Opinion: Victory Formation Always a Good Call

With Navy ahead of Delaware 28-18 and less than a minute to play, Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo elected to have his record-setting quarterback, Ricky Dobbs run the ball from the three-yard line instead of taking a knee. Dobbs scored easily and in doing so, there are some who are saying Navy was running up the score. I think it was a questionable call by Niumatalolo for a lot of reasons.

Before I get into my reasons, let me quickly set the scene for those of you who are reading this that somehow missed the end of the game. Navy was up 28-18 and with 1:21 left in the game they faced a 4th and 9 from the Delaware 34-yard line. Instead of punting, Navy elected to call a pass play - a brilliant move as slot back Bobby Doyle was wide open. Dobbs hit him for a 31-yard gain. It was now first and goal for Navy and by the time the Mids would take the next snap there would be under a minute to play and the Blue Hens had no way of stopping the clock. The game for all intent and purposes was over - way over. All Dobbs needed to do was get into the victory formation twice and head for the showers.


Instead, and against the advice of his assistant coaches, Niumatalolo decided to have Dobbs try and score a touchdown, his fifth of the day, which he did to put Navy up 35-18. After the game Niumatalolo said he still feared the Blue Hens potent offense and he just wanted to give the Mids "some breathing room."


Trust me, I'm getting to my reasons why this was a questionable decision, but before I do, let me also say that in the grand scheme of things, this shouldn't get blown out of proportion...and hopefully this ‘GoMids.com Blog' does not add any fuel to the fire. It's not like Navy was up by 28 points and still running outside the tackles with their first-team offense. They were up by 10 and running Dobbs up the gut isn't exactly what I would call aggressive play-calling. Having said that...Coach Niumatalolo...what were you thinking???


Number One: There is no reason to have your most important player, Ricky Dobbs, who is already nursing an injured knee cap, take another hit. That alone is reason enough to have him take a knee.


Number Two: By scoring, you put some valuable players (think Clint Sovie going full-steam on a kick-off) and from what I could also tell on the replay, your entire first-team defense back on the field for no reason. Again, an injury to a key player in the last 46 seconds can really throw a curveball into some late season goals.


Number Three: Taking a knee in the victory formation is the safest play in football. By having Ricky run the ball in the situation anything can happen (think Temple last season). I know it is a long shot (think Temple last season), but Dobbs could have fumbled...Delaware could have picked it up and ran it for a touchdown... an onsides kick later and...yada, yada, yada.


Number Four: Taking a knee is the classy move. Sure bulletin board material gets blown out of proportion and all that, but Delaware is a good match-up for Navy for a lot of reasons. Obviously the head coach is not thinking about this, perhaps ever, but why do something that could potentially tick-off a future opponent? It just sends the wrong message - and that is something Coach Niumatalolo has never done as far as I know.


Will I take heat, as a devoted Navy fan for writing this? Are some things better left unsaid? Perhaps...but when you have journalists calling Notre Dame coaches morons and jerks for decisions (in their case comments) they make that could be perceived as less than classy, then I think it is fair to point out a decision by a Navy coach that could also be perceived to be in that less than classy category. Yes, the two situations are different in many ways, and I don't think calling Coach Niumatalolo (or any coach) a ‘jerk' is warranted or professional, but for the purposes of this column, I am trying to see things from Delaware's perspective.


Of course, we as Navy fans are sure we know what coach Ken Niumatalolo is all about. I have spoken to him personally several times. I know he defines the word class. However, I'm sure Notre Dame fans (the ones who have not jumped completely off a cliff) probably would say similar things about Charlie Weis (who helps run a non-profit for special needs kids like his daughter) and about Corwin Brown - who probably also has some very admirable qualities.


Delaware fans don't know Coach Niumatalolo like Navy fans do. What Delaware fans know right now is that the Navy head coach decided to try and score another touchdown on Saturday after the game was decided.


It is a move that is eerily similar to what Rutgers coach Greg Schiano did back in 2007, and Navy fans were outraged when the Scarlet Knight's coach kept Ray Rice in the game late in the fourth quarter after the game was decided.


Now I don't know what the proper protocol is here. Some hardcore Navy fans will argue that Niumatalolo already explained himself enough in his postgame press conference. You can read what he said about the decision here. Others (think a ton of Delaware fans) will say he didn't go far enough and should apologize.


I think not taking a knee is more of a questionable football decision than a bad sportsmanship one in this case, but I have the luxury of knowing Coach Niumatalolo better than most Delaware fans. Like I said earlier, this isn't that big of a deal. I may just be reacting to some upset Blue Hen fans who have vented their displeasure on the GoMids.com message boards. In fact, coach K.C. Keeler even said after the game, that he and his team were "not upset about that (Navy) score at the end." So is some type of public apology really needed? Probably not; however, I think it would be a classy (there is that word again) gesture for Coach Niumatalolo to acknowledge in some fashion that he can see how his decision could be perceived as running up the score. And that the very idea of running up the score on anybody, be it Delaware or Army, is not what he is about. Navy fans know this and are ready to move on. I think it makes sense for Coach Niumatalolo to let Delaware's coaches, players and fans know it as well.



Note: A much smarter person than I just suggested to me that it would have been cool to see senior quarterback and a local Marylander, Greg Zingler, take the final snap on Senior Day for the Mids. I like that idea a lot.


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