Despite Setback, Mids Still on Track
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Posted Oct 21, 2008

Step back from the ledge. The sky is not falling. All hope is not lost, and insert any other trite and worn out expression of retaining optimism in the 2008 Navy Midshipmen football season here.

Make no mistake about it, what we saw this past Saturday in Annapolis was by no means an encouraging sight. Navy's defense, so strong and clutch in the last three games against Rutgers, Wake Forest, and Air Force, took a major step back by giving up 499 total yards and 42 points to the Pitt Panthers. LeSean McCoy made Navy's defenders look like a bunch of Pop Warner kids diving at air, while Navy's triple option offense- already a concern coming into the game- sputtered to only 194 yards on the ground, by far the Mids' lowest output on the season.

But hey, at least Navy didn't look as bad against Missouri against Texas.

Obviously I'm kidding (well, kinda), but in Missouri's Saturday night egg-dropping in Austin there is a lesson to be found. It is one which goes beyond the oft-quoted explanation of the obvious service academy talent disparity, and one which even transcends the seemingly weekly affirmation by many that Jarod Bryant cannot be an effective triple option quarterback.

It is, simply, that college football is a game of momentum and a game of emotion. It is a game in which you are never as good as you look, and never as bad as you look. It is a game, unique among many, in that teams actually have to show up on gameday to win, regardless of rank, status, or however many high school All-Americans who inhabit your team's three deep. That's right, regardless of rank status, or however many high school All-Americans who inhabit your team's three deep.

I know, I know, USC and their fourth stringers would probably steamroll the likes of an Idaho or a Syracuse if given the chance, but if we've learned anything from the last year and a half of college football action it's that the intangibles of emotion and focus cannot be overlooked, especially in the world of today's college football athlete.

Taking nothing away from Pittsburgh, and overlooking no aspect of Navy's very tangible offensive and defensive struggles, I think it's fair to say that the Mids were just not prepared to play Pittsburgh this past weekend, and that a year after coming off of an embarrassing loss against the Mids the Panthers were prepared. How do I know? Because for the second week in a row Navy didn't start off half bad, with the offense taking their first possession right down the field for a touchdown on a perfectly executed triple option play that saw Shun White gallop 40 yards into the endzone. How did that perfectly executed offensive series eventually regress into a sloppy and ineffective hodgepodge of missed blocks and poor reads? Well, I'll leave that to more inquisitive minds, but my point remains the same; we've seen this Navy team execute on offense and on defense, and we've seen them beat three quality opponents over the past month and a half while losing to two Top 25 ranked teams. Sloppy or not, you have to admit that Navy has found ways to get it done in the past, and despite this latest setback the Mids still remain a team composed of the same highly resilient young men we were lauding without pause just one short week ago.

Now don't get me wrong, the Mids still face an uphill climb in front of them. Despite a 1-7 record to begin the year Southern Methodist has scored almost at will, while much improved Temple, Notre Dame, and Northern Illinois teams still stand in the way of Navy in the month of November. And that's not even accounting for an Army team which has suddenly risen from dead. Yet maybe these challenges are just what head coach Ken Niumatalolo needs right now. Maybe, after three straight wins over seemingly superior teams, this latest Navy setback will be just what the first year headman needs to inspire his team to play to their highest possible level, knowing that in today's college football landscape no team (much less a Service Academy team) is immune from being utterly embarrassed.

But let's not panic yet, and let's not forget that coming into the year many Navy fans doubted the team's ability to surpass the 7-5 mark against a more challenging schedule than in year's past, with some fans even questioned the team's ability to achieve bowl eligibility. And while at 4-3 going into the eighth week of the season the Mids aren't likely to find there way onto any Top 25 lists, Navy is still more than on track to retaining the Commander-in-Chief's trophy and returning to the postseason for a sixth consecutive season. Granted, nothing is assured with this schedule, but with a proven resiliency seen time and time again, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to doubt the ability of a very special group of young men to overcome adversity.

Adam Nettina covers non-BCS football for

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