With the game only a few hours away, we still had a few questions about this Navy squad so we shot over some questions to Mr. A, writer of the Navy blog Pitch Right and the Navy section of the AOL FanHouse Blogs. Mr. A does a great job covering a program that doesn't always get major media attention.
On to the questions...
1. First things first. With starting quarterback Brian Hampton out, Kaipo Kaheaku-Enhada and Jarod Bryant are both expected to see some time under center. Which one do you expect to play more and what can you tell us about these two sophomores? Do you have a preference?
I expect we will see Kaipo to begin the game. Coach Johnson has said several times that he feels like Kaipo has a slight edge in ability and experience, although hasn't ruled out playing both quarterbacks for that matter. Obviously I'm not as well informed as the coaching staff, but from what I've seen Jarod actually looks more composed then Kaipo is at this point. A lot has been made about Kaipo's athletic ability ( 4.4 speed, Vick-like quickness), but it really hasn't translated into on-the-field success. Granted he didn't get much help against an extremely good Rutgers defense, but he almost looks tentative running the option. Conversely, Jarod's statistics against Rutgers don't do justice to the way he played. He has a good sense of presence in the pocket, and does an excellent job coming off reads and making checks. He's not lightning fast, but he can read defenses on the option and isn't afraid to cut up-field or pitch it. Despite his size (5'10, 187) he has a tremendous leg drive and is able to grind out the tough yards you need to run this option attack. Remember, he was Mr. Football in the state Alabama in 2004, and helped lead Hoover High to a state championship while John Parker Wilson was injured. Obviously I'm a fan of Jarod, but I think if Kaipo can play within himself and stay calm he can do some good things.2. Brian Hampton has scored 10 of Navy's 19 rushing touchdowns. Which player do you expect will most pick up the slack? Which one do you think will have the biggest day against Notre Dame?
Conventional wisdom would tell us fullback Adam Ballard or slotback Reggie Campbell, although one needs to understand that there really aren't "go-to" guys on this Navy team. That's not to say there aren't guys with clutch ability, but rather that this is a team designed around a system that doesn't put the emphasis on individuals so much as it does team execution. I actually expect the Navy defense to have a decent day, in particular the linebacking corps. Tyler Tidwell has been quiet so far this year, and I expect to see him at least try to get to Quinn a few times during the game. I'd also look out for MLB Rob Caldwell (Lombardi Award Watch List, Indiana native) and OLD David Mahoney. Both of these linebacker splay with a tremendous grit and energy and don't often miss tackles. On offense, Ballard or one of the other fullbacks needs to get the ball a good 20-25 times during the game in order to back Notre Dame's defenders off of the edges. Likewise, Reggie Campbell and the slotbacks are going to have to get north/south at every opportunity they get. I expect Ballard to have a decent day and for Campbell, who was virtually shut-out of the game two weeks ago, to get some quality touches.3. The shutout loss to Rutgers was the first time Navy has failed to reach double digits in points since the 2004 Notre Dame game. Did Rutgers do anything different defensively to slow down the Navy rushing attack or was the injury to Hampton really that devastating for the Navy offense?
Well, for starters the Scarlet Knights had two weeks to prepare for the game. Anytime you're playing a particularly unique offense that certainly helps. I think people need to step back and look at this Rutgers team though, I mean there is a reason they're ranked first nationally in total defense. After watching them dominate Pitt last week, I think we've got to assume they have a very real shot of finishing with 10 or 11 wins. The injury to Hampton was significant in terms that it took the rhythm away from the offense and probably led to a loss of focus from the team, but I think Rutgers would have won anyway. Just saying they're fast doesn't do justice to the way Rutgers played defensively two weeks ago. They reacted with such precision and quickness that Navy's blocking scheme could never get under it's feet, and did a very good job covering both the quarterback and pitch man on option plays. They say discipline and assignment football wins against the option, but with the way Navy is passing right now significant penetration is really all you need. As an aside, I've noticed some fairly sloppy tackling by Notre Dame's defenders over the year, and I think this is something Navy can take advantage of. It's very difficult to tackle 5'6 Reggie Campbell and 5'8 Zerb Singleton because of their low center of gravity, while nobody under God's green earth is going to take Adam Ballard down on their own.4. Coach Johnson has had a bye week to get ready for this game. Coach Weis said that last year Navy did different things on offense and defense from what they had shown on tape. Do you think Johnson might try to mix things up a bit more this year, especially considering the QB situation, or do you think he will just try to get the new guys used to running the normal offense.
That's tough to say. I thought Johnson would have mixed it up several times this year, including last week, but that really wasn't the case. I'm a big fan of trickeration myself, but so far this year we've only had one reverse and one fake punt. I have long thought of Johnson as one of the ballsiest (pardon my language) Head Coach's in college football, but his play-calling has been somewhat reserved this year. Part of that is just poor execution, but one has to wonder if Navy just doesn't go all out in a game nobody expects them to win anyway. Considering the way Navy's O-line has played in pass protection, I think he may throw some wrinkles into the passing game, but I don't think the offense will get too funky. Maybe some draws and freeze option stuff, but that's not really exotic and he's been doing those all year anyway. Remember, it's an offense based on execution, not talent. If he has confidence in the players, there is no reason to play the game any differently.5. Finally, we know they are annoying, but we have to ask about the coaching rumors. Paul Johnson is a very good coach and as with most good coaches, his name is going to continue to pop up when jobs, such as the North Carolina gig, open up. What are your thoughts on Coach Johnson's future with the Naval Academy?
Ideally a guy like Coach Johnson would stay around forever, but as you said his name will be coming up for a variety of jobs. He refused to address the job at Carolina the other day, but I don't think he'd take the job even if UNC's AD offered it to him. Johnson gets a ton of support from the media and the alumni and hasn't been criticized once in his current tenure at the Academy. He has a substantial salary (which hasn't actually been made public) and gets to coach one of the nation's most storied teams. I don't know enough about who he is as a person to make the kind of judgment call about when or even if he goes, but I expect to hear his name thrown around more and more as vacancies start opening up.Thanks for some excellent answers Mr. A. In what appears to be a lopsided game, there are still some interesting questions to be answered. He makes some great points about the Navy offensive option system being one that relies on execution and not individual talent. For that reason I expect Navy to be fairly successful on offense, despite the new QB. On the other hand, most of the execution part of the option attack starts with the QB's read of the defense. Will the inexperience at that position hurt the Midshipmen? Will Notre Dame defenders -- especially the revamped linebacker lineup -- wrap up Navy runners and avoid the shoulder tackles that too often this year have resulted in missed tackles? Will the ND offensive line be able to keep the excellent Navy linebackers away from Quinn for most of the game? Will Navy be able to execute their game plan of tackling Rudy whenever he gets the ball?