- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

BALTIMORE — If Navy football coach Paul Johnson ever seeks public office, you’d have to like his chances. All he knows how to do is run.

Using a spread offense featuring mostly option plays, Johnson has compiled an admirable 57-25 record with three bowl appearances over the last 3 seasons at Navy, previously a pigskin wilderness. Yet the scheme has definite weaknesses, which is why few schools embrace it nowadays.

In yesterday’s 38-14 licking by Notre Dame — ho hum, what else is new? — those limitations were readily apparent to 71,851 spectators at M&T; Bank Stadium. With the Fighting Irish leading by 17 points, Navy started from its own 6 in the third quarter after Reggie Campbell was leveled on a kickoff non-return and tried 11 straight running plays.

True, the Midshipmen were moving the ball — all the way to the Notre Dame 34 before stalling — but at that point Navy needed more than one touchdown to get back in it. Apparently, though, Johnson never heard of Golden Domers Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais, who popularized the forward pass way back in 1913.

True, there were extenuating circumstances — inexperienced sophomore Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada — yes, the Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada — was at the controls because starter Brian Hampton sustained a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago — but Johnson always regards aerial tactics with suspicion. Going in, the Mids were dead last among 119 Division I-A teams in passing offense. And Navy, under Johnson, has never thrown for more than 1,400 yards in a season.

Therefore current starter Kaheaku-Enhada is unlikely to become a household word, even if people could pronounce his name. In fact, he might not be the starter much longer. On Navy’s first series of the fourth quarter, he actually tried a short pass — incomplete, of course. Probably the kid is lucky Johnson didn’t dropkick him clear back to his native Hawaii.

For a while, though, the overmatched Mids were giving the 11th-ranked Irish all they could handle. Like any service academy, Navy is severely restricted in regards to potential recruits; for one thing, they have to be able to read, write and do sums to even get into Annapolis. But whatever Johnson’s teams lack in heft and talent, they often compensate in intelligence and fortitude.

Against the biggies, however, such assets alone usually don’t suffice. Notre Dame-Navy is among the most lopsided rivalries in sports — the Irish lead the nation’s oldest continuous intersectional series 70-9-1. When Navy last won, in 1963, thanks to Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Roger Staubach, John Kennedy was in the White House, but it seems like Abe Lincoln. Notre Dame’s winning streak against the Mids is at 43 and counting.

Heck, not even Johnson-Goldwater, Nixon-McGovern and Reagan-Mondale were that one-sided.

For probably the 10,000th time, Paul Johnson was asked during his postgame press conference if “you had your druthers, would you want to play Notre Dame every year?”

Johnson gave a predictable answer: “I’m the wrong person to ask — I don’t make the schedule.” And to his credit, he didn’t roll his eyes.

A bit later, senior linebacker Tyler Tidwell noted, “We were physically mismatched, just like we are every game. … But if you don’t go in thinking you can win every game, you don’t belong on the field — there’s no sense in playing. We always think we can win, even if we were playing the Chicago Bears.”

And so it goes for the Mids after a startling 34-0 trouncing by Rutgers, a week off and yesterday’s gallant but futile effort. The 5-3 Mids remain only one win away from bowl eligibility, and it figures to come Saturday at Duke.

“We got beat pretty good [today],” Johnson acknowledged. And then, offering a most appropriate metaphor, “We gotta get the ship righted.”

Chances are the Mids will. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that some rumors have linked his name with the vacancy at North Carolina, which told coach John Bunting to seek employment elsewhere last week.

And should native Tar Heel Johnson indeed wind up in Chapel Hill, he would discover at least one instant reward: The Tar Heels haven’t played Notre Dame since 1975.

I can’t say with any certainty that he wants the job, but you can bet he’s in the running.

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