Getting a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown makes it hard to win a football game. Getting two punts blocked and returned for touchdowns in the same contest makes it almost impossible, and Air Force learned that the hard way in this week’s “Diamond in the Rough”.
1. DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH: NAVY 33, AIR FORCE 27
Despite playing without their starting quarterback, the Navy Midshipmen improved to 4-2 and took a big step toward retaining the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy with a hard-fought 33-27 win at Air Force on Saturday afternoon.
As a journalist, I’m not going to complain about only having to type “Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada” once; but Navy fans had to be understandably concerned about competing without their senior playcaller due to a hamstring injury.
Enter backup Jarod Bryant. Executing the triple-option almost flawlessly, Bryant led the Middies with 101 rushing yards on 24 carries from his quarterback position. In case you haven’t seen a lot of service academy football lately, the teams actually boast virtually identical run-heavy offensive schemes, and combined for a whopping 112 rushing attempts on the afternoon.
I’m hoping tickets to the game were cheap, because the dependence on the ground game sure speeds things along and shortens the action. A fan that left to get a pretzel at the concession stand might miss a whole quarter before he got back to his seat! Bryant completed exactly one more pass than I did in the contest, if that tells you anything about the disparity between run and pass plays.
Yes, you read that correctly. The winning quarterback threw two passes in the game and connected on half of them.
As mentioned earlier, one of the huge stories in this game was special teams. Navy’s Blake Carter did most of the damage: Carter ran the first blocked punt back for a touchdown and blocked the other one himself (Bobby Doyle scored on the second Middie return).
On the Air Force side of things, defensive end Jake Paulson played an outstanding game in a losing effort. Paulson was making tackles everywhere on the field, and he also recovered a fumble for the second straight game. Despite their star lineman’s performance, however, the Cadets came up an onside kick short and fell to 3-2 on the season.
I want to throw in an editorial note here: watching a game like this was especially enjoyable because these teams and players are about so much more than football. As Falcon coach Troy Calhoun said, the young men have a mutual respect for each other because of the curriculum, leadership, and military responsibility their academies are known for.
Calhoun knows what the academy football player’s life is like better than most: in addition to his current role as head coach, he is actually a 1989 Air Force graduate and former Falcon quarterback. While his team may have come up on the short end of the scoreboard this weekend, every player on the field (the future officers of our country’s military) competed hard and should be commended...for much more than football.
Here’s my random thoughts on this week’s “Diamond in the Rough”:
- After the departure of previous coach Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech, Ken Niumatalolo is on track to take the Middies bowling in his first year at the helm (pun intended). A postseason appearance would be Navy’s sixth bowl trip in the past seven seasons.
- The Midshipmen have led the country in rushing for the past three seasons, and with Shun White and Eric Kettani in the backfield, they could make it four in a row. Kettani had 75 yards on the ground from his fullback spot.
- I learned a little bit about the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy this weekend. Navy, Army, and Air Force all play each other during the season, and the school that beats the other two gets the traveling trophy. If the teams split all the games (all 3 schools finish 1-1), whichever school currently has the trophy retains it.
While it may not be a national championship, this competition does have a similar perk: the trophy winner gets a trip to the White House. Navy has owned the hardware for the past five seasons, and can ensure its stay in Annapolis with a win over the Cadets later this year.
- One of the funny things about triple-option football is that it’s easy to get faked out and not know where the ball is. Just ask the Versus cameraman.
- Game management is important when you don’t throw the ball much. For example, a holding penalty becomes a critical error, while converting 3rd-and-long is extremely unlikely. One interesting thing I noticed: the longer the third down, the deeper the running back caught the pitch. I guess forward momentum and running downhill is essential—at least, I hope that’s why they toss the ball seven yards backward on 3rd-and-4.
- With the thin air in Colorado Springs (approx. 6500 ft. elevation), there weren’t a lot of kick returns. Touchback. Touchback. Touchback.
- Today’s great playcalling example... (I pick on coaches later in the column, so I should make sure and compliment them on good decisions, right?) Navy gets the ball on its own 1-yard line and immediately uses a hard count from the quarterback to get five free yards on an offsides penalty.
The hard count is genius in this situation, because it’s no risk, all reward. If your lineman accidentally jumps first, what’s the worst that can happen? The ball moves back a few inches. Let me see...a chance to move 18 inches back or five yards ahead? Good decision by the Navy coaching staff...and impeccable execution by the quarterback.
- Not many college football games start out with a flyover from a B-2 bomber. Pretty cool.
