The Navy Midshipmen made progress this past weekend, even if it didn’t feel like progress and even if coaches and players would never tell you it felt like progress. Moral victories are not what Navy aims for – not when the program has very recently won 11 games in a season and tasted considerable success.
Nevertheless, the extent to which Navy fell short of its standards in the first few games of the season – totally impotent offensive showings against Marshall and Navy – made this Houston loss in Week 4 seem like a forward step, even though the scoreboard result wasn’t there.
Navy now needs to find ways to build on the Houston performance so that it doesn’t continue to notch moral victories. Navy needs an actual scoreboard victory.
1 – Bait Dillon Gabriel into turnovers
Dillon Gabriel is a very talented quarterback who, when at his best, is an electric force who enables the UCF offense to come alive and become an extremely potent attack. However, he runs into traps and has shown that he will make two or three very large mistakes on most Saturdays. Navy needs to find areas on film where it can bait Gabriel into throwing into tight coverages where he doesn’t see or account for every Navy defender. When he makes those bad decisions, Navy’s linebackers and secondary need to be ready to pounce and not only get turnovers, but turnovers plus returns which create added field position… which leads to our next big game key for Navy:
2 – Shorten fields
Navy needs to max out on field position in this game, reducing the margin for error on the UCF side, and increasing its margin for error. UCF needs to be pinned inside its own 10-yard line all day, and Navy’s defense – which was solid (albeit imperfect) against Houston – needs to be able to get three-and-outs to create drive starts at or near midfield for the Navy offense. Navy’s offense is unlikely to win this game by driving 80 yards. It’s a much more realistic ask for Navy’s offense to win this game by driving 50 to 55 yards. Changing that equation is an important part of a legitimate Navy pursuit of victory.
3 – Third down
Navy was 3 of 15 on third downs against Houston, a key reason a 17-7 lead did not hold up in the second half. Navy can’t win games if it fails on third and fourth down. This whole program is built on setting up third downs and converting them, the obvious key being that third downs should be short-yardage. Third and 3 either gets converted or becomes a fourth and 1 which subsequently gets converted. Navy has to dramatically shift the landscape of third and fourth down. If it can’t, a victory over UCF isn’t a realistic prospect.