First Down: Quick Hitters
Stanford @ Navy – September 10
Last Meeting: Stanford 7, Navy 7 ('65)
Side-by-Side Stats: (Navy/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 2/10
2004 Rushing Yards Per Game: 290/81
2004 Passing Yards Per Game: 99/246
Returning Defensive Starters: 4/5
2004 Rushing Yards Per Game Allowed: 151/143
2004 Passing Yards Per Game Allowed: 200/249
2004 Record: 10-2/4-7
Vegas' Predicted 2005 Record: 5-6/4-7
Second Down: Offense
Vietnam, Woodstock, Bo and Woody jawing on the sidelines, Stanford winning a Rose Bowl. The "three yards and a cloud of dust" era has left much of the world behind, but Navy still executes nearly to perfection the offense that time forgot: the option. Although nine of last year's starters have departed, the new players and the scheme have already proven themselves - this will be a highly effective offense.
Senior quarterback Lamar Owens is responsible for lots of quick reads in this option attack, so his 25 games worth of experience off the bench should prove valuable. Owens follows in the rather large footsteps of Aaron Polanco and Craig Candeto, perhaps Navy's two best signal callers since a guy named Staubach took the snaps in Annapolis. If Owens, too, is wildly successful at the position, one will have to think perhaps the success is due to the offensive scheme as much as the quarterbacks themselves. Either way, Navy's continued success at quarterback is bad news for their opponents.
Owens and junior fullback Matt Hall, originally a defensive line prospect out of high school, will split the lion's share of the carries. Hall also follows in formidable footsteps, as fullback Kyle Eckel started each of the last three years and became the first Navy back to top 1,000 yards in a season since 1985. Though he did score two touchdowns against Maryland, Hall will have to improve his four yards per carry average to give the Midshipmen their best chance at victory against Stanford.
Navy also employs "split backs," hybrid running backs/wide receivers who often serve as the pitch men on option runs. None of this year's split backs have started previously, and Navy still seems to still be testing various options at this early date, as seven runners outside of Owens and Hall saw carries in the season opener.
Though valued as much for their blocking as their hands, wide receivers do exist at Navy, and one's a physical specimen. Returning starter junior Jason Tomlinson can snag the high balls with a vertical of over 35 inches, and he posted 72 yards receiving in the season opener. Coming off a 2004 season where he was the team's second-leading receiver, Tomlinson looks to be the Middies' main deep threat this year, responsible for stretching the field and keeping opposing defenses from overly clogging the line.
Key in this option attack is the offensive line, but unfortunately for Navy, only one starter returns from a unit that created an incredible five yards a touch last season. Junior center James Rossi is that sole returning starter, though an encouraging sign is that he's surrounded overwhelmingly by juniors and seniors on the line. After a solid performance against Maryland, similarly inspired play from the line could set a domineering tone for the remainder of Navy's season.
Third Down: Defense
Based on both the returning talent and the on-field performance against Maryland, the rush defense looks rather porous while the pass defense should hold its own.
Last year, Navy felt so confident about their defense line that the entire two-deep were listed as co-starters. Perhaps the tactic worked, as the Middies allowed fewer than four yards per carry, their best finish since 1999. This season though, three of last year's starters (two-deep anecdote not withstanding, the team did settle on starters) depart, so the outlook is gloomier.
Add to the picture the fact that all of last year's starting linebackers depart, as does last year's top tackler free safety John Smith, and the rush defense looks to be a weakness. Maryland looked comfortable rushing for 217 on this front, so Walt Harris and the Cardinal coaching staff have to like what they're seeing on the tape. Stanford's rushing attack will be incorporating a lot of new pieces, so perhaps this defensive front seven will prove to be exactly what the doctor ordered, providing the Cardinal with confidence in their season opener.
After underperforming last season, the secondary is now the most experienced group on the defense, if not the entire squad. Both of last year's starting corners, juniors Jeremy McGown and Hunter Reddick return, so it's surprising that this unit did allow over 200 passing yards against the Terps. Then again, those 217 yards took Maryland 30 passing attempts to achieve, and the back four allowed just one aerial touchdown while forcing Maryland into two interceptions. Further, with Maryland starting to drive, sophomore rover Greg Suddereth came up with a key second quarter interception in what would prove to be the high-water mark for Navy in the contest. This secondary looks respectable, though it might not matter if teams can simply find success with repeated runs against Navy's front seven.
Fourth Down: Extra Points
- Maryland 23, Navy 20: Navy blows an early 14-3 lead and a 14-6 halftime cushion. After the Midshipmen miss a key two-point conversion that would have increased their lead to a touchdown with under five minutes to play, the stage is set for Maryland to stage a game-winning 82-yard drive that ends with an 11-yard touchdown strike with just 61 seconds remaining.
- Despite the loss, Navy looked surprisingly strong offensively against a team picked to compete for ACC honors. Though Maryland outgained Navy 217-97 through the air, the Midshipmen won the ground battle 246-210 while averaging five yards per carry, committed just one turnover, and holding the ball longer than the Terrapins.
- However, Navy's defense didn't fare well against a Maryland offense that, to put it kindly, has struggled to find a rhythm in recent years. The Midshipmen made Terrapin quarterback Sam Hollenbach look like the ACC's Matt Leinart at times, as the much-maligned junior threw for 217 yards on 19-of-30 passing. Tailback Mario Merrills, in his first-ever collegiate start, ran for 149 yards on five yards per touch. Trent Edwards, Anthony Kimble and company certainly hope this trend continues this week.
- As Stanford attempts to prepare for the Middie ground attack, fans have to think Navy's rush-oriented offense does play to Stanford's defensive strengths. Surely though, Navy head man Paul Johnson realizes this too, so the question can be asked: just how much option offense will the Cardinal see? Navy did attempt 11 passes against Maryland, completing five for 97 yards.
- Navy is 6-8-2 all-time versus Pac-10 foes; Stanford is 0-1-1 all-time against Navy.
- Navy is the only team in the land that does not face a single team with a winning record last season!
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