Think I should cover your team in “Diamond in the Rough”? Is your favorite school’s big game flying beneath the media radar? I can be convinced...e-mail email@example.com if you want to see an in-depth profile of your team’s game in a future edition of Carrying On About College Football.
2. MAYBE BROADCASTING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
Here are this week’s wacky and weird announcer quotes:
Referring to Texas Tech’s strength of schedule:
“They’ve also beaten Southern Meth.
...odist.” – Ray Bentley
I don’t think the good folks at SMU will appreciate that particular abbreviation of their school’s name. Can you picture the biology student on his way to class? “I’m just going to my Southern Meth lab, Mom...talk to you later!”
“And it’s a shovel pass to DeMyron Martin, who sees his first carry of the game.” – Tom Hart
Is it a pass? or a carry? Make up your mind already.
Talking about how big it would be for Auburn to get a win on the road at Vanderbilt:
“That stadium is the most intimidating in all of...Nashville.” – Mark May
And last, but not least a reader submission from Jason...
Referring to Wisconsin’s dominance in home games:
“They’ve won 22 of their last 22 night games, including 11 in a row.” – Todd Blackledge
Don’t forget...if you hear an announcer quote you just can’t believe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org before the weekly deadline (Sunday nights at 7 pm): you might make it into next week’s article!
3. THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT
The ridiculous stat lines and improbable scores that make you think the sports ticker has malfunctioned...
Georgia Tech WR Demaryius Thomas: 9 catches, 230 yards, 1 TD
Georgia Tech QB Jaybo Shaw, 9-14 passing, 230 yards, 1 TD
For those of you that need a little help processing that stat, only one Georgia Tech player caught a pass on Saturday...all nine completions went to the same guy! A balanced offense it was not...but the Jackets still posted a big-time shutout win against Duke.
Special recognition for impressive stat lines also goes to:
Florida State RB Antone Smith (4 rushing touchdowns)
Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell (7 total touchdowns: 6 pass, 1 rush)
Iowa State for jumping out to a 20-0 halftime lead on nationally ranked Kansas (even though they wound up losing, 35-33.)
4. THANK GOODNESS FOR MY DVR
This section of the column, where we run down the jaw-dropping highlights that were worth rewinding for, has to start with Middle Tennessee State way back on Tuesday. In case you missed the game, the Blue Raiders were trailing Florida Atlantic 13-0 late in the contest, but pulled off a miracle 14-13 win by completing a Hail Mary pass with no time left.
Quarterback Joe Craddock let the ball fly from 32 yards away, and freshman wide receiver Malcolm Beyah came down with it in a crowded end zone to send the entire stadium into hysteria.
I asked Beyah later this week what he was thinking as he went up to attempt the game-winning catch, and his answer was simple: “I was thinking that we needed a win. I saw the ball, so I jumped and caught it.”
Malcolm also told me that the play has “worked in practice, but never like that,” and mentioned how the big comeback win gives MTSU “a major confidence boost going into the rest of the schedule; it lets us know that we can play with any team.”
Congratulations to the Blue Raiders on posting this week’s No. 1 DVR play. Honorable mention in the “you had to see it to believe it” category goes to a quartet of players that made amazing one-handed end zone catches...even though none of them should really count for our purposes!
Marty Booker, Chicago Bears
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis Colts
Greg Carrone, Florida State
Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina
What can I say? I like one-handed catches! Here’s the disclaimers: two of the players are obviously in the NFL, not college... but the catches were so insanely good I had to mention them.
The two college players didn’t actually get touchdowns because of a penalty (FSU) and not getting a toe inbounds (UNC). But you know what? I thought they were worth rewinding for...
...and it’s my column!
Your favorite highlight of the weekend could appear here! E-mail me next weekend at email@example.com with the play that was worth rewinding for!
5. SINCE I DO LIVE IN OHIO... (news from around the Big Ten)
Congratulations to Illini QB Juice Williams for setting a Michigan Stadium record with 431 all-purpose yards. Williams’ victorious performance makes U-M coach Rich Rodriguez 0-1 in homecoming games at Michigan. If you ask me, that’s a far cry from legendary coach Bo Schembechler, who was an unblemished 21-0 on Homecoming. This officially ends today’s edition of COACF’s “Random trivia you can impress your friends with.”
Oh, and one other goofy Big Ten story you may not have heard about: the Wisconsin band didn’t show up for Saturday night’s home game against Ohio State.
