Navy Coach Charlie Weatherbie installed a new 3-4 defensive scheme in an attempt to minimize big plays, which cost the Midshipmen many times last season.
For the most part, the plan worked in yesterday's season opener against 10th-ranked Georgia Tech. However, little plays--including Yellow Jackets tailback Phillip Rogers's powerful running--overwhelmed Navy in a 49-14 loss before 30,311 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The Midshipmen have lost 28 consecutive games against ranked opponents.
On a day when neither quarterback Joe Hamilton, a Heisman Trophy hopeful, nor star wide receiver Dez White had big games for Georgia Tech, Rogers carried 16 times for 80 of Georgia Tech's 341 yards rushing and scored three short touchdowns.
"We made them go the long, hard way, but we can't let them in the end zone," Weatherbie said. "We've got to make some plays in there somewhere. We've got to make the tackles."
It was the Yellow Jackets' highest scoring total in a road game since Oct. 11, 1913, when they recorded a 71-6 win over Chattanooga.
Georgia Tech ran straight at the middle of Navy's defense, often gaining five, six or seven yards. When his team wasn't running the ball, Hamilton (12 of 17 for 139 yards, two touchdowns) was picking apart the defense with short passes. The Yellow Jackets converted on 9 of 13 third-down situations and were forced to punt just twice.
"We've always been a hard running team. That was our game plan," Rogers said. "Dez [White] and Joe Hamilton are our big play guys, and the run and pass worked together."
"I thought that we missed a few tackles on defense that helped them run the ball so well," Navy linebacker Shaka Martin said.
Georgia Tech's offense succeeded from the start. White caught Tim Shubzda's opening kickoff two yards into the end zone and returned it to the 44.
Hamilton then went to work, completing 3 of 3 passes for 21 yards on the ensuing drive and capping it with three straight handoffs to Rogers, the last of which was a one-yard plunge that gave the Yellow Jackets a 7-0 lead 4 minutes 21 seconds into the game.
It appeared the game might be a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair when Navy responded by going 77 yards on eight plays, including a 35-yard pass from Brian Broadwater to Matt O'Donnell, and scoring on Dre Brittingham's four-yard run.
From there, however, Georgia Tech took over. It took a 14-7 lead on Hamilton's 10-yard scoring run with 2:17 left in the quarter, then extended it to 28-7 by halftime.
"We came out with fire in our eyes and drove right down the field" after Georgia Tech's first touchdown, Broadwater said. "I'm not saying we were lackadaisical after that, but it showed us we could move the ball. What we should have done is come out and kept going at it."
Broadwater finished 9-of-18 passing for 133 yards and had 47 yards rushing, including a one-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
For a Navy team that entered the season with high hopes, the outcome was a significant dose of reality. Weatherbie said it gave his players an indication of where they are, as well as the work they need to put into basic skills such as blocking and tackling.
When asked if he saw what he wanted out of the game, Weatherbie shook his head and smiled.
"Everything but the butt-whooping we got," he said.