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Navy football doesn't live up to the hype against Maryland

Maryland defeated Navy, 17-14, in the season opener for both teams.

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By John Feinstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 7, 2010; 12:43 AM

BALTIMORE

It ended exactly as Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo might have drawn it up - the quarterback sneaking for one final yard as the offensive line surged to help him get there.

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There was just one problem as far as Niumatalolo was concerned. The quarterback with the football was Maryland's Jamarr Robinson, not Navy's Ricky Dobbs. It was the unheralded junior making his third college start, not the senior whose name has been mentioned throughout the preseason in the same sentence with the words "Heisman Trophy."

And that was exactly the right ending for this game. Maryland earned its 17-14 victory at M&T Bank Stadium Monday afternoon. Navy earned the defeat.

In a sense, this game was a perfect setup for Maryland. All the Terrapins heard throughout preseason was that their coach's job was on the line, that the bottom had dropped out on Ralph Friedgen during a disastrous 2-10 season a year ago and that incoming athletic director Kevin Anderson's first crucial decision was going to come in November when, the pundits said, he would need to fire Fridgen.

They also heard and read that Dobbs wasn't just a Heisman candidate; he would someday be a candidate for president - of the United States. They were told that Navy was talking about going undefeated and playing in a BCS bowl. Dobbs may well run for president someday but he isn't going to win the Heisman Trophy. And, as of right now, Navy's biggest goal this season is to be 1-1 after Saturday's game against Georgia Southern.

It is difficult to be critical of an offense that produces 485 yards, but it was Navy's offense that lost this game. That's not to take anything away from Maryland's defense, which spent almost 40 minutes of the game on the field, including more than 32 minutes in the final three quarters.

But Navy is a team and a program built on toughness - mental toughness and physical toughness. The Mids are almost always smaller than their opponents - especially those from BCS conferences - and almost never faster or quicker. But they have been to seven straight bowl games because they rarely commit crucial penalties; they don't turn the ball over very often, even running the option offense, and because they win fourth quarters.

Monday, the Mids did none of the above.

"It was a team loss," Niumatalolo said. "They made the plays they had to and we didn't."

Maryland began the game by finishing two drives, Robinson getting the ball into the hands of his veteran running backs, Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett, and picking up yards with his own legs on several key occasions. Navy missed a field goal on its first drive and scored a touchdown on its second. Then Dobbs fumbled at the Maryland 1-yard line and, after the defense had forced the Terrapins into a three-and-out, ended the half by trying to scramble into the end zone from seven yards out when Navy was out of timeouts.

A physical error, then a mental one. Some might say that Niumatalolo never should have sent a run-first quarterback back onto the field with 12 seconds left and no timeouts left in a situation where the ball had to be thrown. They would be wrong. A senior quarterback with a high football IQ - which is what Dobbs is - has to know he can't cross the line of scrimmage with the football in his hands in that situation unless he has only green field turf in front of him. Dobbs was surrounded by red uniforms.

As you might expect, Dobbs is a stand-up, no-excuses guy. "Coach told me if I didn't have anything throw the ball out of bounds and we would kick the field goal," he said. "I lost focus. Instinct took over and got the best of me."

Robinson made just one mistake, a pressured throw into the teeth of the Navy defense that was intercepted by Emmett Merchant. After that, Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin made a decision: Robinson would only throw down the field again if Maryland were losing. It never happened. Robinson finished the game with 92 yards rushing and 11 yards passing - both completions coming on quick tosses along the line of scrimmage.

That was enough.

It was enough because Dobbs carried 29 times for 63 yards, the Maryland defense keying on him from the second he stepped off the bus. That would have been fine because sending people at Dobbs opened up lots of space from Navy's fullbacks and slotbacks.

The problem was the plethora of mistakes - almost all of them coming inside the 20-yard-line.

Friedgen knew he had survived a game he almost had to win if he wants to be around for next year's opener. Niumatalolo has no such concerns but now he has to get his players - especially Dobbs - to take a deep breath and do the things they have done in recent years to be successful.

In no order at all, those things are: Play smart. Play tough. Play with discipline. Don't commit crucial penalties. Don't turn the ball over.

Don't believe the hype.

The Mids did none of those things Monday. Which is why the quarterback holding the ball in the air when the clock hit zero wasn't the one whose face has been on magazine covers and TV screens all summer.

For the Terrapins, the day was a step in the direction of regaining lost pride. For the Mids, it was simply a lost day.

For more from the author, visit his blog at feinsteinonthebrink.com.


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