This post continues our series checking in on next season's opponents. Our goal is to have gathered useful information about each opponent prior to the beginning of the season. We've previously talked about the East Carolina Pirates and the Georgia Bulldogs. Today, we're talking about the Navy Midshipmen.
The Midshipmen characteristically won nine games last season. After struggling for many years, Navy has recently had just about as much success in recent years as you can expect from a service academy, winning no less than eight games since 2003 and winning 10 in 2004 and 2009. That success propelled former coach
Significant Personnel Losses
The most important loss for Navy is star option QB Ricky Dobbs, who threw for 1500 yards last year and ran for almost 1000. Great option QBing requires talent and experience, so losing Dobbs will pose a challenge for the Midshipmen. Navy otherwise returns a solid eight offensive starters, including some talent at RB and WR. Defense, however, is another matter, as Navy returns only five from what had been a fairly solid defensive outfit last season.
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Under both Johnson and now Niumatalolo, Navy is known for its successful use of the triple option. Consequently, the Midshipmen typically finish among the nation's leaders in rushing offense. That was again the case last year, when Navy finished ninth in the nation in rushing yardage. I expect that to remain the case this year. However, where Navy may struggle with the departure of Dobbs is in its passing game. While triple-option offenses don't pass often, they need the threat of the pass to keep defenses on their heels, as when the passing game struggles, defenses can pin their ears back to stop the run, as the recent struggles of Georgia Tech amply demonstrate. Dobbs was a great Navy QB because he could both lead the option and throw the ball well. While it didn't pass for many total yards last year, Navy did finish in the top ten in passing efficiency last year, demonstrating that it could throw the ball when needed. It remains to be seen if Kriss Proctor, Navy's new guy under center, can operate this part of the offense as well as Dobbs did.
Navy finished 75th in the nation in total defense, but it also finished a relatively respectable 46th in scoring defense, thus epitomizing the "bend-don't-break" defensive philosophy. It impressively held some relatively high-powered offenses at bay, including Notre Dame's. Navy loses some defensive talent this year, though, particularly in the secondary, so it remains to be seen whether or not it can repeat those successes.
It may not be an important one on the national stage, but this game will hold a special significance for us. Indeed, many Gamecocks fans are looking at this game with more than a little trepidation. After all, Navy is the author of the most infamous defeat in the history of Gamecocks football, and--considering the number of morale-crushing defeats we've suffered over the years--that's really saying something. Late in the 1984 season, Carolina sat at 9-0. Just off a momentous upset over a highly ranked Florida St. team, Carolina was ranked second in the country and had a chance to play for a national title if it could win out. All that stood in the way was Navy and a struggling Clemson team. Although it would later go on to beat Clemson, Carolina lost ugly to huge underdog Navy, blowing its chance at glory. This game remains the epitome of Carolina futility, nearly always trotted out at any reference to the Chicken Curse. Now, Carolina has its chance for revenge. A win, along with another solid season, would do a lot to put old boyemen to rest. A loss...well, I think you know what that would mean.
With a solid team coming into 2011, Carolina should beat the Midshipmen. That said, Navy has proven quite capable of notching upset victories over the past few years, and this year should be no exception. I fully expect Navy to push us at points in this game, particularly if we have trouble defending the triple option. Even without Dobbs and even with Carolina fielding an experienced defensive front, Navy's offense scares me, both because it's a good one and because we don't play triple-option teams often. In the end, though, I expect Carolina to begin wearing out the Navy defense by the late second quarter, which should allow us to pull away as the game progresses. Navy's young secondary will likely have loads of problems with Alshon Jeffery, and, like any team, Marcus Lattimore will be tough for Navy.