College Football Overtime (cont.)
When Navy knocked off Notre Dame 46-44 in 2007, ending a 43-year losing streak to the Irish, one could chalk it up to Notre Dame's youth at the time. When the Midshipmen won again in South Bend last season, it came at a time when embattled Irish coach Charlie Weis was struggling to keep his team afloat.
But there was nothing fluky about Navy's 35-17 rout at the Meadowlands on Saturday. This wasn't a case of Notre Dame's superior athletes "failing to execute." The Midshipmen (5-2) beat the Irish (4-4) because, quite frankly, they're the better team.
When I visited Annapolis in the preseason, the buzz was that quarterback Ricky Dobbs could be a dark-horse Heisman candidate and that Navy, coming off a breakthrough 10-4 season and Texas Bowl rout of Missouri, could have the makings of a special team. Those storylines quickly evaporated when Maryland stopped Dobbs at the goal line for a season-opening upset. With Dobbs hobbled by a sprained ankle, Navy's offense began sputtering, most notably in a 14-6 loss at Air Force on Oct. 9.
But as Dobbs got healthier, the Midshipmen won 28-27 at Wake Forest and 28-21 over SMU. On Saturday, their offense finally exploded as Navy switched up its inside blocking schemes and rode fullback Alexander Teich to 210 rushing yards.
"Our offensive line was whooping up on their defensive line," Teich told the Baltimore Sun.
Predictably, first-year coach Brian Kelly is feeling the wrath of critical Irish fans, who, barring a Notre Dame upset of Utah or USC, are suddenly staring down the barrel of a third straight 6-6 regular season. Notre Dame's talent level on defense has been subpar for years, but the former Cincinnati coach's spread offense has largely been a dud. Quarterback Dayne Crist went just 19-of-31 for 178 yards and two picks Saturday, though the absence of injured stars Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd certainly didn't help.
When Weis came in and immediately went to consecutive BCS bowls, it came with the asterisk that he was doing it with Tyrone Willingham's recruits. Weis brought in three straight highly ranked classes, but seeing as Kelly is having as little luck with them as Weis did, there must have been some serious misevaluations. Right now, Notre Dame is what it is: a step behind Navy.
Watching the fourth quarter of Saturday's Oklahoma-Missouri game at an Applebee's on the way back from Auburn to Atlanta, I unintentionally generated an interesting Twitter debate. When Bob Stoops unsuccessfully went for two after the Sooners scored a touchdown to get within nine points, I wanted to toss my fajita at the television. (I assume I would have been kicked out.) Instead, I tweeted:
Stoops went for 2 one score too soon. I hate when coaches do that.
There were a slew of similar-minded responses like Thank you! I was SCREAMING at the TV (@jonathanshaffer) and Stupid, stupid call (@RedDirtKings). Much to my surprise, however, there were nearly as many Tweeps who agreed with Stoops' strategy. Don't understand why everyone thinks that. If it's on the last [play] of the game, you lose. (@nd1611). And [your] argument assumes the 1st conversion won't be successful & the 2nd will. Either [it] works or [it] doesn't. (@TimCary).
Personally, I don't see why you wouldn't want to keep your team within one score for as long as possible. Whether you get the two there or not, you're still going to need another touchdown. But if you miss, as OU did, you now need a touchdown and a field goal, which would seem significantly harder to pull off in the last 6:06 of a game than just a touchdown and a two-point conversion. The contrarian philosophy, however, and the one Stoops apparently subscribes to, is to go ahead and find out sooner than later whether you're going to need one or two more scores so you can plan accordingly.
"I don't see why that is even a question," Stoops said of his decision.
Despite some persuasive, 140-character arguments, I still believe I'm in the right, and one of the winningest coaches of all time is in the wrong. But I'm willing to listen to a persuasive counterpoint -- preferably one based on quantitative probability statistics.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
Oregon at USC, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): The knock on Trojans assistant coach Monte Kiffin is that the former NFL defensive guru can't get a handle on college spread offenses. Well, this would be a good week to figure things out, because he's facing arguably the fastest, most efficient spread attack the sport has seen.
Missouri at Nebraska, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Last year's Thursday night game in Columbia served as Ndamukong Suh's national coming-out party. He singlehandedly swung the game for the Huskers. This year, Taylor Martinez can have his moment if he handles the Tigers' defense better than he did Texas'.
Michigan State at Iowa, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): Does Mark Dantonio have anything left in his seemingly bottomless bag of tricks? Will he even need to? The Spartans match up well with the Hawkeyes, and if all else fails, Dantonio can sit back and hope Kirk Ferentz burns his last timeout at the worst possible moment.