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Navy at South Carolina Reconnaissance: Q&A with The Birddog

This post continues our series previewing the Navy game. Last time, we previewed Navy's defensive matchups against our offense. Today, we have a special guest: Navy blog The Birddog, which wins the early season award for best blog name in my book. In addition to reading what he has to say here, Birddog has some great insights about Navy at the blog, so check it out if you get the chance. UPDATE: You can read my replies to his questions here.

1. Ricky Dobbs became a household name during his illustrious career for the Mids, so replacing him was one of the big question marks for Navy coming into this season. How do you feel about the performance of Kriss Proctor so far? Should the Navy offense be able to continue its high-scoring ways with Proctor under center?

Replacing Ricky was more of a question for outsiders looking in. The coaches and others who follow the program closely were pretty confident about Kriss Proctor coming into the season. Even last year in his one start in relief of an injured Dobbs, Proctor ran for 200 yards. Kriss has a different skill set than Ricky; while Ricky was an excellent passer and a strong runner, Kriss is faster and more elusive, but not nearly as good throwing the ball. He's more in the mold of the traditional Navy quarterback formula of the last decade, and should have no problem keeping the offense rolling.

As for his performance so far this season, it's been a little bit backwards. Kriss' biggest strength is supposed to be his knowledge of the offense and reading defenses, but at times he's appeared a little bit sloppy. His biggest weakness is supposed to be his arm, but he has three TD passes in two weeks. He's played well, but hasn't looked as sharp as he's capable of looking.

2. Pick your poison: Would you rather see the Navy defense sell out to stop Marcus Lattimore or Alshon Jeffery? Why?

Lattimore. Because no matter how incredible Alshon Jeffrey is, he still needs someone else to throw the ball to him. I'll take my chances with the guy who threw 14 interceptions last year. Quarterbacks in general are in the unique position of being able to beat themselves. Running backs, for the most part, are not.

Continue reading after the jump.

3. After struggling for years, Navy has come around as one of the country's best mid-major programs in recent years. What's your secret for success?

Navy has found success the same way every team finds success: good coaching and good recruiting.

Navy endured two decades of bad football after George Welsh left for Virginia. The one oasis in that desert of futility came in 1996, when the Mids went 9-3. Navy won the Aloha Bowl over a Cal team that was coached by Steve Mariucci and featured players like Tony Gonzalez, Bobby Shaw, and Deltha O'Neal. The offensive coordinator of that Navy team was Paul Johnson. He left to take the head coaching job at Georgia Southern. He was replaced by Ken Niumatalolo, and in 1997 the Mids had another winning season, going 7-4. Niumatalolo and Charlie Weatherbie, Navy's head coach at the time, clashed over how the offense should be run. Weatherbie fired Niumatalolo, and the program went back into the crapper. Weatherbie was fired in the middle of the 2001 season. Johnson was brought back, and with him came several of the assistants that were part of that '96 team. On the defensive side, Johnson brought in Buddy Green from N.C. State. After struggling through 2002, Navy won 8 games in 2003 and has won at least that many ever since.

Navy's offense is well-suited to players that other systems don't generally look for. Option quarterbacks, undersized running backs, and small, quick offensive linemen are all ideal for the spread option. Defensively, Green switched to a 3-4 from a 4-3, which shifts the emphasis away from the defensive line and instead toward the linebackers, a position that Navy has traditionally had some success recruiting. With facilities improvements (including an indoor practice facility and $40 million stadium renovation) and sustained winning for almost a decade, Navy has even had some success attracting several high-profile recruits. Now, "high-profile" means something very different to Navy than it does to South Carolina. But Navy has several players on its roster that had offers to play for other I-A school. That hasn't always been the case. SEC fans would laugh at it, but for a service academy, with the academic load and the military commitment, that's huge.

4. As you may be aware, Navy has a somewhat infamous place in South Carolina lore. At 9-0 late in the 1984 season, South Carolina lost a laugher in Annapolis that cost it a chance to play for the national title. Now, some Carolina fans are afraid that history may repeat itself in another game against Navy in a potential breakthrough season for the Gamecocks. What does Navy have to do to break Carolina's heart again?

Navy isn't going to shut down South Carolina's offense (how many teams do?), so the Mids will have to score points. The biggest impediment to that, in my opinion, is South Carolina's defensive line. On my blog I like to break down the game plans of opposing defensive coordinators and show what Ivin Jasper does to counter them. None of it matters, though, if the offense is just getting physically blown up. South Carolina's is easily the most athletic defensive line that Navy has faced in the last 8 years. Navy's offensive line is supposed to be a strength of the team, with 4 starters returning. They've lived up to that billing so far, but this challenge is of a whole different order of magnitude.

Defensively, I think you're going to see a big passing day for South Carolina no matter what. Navy is going to play their safeties deep and keep anything from being thrown over their heads. That's going to leave a LOT of room underneath. If Garcia is patient and takes what he's being given, he'll have a field day. If he gets antsy after throwing for 7-10 yards all day and starts forcing the ball deep, then Navy might be able to take advantage of a few mistakes.