Sept. 18, 2010
By Bob Socci
From where I sit - at the moment, I'm inside room 279 of the Holiday Inn in Monroe, La. - there are pros and cons associated with evening kickoffs.
For one thing, it's great to sleep in a bit. As much as I might complain about everything else, you'll never hear me grouse about setting the alarm a little later than usual. In my position, you can do that when you don't have to be at the stadium hours before a noon start.
There's nothing wrong with extra rest. Particularly after being awakened in the wee small hours of Friday morning by our ravenous 20-pound cat, kneading at my pillow with a dual purpose. It was time for him to be fed, and for me to get moving to catch my flight from Boston to BWI.
A few winks on that plane ride, and still more on the next - later in the morning, aboard a Delta charter carrying the Navy Midshipmen to Louisiana - were just enough to make it through the rest of the day. Included, on Friday night, was a late dinner at The Warehouse No. 1 Restaurant, along the banks of the Ouachita River.
As it (and we) turned out, our group needed tables for 17. From members of the Navy medical staff to the video and audio (a.k.a. radio) crews, there was plenty of seafood consumed, with plenty of laughter on the side.
In fact, as long as it took for some of the dishes to arrive, there was more than ample time for my affable broadcast partner Omar Nelson to try to recount his Navy playing career. He set the various scenes, and the rest of us provided the punch lines - naturally, at his expense.
Here, now, is the downside of late kickoffs - the idle time, playing the waiting game. I imagine it's true for players, coaches or anyone else associated with a football team. In most cases, the wait can seem interminable.
Here in Monroe, about 30 miles east of Ruston, where the Mids meet Louisiana Tech tonight, it seems - if possible - even longer. Of course, those of us in the traveling party deal with it in different ways.
I trudged into the great outdoors earlier to try to run off a portion of last night's meal. Forty minutes later, I escaped the Northern Louisiana inferno (again the heat index will exceed 100 degrees today), turned on the air conditioning at full blast and started to type.
Several others embarked on an excellent adventure. At last check, they were bound for breakfast across state lines to help Navy's globe-trotting associate athletic director Matt Munnelly complete a quest. A Long Islander turned Annapolitan, Matt had never set foot in the state of Arkansas before today.
Considering all the favors he's done for me - and fully realizing that I'll be asking for more in the future! - here's hoping that the Mids' baron of the box office got that ticket punched this morning.
For the next couple of hours, before lunch and a 2 o'clock shuttle to Joe Aillet Stadium, I'll watch some other college games, and review my La Tech charts.
Here are some of the notes I'll be considering. Perhaps, as you follow this evening's matchup of the Mids (1-1) and Bulldogs (1-1), you will too.
ON THE ROAD
Tonight begins a critical four-week, three-game stretch for Navy on the road; at La Tech, Air Force and Wake Forest. Western Kentucky is the only other Division I team to play four of its first five contests away from home. Since 2003, the Mids are 32-20 (.615) outside of Annapolis, recording the 16th-highest winning percentage in the nation.
Last Saturday the Mids held Georgia Southern to 109 total yards, the fewest for a Navy opponent since Army mustered a mere 87 in 1997.
Speaking of the Cadets, since the start of last year's Army-Navy game, the Mids have surrendered only 40 points (four field goals and four touchdowns) in 16 quarters.
And since Maryland took a 14-0 lead in this season's opener, gaining 139 yards on 13 plays, Navy yielded just 10 points. The Mids' last 16 defensive series have resulted in 10 punts, three turnovers, a fourth-down stop, one touchdown and a field goal. In those possessions, opponents averaged just 3.3 yards per play.
THE BULLDOGS ON OFFENSE
Last season, under now Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley, La Tech achieved what coaches so often profess; balance between run and pass. In fact, the Bulldogs had nearly perfect symmetry on offense. The rushed for 2,252 yards and 20 TD, while passing for 2,257 yards and 19 TD.
Running back Daniel Porter eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, averaging 94.3 yards rushing per game.
But Dooley and Porter are gone, the former succeeded by Sonny Dykes and his philosophy: pass first, pass second and pass third. Even last year, when Navy scored 32 unanswered points to beat the Bulldogs, 32-14, Tech ground out just 11 yards on 17 carries, including four sacks for minus-35 yards.
Through two games under Dykes, the Bulldogs are averaging 2.6 yards per rushing attempt. Put another way, my spotting chart for tonight's broadcast features three running backs with a combined 38 carries and 10 receivers who've caught passes from three different La Tech quarterbacks.
In 2008 the Bulldogs recorded eight wins, their most since 1999. They were 5-2 in games decided by eight points or fewer. Last year, en route to a 4-8 mark, they were 0-4 in such contests. Tech lost five straight late last fall by a total of 23 points.
The `Dogs haven't won a true road game in two years, coming off their 48-16 loss last week at Texas A&M, but they've been very good at home. Tech won 10 of its last 12 at "The Joe," suffering losses only to Nevada (2008) and unbeaten Boise State (2009).