average gain on the ground is a meager 3.7 yards. Teich's most consistent effort probably came against Ohio State when he had 61 yards on 13 carries in his first career start. In that game Teich showed glimpses of the tenacity Navy fans have come to love from the fullback position.

 

Murray, a junior, has stepped in for Teich in the last three games, and has rushed for 183 yards on 43 carries in that span. His best effort came this past Saturday against an overmatched Rice team. The Union, Kentucky native became the first Navy fullback to score a touchdown outside of the 5 yard line since Kettani (12 yards) did it against North Texas in 2007.

 

One part of the game that both Teich and Murray have done pretty well at is blocking. Most of Dobbs success has come when following the fullback, especially in the red zone (Mids have scored in 22 of 25 trips), and the fullback tandem deserve credit for their efforts in that respect. They also get props for holding onto the football – Navy has lost only four fumbles in six games – and none of them were by a fullback.

 

In addition to Teich and Murray, Jordan Eddington (9 carries for 31 yards) and Kevin Campbell (3 carries for 12 yards) have seen limited action.

 

Overall, I think Navy is still looking for a fullback to emerge as the ‘go-to-guy' who can elude defenders and even out-run them once in awhile.

 

Grade: B-

 

SLOT BACK

 

A look back: 2008

Led by senior Shun White, the slot backs amassed a robust 852 yards on 92 carries in the first six games last season. That was good enough for a 9.26 yards per rush. The only real criticism of the unit at the halfway point in 2008 was their inability to find a compliment to White. Also, White coughed up the ball twice at critical times that hurt the Mids. Overall, they received a B for their performance.

 

2009: The Emergence of Marcus

It didn't take long for Navy to identify an heir apparent to Shun White. After two games, Sophomore Marcus Curry showed that he was capable of beating defenders on pass routes and around the corner. Against Ohio State, Curry caught two touchdown passes, one of them an 85-yarder, and against Louisiana Tech, he rushed for 124 yards on only 15 carries to pace the Mids. On the season, Curry is averaging over 80 all-purpose-yards per game. Navy's number two weapon at slot back has been Bobby Doyle. The senior has come up big for the Mids at critical junctures, especially during the Western Kentucky game when he accounted for five first downs. He finished that game with over 100 all-purpose yards.

 

In addition to Curry and Doyle, Gee Gee Greene (11 carries for 55 yards); Mike Stukel (8 carries for 58 yards); and Cory Finnerty (9 carries for 33 yards) have all shown flashes of speed on the corner.

 

Overall, slot backs have rushed for 570 yards on 85 carries (6.7 yards per carry).

 

Of course in Navy's offense, slot backs are called upon to block as much as they are asked to carry the football. And that facet of the game still needs some work. There have been several times when Navy's slot backs have been completely blown-up on the perimeter by opposing tacklers (think Air Force). And while Curry may be the most explosive runner of the group, he may also be the worst blocker. If fans are wondering why Navy has yet to break a big play (over 50 yards), perimeter blocking (or lack of it) may be one of the reasons.

 

Grade: B-

 

WIDE RECEIVER

 

A look back: 2008

Tyree Barnes was a ball hog (as Navy offenses go) over the first six games last season, hauling in 11 passes for an impressive 235 yards and 2 TDs. Barnes was great on third downs and he probably could hold a clinic on blocking. The unit received a B+ at the half-way point last season.

 

2009: A Little Help from Your Friends

Navy receivers have caught 16 passes so far this season, whereas slot backs and fullbacks have hauled in 13 balls. Leading the way for the receiving corps is Mario Washington with 6 catches for 100 yards and Mike Schupp with 5 catches for 52 yards. It's pretty tough to evaluate Navy's wide receivers from a statistical standpoint because they get very few opportunities to catch the ball. However, I always like to think about how many times I thought to myself, "Darn, so-and-so should have caught that ball." And I honestly can not think of a time when I said that…oh wait, I remember now…Doug Furman dropped a sure touchdown pass in the Louisiana Tech game. Other than that, I am struggling to remember another obvious dropped pass. If you think of one, you get extra credit. (Note, the NCAA does not track dropped passes as a statistic.)

 

The wide receivers have been sure handed, but just like the slot backs, blocking (their main responsibility) has been suspect at times, especially against Pittsburgh and Air Force.

 

Grade: B

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

 

A look back: 2008

After six games last season, Navy's offensive line was still trying to cope with the unfortunate loss of Andrew McGinn. They were wildly inconsistent including three less than impressive performances against Ball State, Duke, and Air Force. I gave the unit a C+ for the first-half in 2008.

 

This season, the unit has been relatively healthy with the exception of right guard Andy Lark. However, sophomores Brady DeMell and David Hong have filled in admirably for the often injured senior. That being said, the same issues that plagued the unit in the early going in 2008, continue. There were times during the Air Force and Pittsburgh games in particular when Navy's offensive line appeared to block absolutely nobody…ok, maybe one or two blocks out of five were good ones. But you get the point. Getting dominated in the trenches against a Big-East power is one thing, but being manhandled by the Falcons is reason for concern. Air Force is good, but Navy's inability to move the ball was at times, befuddling…and the offensive line has to shoulder a lot of that blame. They should also get most of the credit for the Midshipmen's performance against Rice last Saturday in which the team rushed for a season-high 471 yards and scored 63 points. On Monday, head coach Ken Niumatalolo said that his staff counted 100 knockdown blocks by the offensive line against the Owls – a record in the triple option era. So there is definitely reason for optimism up front for Navy. Hopefully their performance helps build their confidence (how could it not) as the Mids face four teams who may be bowl-bound by the end of the season.

 

Grade: C

 

Overall Thoughts and Looking Ahead

Considering Navy's offense only had three returning starters to open 2009 (Dobbs, Battipaglia, and Molloy) at the same position they finished the 2008 season, you will be hard pressed to find someone who is not pleased with the overall production with the unit. I think the coaching staff also has to be pleased with how back-ups (Proctor, Murray, DeMell and Hong) have played when called into action. As previously stated, Navy is about to face four formidable opponents, including two improved teams in Temple and SMU who are out to avenge last season's defeats to the Mids. And not that those two teams need any extra motivation, but chances are if they can beat Navy, a bowl game will probably be within their reach.

 

After a very conservative game plan was instrumented against Air Force, Navy fans were happy to see offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper open things up a bit against the Owls. A first play pass and a reverse later in the game were very welcome additions to the repertoire. I'd suspect that if the offensive line continues to improve and the Mids continue to take care of the football, Jasper will add more surprises for upcoming opponents.

 

If the Mids can go 2-2 over the next four games and then beat Delaware, they will be bowl bound and in a good position to clinch their seventh consecutive winning season. However, the way their defense is playing, there is no reason to believe they can't beat every team that remains on their schedule. Grades for the defense (and they will be good) come later this week.

 

Overall Offensive Grade: B


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