By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 23, 2010; D8
In the first half of Saturday night's game at Louisiana Tech, Navy's triple option offense was still having only mixed success, and the Midshipmen were in danger of losing for the second time in three games.
Complicating Navy's problems was quarterback Ricky Dobbs's bum ankle, which he hurt in the team's opener against Maryland on Labor Day and aggravated the following game, and the absences of the starting right tackle and free safety because of concussions.
Given the troubling circumstances, the first drive of the second half might be the most meaningful so far this season for the Midshipmen. Trailing by seven, they responded with virtuoso execution of the triple option, driving 72 yards on 12 plays in 5 minutes 5 seconds for the tying touchdown.
Navy followed with another lengthy touchdown drive near the end of the third quarter in which backup quarterback Kriss Proctor, briefly relieving Dobbs, scored on a seven-yard run. Moments before the touchdown, the Midshipmen converted fourth and two with slotback Gee Gee Greene's 17-yard run off Proctor's pitch.
Suddenly, after two games in which its offense had trouble scoring, Navy was back to its old ways. The exhausted Louisiana Tech defense could do nothing to stop a fourth-quarter touchdown march that put the finishing touches on a 37-23 road victory for the Midshipmen.
"It wasn't anything rocket science," Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said about his team's improvement in point production from the first two games. "We just had to finish drives."
The Midshipmen were unable to do that against Maryland in their opening game or against Georgia Southern five days later, averaging just 13.5 points over the stretch. That was the lowest two-game scoring output for Navy since 2006 and fewest points over two games to start a season since 2000, when Navy amassed 19 points combined in losses to Temple and Georgia Tech on the way to a 1-10 season.
The first half against Louisiana Tech had a similar feel. Although the Midshipmen scored two touchdowns, the second quarter was hardly a vintage display of the triple option. Navy got a 38-yard completion from Dobbs to Greene to the Bulldogs 26 before Dobbs threw a 25-yard touchdown strike to slotback John Howell on third and nine.
While Dobbs was well on his way to a career-high 219 passing yards, the drive took just 2:15, meaning the defense got little time to recover before having to contend again with Louisiana Tech's spread formation. Taxed from extensive time on the field and the heat and humidity in Ruston, La., the Midshipmen allowed 10 more points in the second quarter and entered halftime behind, 23-16.
Then came the opening drive of the second half.
"Coach said it was a defining moment for our team," said Dobbs, who completed 8 of 14 passes with one touchdown and one interception against the Bulldogs. "I told them the definition of this team is going to be perseverance."
It looks as if that will be especially the case for Dobbs, who has not rushed for 100 yards in a game this season after seven such performances last year. The hurt ankle is partly to blame, but so is a commitment among defenses to curb the record-setting senior's impact.
Last season, Dobbs ran for 1,203 yards and 27 touchdowns, the most in a single season by a quarterback in NCAA history, and guided Navy to a 10-4 record that included a 35-13 victory over Missouri in the Texas Bowl. This year, Dobbs has 174 rushing yards, averaging a career-low 2.4 yards per carry, with four total touchdowns. Through three games last season, Dobbs had accounted for seven touchdowns.
Dobbs gets roughly two weeks to heal more fully in advance of an October schedule that starts at Air Force - the second of three consecutive road games - and includes Notre Dame at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Navy took Tuesday and Wednesday off and resumes practice on Thursday.
"We're going to do what we do," offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. "If we've got to run the quarterback inside like we always do, we're going to do it. It's worked for us great for the past eight years, and we're going to keep doing it.
"When you break us down, I don't think people spend a lot of time on our passing game. It's going to be the same as always. We're going into the game wanting to run the football and eat up the clock, and if something is there, we're going to try to exploit it."