Literally. The entire band was suspended for the game as part of an ongoing investigation into hazing and other improper activities.
At least there was a reason. After all, Purdue’s offense didn’t show up for Saturday’s home game against Penn State, but suspension had nothing to do with it.
6. MAYBE COACHING IS EASIER THAN I THOUGHT
And now, an open letter to “whom it may concern”:
Dear prospective coaches of all ages,
Allow me to point out two things you must always remember as you pursue your coaching dreams and career.
No. 1—when you are trying to convert a 4th-and-1 play with two minutes to go in the football game, do not snap the ball to your quarterback in the shotgun. The shotgun formation, by definition, means that the ballcarrier will start his ultimately futile quest to gain a yard from approximately six yards further away than necessary.
If you look up the term “counterproductive” in the dictionary, this is the example that you will find.
Obviously West Virginia head man Bill Stewart does not own said dictionary.
Lesson No. 2...if thou art in field goal range with approximately two minutes left in a football game (as Iowa was Saturday)...and thou art trailing in the football game by three points (as Iowa was Saturday)...and thou art faced with a fourth down (as Iowa was Saturday), thou shalt always, always, always, always kick the 38-yard field goal to tie the game.
If thou shalt choose to ignore this commandment, thou shalt suffer a final score such as:
Michigan State 16, Iowa 13
...and thy official “Kirk Ferentz Memorial Coaching Seat” shall get a tad bit hotter.
I bring up these things for your benefit; it would behoove you to heed their instruction.
P.S. If you’ve mastered these lessons and are ready for more advanced concepts, try these on for size (warning: mathematics and strategic thinking required)
A. If you lead the game by one and score a late touchdown, always go for two to try and make the game a two-possession contest. Finish the deal right then. (Oregon State learned this the hard way in Utah on Thursday.)
B. If you trail the game by nine, ten, or eleven in the last few minutes, kick a field goal as soon as possible, even on first down. You need to score twice anyway, and the time you save by not attacking the end zone will be critical.
Think about it...sleep on it...set the situation up on your Xbox video game...whatever...
...but I’m convinced.
And yes, maybe coaching is easier than I thought.
7. EVEN THOUGH SEVENTEEN IS A RANDOM NUMBER
Here’s the Top 17 ballot I submitted earlier today:
6. Texas Tech
8. Penn State
11. Ohio State
14. Boise State
16. Oklahoma State
Note: instead of giving a tidbit on each team, I thought I’d use this space today to explain my current ranking philosophy. You’ll probably notice that I dropped a few solid football teams out this week (South Florida, Auburn, and Wisconsin among them).
The reason is that I want to make sure and reward the teams that have made it to this point undefeated. Now I don’t know if Utah, Oklahoma State, and Northwestern are really in the nation’s top 17 teams, but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt because their unbeaten records are still intact.
Ball State is another squad that could crack my rankings in the near future if they remain unscathed.
Remember, you can sway my rankings by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and lobby for your team (or against a different team). I can be convinced! (Maybe!)
8. COMING ATTRACTIONS
I don’t know why anyone would need a reason to be excited about the upcoming college football weekend. But if you do, here’s three:
a. “Worth buying a ticket for”: a matchup that deserves the hype. Texas and Oklahomabattle in the annual Red River Shootout; the winner takes a big step towards a possible BCS title game appearance.
b. “Heat check”: this team’s playing great, but faces a serious test. We’re going to stay in the Big 12: Oklahoma State has started the year undefeated and is shooting up the national polls. Traveling to Missouri will show us quickly if the Cowboys are for real. It’d be nice if they were: I’d sure like to have a recent Oklahoma State football highlight in my memory that doesn’t involve a press conference tirade by their head coach.
c. “Diamond in the rough”: an in-depth profile of a game that deserves a closer look. I’m going to give it a couple days before I confirm which game will be spotlighted in the October 12th edition of DITR. I’m still trying to lay out a schedule that covers a variety of teams and conferences; remember, you can e-mail email@example.com to try and get your squad’s upcoming game on the list!
Thanks for reading today’s “Carrying On”—don’t forget to check back next Sunday for another complete wrapup of everything college football.
Tim Cary (yes, Cary…as in “Carrying on”) is a resident of Springfield, Ohio and a die-hard college football fan (especially when it comes to the Purdue Boilermakers).
To submit thoughts, ideas, questions, arguments, or anything else for “Carrying On About College Football”, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Send in your ideas throughout the week...and check out the latest installment of COACF each Sunday night on BleacherReport.com.