Opinion: Very Little Lost in Defeat to Terps

Opening game against a BCS opponent: check. National television audience: check. Impressive Navy comeback: check. Game on the line and in Ricky Dobbs hands in the closing minutes: check. A deflating and emotional loss: check. Optimistic about the rest of the year: check. Describing the 2009 and now the 2010 season: double check. So why are Navy fans so glum? The answer is pretty simple: hype.

Hype is a great thing, until you lose. Then you start to wonder what all the hype was about. Yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium, the line between delivering on the hype and killing it (at least temporarily) was all of a half yard. If Navy scores and wins the game, the lead is that the Mids dominated the Terps and were led by their Heisman hopeful quarterback who marched his team down the field for the winning score. Instead the story is quite simply that Navy let one get away.

There will be plenty of finger pointing amongst Navy fans and a lot of it will rightfully go in the direction of head coach Ken Niumatalolo for some questionable calls and to Dobbs for being, well un-Dobbs like. But if you take away the hype and all of the pre-season Rose Bowl and Heisman talk, then this easily becomes just as good of a loss as last season's opening defeat to the Buckeyes.

I can hear my critics already saying, "Oh crap, there goes Ausiello again with his notion that there can be such a thing as a ‘good' loss." I agree that there is no such thing as a good loss - if the name on your uniform is Texas or Alabama. But the last time I looked, the team name on the jerseys in Annapolis read ‘Navy', and yesterday's opponent wasn't named Army or Air Force.

If you don't believe me, read what Niumatalolo told Sports Illustrated recently said about last season's opening loss to Ohio State.

"I'm never someone for moral victories, but it gave our kids great confidence that we can play with people, and I think it spurned on a lot of the other victories."

Not convinced? Listen to what Dobbs said just yesterday after losing to Maryland.

"I hate to put it this way but this could have been the best thing to happen to us because we definitely came in with some high expectations for ourselves but (the loss) just lets us know that we have to stay focused no matter what because everything isn't always going to go as planned."

The only thing Navy lost yesterday in Baltimore, except the opportunity to hold onto a crab-filled trophy until who knows when, was an undefeated season and a trip to the BCS National Championship Game. If you are looking for positives to take away from yesterday's game, you've come to the right place. Here is a handy list to share with your fellow crabby Navy fans.

1.  Navy dominated Maryland for three quarters. The stats don't lie. The Terps were bigger, stronger, and faster, but after a slow start, the Mids stood their own ground in a very physical game. That should be a good indication that when matched up against similar talent this season, Navy should be able to put some games away earlier than in the past.

2. The triple option offense is humming already. Sure, there will be tweaks needed and missed blocks aplenty to dissect, but if you rush for over 400 yards in your season opener, there is more going right than wrong – a lot more.

3. Ricky Dobbs won't break his rushing touchdown record this season. Why is that a positive thing? Well, now that Maryland proved that Navy just can't run the same play every time on the goal line with success, it will hopefully lead to some more creative play calling inside the five-yard line. I understand Niumatalolo's desire to put the ball in his best player's hands with the game on the line; however, I think putting it in one of your fastest player's hands (Gee Gee Greene) will now be explored.  

4. Wow, Navy has a kick-off returner again. Sure, nobody is going to mistake Alexander Teich for Reggie Campbell, but the back-up fullback showed a nice burst on every return. I wouldn't be surprised if he takes one to the house this season.

5. Niumatalolo wasn't ready to give his defense much praise after the game because as he said, they weren't on the field all that much, but I will. If you hold another team to less than 15 yards passing, you are doing something right. I realize that Maryland is no Texas Tech, but Navy fans should never forget the days of every team throwing the ball over the Mids heads. Those times seem like light years ago.

6. Coaches love to say that teams make the most progress from game one to game two. That doesn't bode well for Georgia Southern this Saturday. Even with the short turnaround, I expect Navy won't pull a Louisiana Tech-like performance when they spotted their post-Ohio State opponent in 2009 with 14 points in the first six minutes.

7. Kyle Delahooke and Joe Buckley got their bad games out of their systems and now it will hopefully be  back to them giving the clutch performances Navy fans have come to expect in the past few years from the kicking game. There is no way Delahooke will average less than 30 yards a punt in another game this season.

8. Slot back, in my mind, was one of the biggest question marks coming into the season with the departure of Marcus Curry and it was good to see that Navy indeed still has game-breaking speed on the outside. Gee Gee Greene and Andre Byrd have got some wheels.

9. For an extremely physical game, it appears so far that Navy came out of the game relatively healthy. I am emphasizing ‘relatively' because there should be some concern about Matt Molloy who left the game with what appeared to be a concussion. Mike Schupp also departed early with a leg injury so his status will need to be looked into as well.

10. The Ricky Dobbs publicity tour can take a breather. All the talk about being POTUS, playing in the NFL and winning the Heisman can be tucked away for a few weeks  and Ricky can concentrate on just being Ricky. And for Navy fans, ‘Ricky being Ricky' means holding onto the ball, hitting open receivers, making unbelievably good plays in open space, and leading the team to victory. A return to the fundamentals will be a popular theme for the humbled senior this week.  

So there you have it, all is not lost…the sky is not falling…and there were indeed positives to take out of the heartbreaking loss to Maryland yesterday.

If you are looking for a bottom line, here is one to chew on. Navy is no Boise State. Now they just need to go back to being Navy – a ball-securing, non mental mistake making, fundamentally sound football team. And if they do that, everything will be just fine and this loss will quickly become a distant memory. Feel less crabby? Good, me too.  

 


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