- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

Navy’s defense shut out a Division I-A opponent for the first time in 24 years last Saturday, but coordinator Buddy Green hardly considered it a flawless performance even though Tulsa averaged nearly 31 points a game last season.

“We lost contain on the quarterback quite a few times, we missed too many tackles, we need to run to the ball better and fundamentally we are playing too high,” Green said as Navy prepared for today’s game against Vanderbilt at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. “Yeah we had a good game, but if you watch the tape there are so many areas where we have to get better.”

Three games into the season, the turnaround from Green’s first year (2002) is remarkable. Navy (3-0) is allowing 12 points a game, down from 36.3 two years ago.

Green’s insatiable quest for perfection has inspired the Midshipmen’s defensive revival. Every defender must master one fundamental — attack. Every player must constantly be moving toward the ball.

Being blocked to the ground or seeing the play going to the other side of the field is not an excuse to ease up in Green’s mind. The only way his team can compete on defense is if his players out-attack and out-hustle the opponent. That’s been his philosophy for years.

“Since birth,” Green said. “Since I’ve been coaching this game. You’ve got to run to the ball. We try to be critical on ‘loafs’ (when the coaches determine a player didn’t maximize his effort, it is deemed a loaf). When guys think they’re running hard, they’re not running hard. They can run harder.”

Green’s defense has limited big plays and forced teams to churn out long drives. Many times the opposing offense loses patience and tries to force the action. The Mids bend but don’t break on defense, and they receive help from an offense that milks the clock and limits the other team’s number of possessions.

“You can’t score if you don’t have the ball,” said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson. “It helps to have a offense that controls the ball. At the same time, I think they are a lot better on defense this year.”

Green thinks Vanderbilt’s offense will be his defense’s sternest test of the young season, and for good reason. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who has started 20 consecutive games for the Commodores (0-2), is a pass-run threat similar to Tulsa’s James Killian.

However, Cutler may be without his top wideout, Erik Davis (dislocated toe), and his top offensive lineman, Justin Geisinger (back). Vanderbilt used the option more last week in an overtime loss to Mississippi than it has during the Johnson era and did so successfully.

Bobby Johnson and Navy coach Paul Johnson faced each other in some important Southern Conference tussles when the former coached at Furman and the latter at Georgia Southern. Paul Johnson has a 5-2 edge in their rivalry, including last season’s 37-27 win at Vanderbilt, but Furman defeated Georgia Southern in a Division I-AA playoff semifinal in 2001 in Paul Johnson’s last game with the Paladins.

The Mids can’t look past Vanderbilt, which led Mississippi for much of the game and might have won if not for a pair of drive-crippling penalties in the second half. Vanderbilt has lost 14 straight road games.

But on the horizon are two of Navy’s biggest games this season, a trip to Air Force on Thursday night and then a meeting with Notre Dame in East Rutherford, N.J., on Oct. 16. Both are on national television, and both could produce season-defining victories.

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