- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Navy is one blocked extra point away from a chance to be undefeated at the season’s halfway point, and yet the general feeling in Annapolis is something has been missing.

The Midshipmen (5-1) have played well in spurts on both sides of the ball, but they haven’t put together anything close to a complete game.

“I think we’ve played all right, but I see a lot of potential there that we still haven’t accessed,” junior fullback Adam Ballard said. “I think we’ve been getting better, and hopefully it will continue. We’re not happy with where we are. We could be undefeated if we had played better.”

The offense has been at times unstoppable and at other points self-destructive. Navy is averaging 350.5 yards a game on the ground, a figure that is first in the nation and easily would top the school record of 323.2 set in 2003.

Ballard has been a battering ram in the middle of defenses, racking up 574 yards. He also broke an 81-yard run against Connecticut. Slotback Reggie Campbell has been a home-run threat, averaging 10.1 yards a rush. Sophomore Shun White has proved to be a potent complement to Campbell with 175 yards on only 17 carries.

The offensive line struggled a bit with penalties against Connecticut but has been solid otherwise. The unit has had minor injuries, and clearly it has better depth up front than in previous years.

Passing the football has been more of an adventure. Senior Brian Hampton has run for a team-high 645 yards, putting Chris McCoy’s program mark for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,370) within sight. But he has wavered between acceptable and awful with his passing accuracy.

Hampton has completed 22 of 47 passes, but worse than the percentage is the number of wide-open targets — some were ticketed for easy scores — he has missed. He also has had problems with his ball-handling in a few games, and it forced coach Paul Johnson to curtail his creativity with the play calling.

“We definitely need to improve the passing game, the execution of it,” Johnson said. “I think if the execution would improve, then so would the number of attempts. Right now we’re going to play to try and win the games, and we’re not very efficient in that area. It would be crazy to go out there and throw it 20 times. But if the efficiency improves then maybe we will throw it more and we may need to throw it more.”

Some of the statistical data suggests the Mids’ defense has struggled. Navy is 60th in the nation against the run and 90th against the pass. But the one number that matters to them is scoring defense, and the Mids have not allowed more than 24 points in a game and rank 40th nationally.

The linebackers were expected to lead this defense, and plenty of evidence supports those expectations. Inside linebacker Rob Caldwell leads the team in tackles and has forced three fumbles. Outside man David Mahoney is second in tackles and has three sacks. Senior defensive end John Chan leads the team with four.

Injuries have struck in the secondary. Starting safeties DuJuan Price and Ketric Buffin have missed time, while freshman Jeromy Miles and sophomore Rashawn King have filled in well. When King lines up at cornerback, senior Jeremy McGown moves to the middle with Miles.

“[King and Miles are] certainly on the plus side. Irv Spencer stepped in and did some good things at linebacker,” defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “We’ve played the starters a lot of plays, but at the same time when we’ve had guys go down with injuries, the guys who stepped in have done a good job, and that’s encouraging.”

There has been plenty to be happy about with the special teams, the blocked extra point against Tulsa not withstanding. Kicker Joey Bullen has struggled to stay healthy with a groin injury, but both he and backup Matt Harmon have kicked well. Punter Greg Veteto has been a surprise, and the coverage units have been excellent.

Campbell is not only a dangerous return man (averaging 27.5 an attempt, including runbacks of 72 and 57 yards), but he and fellow slotback Zerbin Singleton may be the best set of outside gunners on punt coverage in the nation.

One of the hallmarks of Johnson’s teams is they have all played significantly better in the second half of the season — a potentially scary proposition for future foes. The season’s toughest challenges — No. 24 Rutgers and No. 9 Notre Dame — are up next, but three currently winless teams (Duke, Eastern Michigan and Temple) could give the Mids plenty of time to fine-tune for the season-ending showdown with Army.

“Each team kind of develops its own deal,” Johnson said. “This team has kind of been a resilient, find-a-way-to-win team. Whether it is you got to get a stop or hold on to the ball or you got to score, whatever it takes, they’ve found a way to do it. I think that’s good because very rarely if ever here are you going to be strong enough in one area to carry a team.”

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