Recruits Sold on Army-Navy
"I thought it was inspiring, just seeing the cadets marching in unison and the meaning of the game was just awesome," said Navy commit Toneo Gulley, who reaffirmed his verbal pledge to Navy after watching the game.
"I like the way they run the ball and how the team plays together," added the Kenosha Templer (WI) running back.
E.K. Binns, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive tackle watching from Hawaii, admired the way the game was played and said he was impressed by every facet of the rivalry.
"It was a physical and really good game," he said. "I liked the intensity; it was something more than just any other rivalry game"
Binns and his fellow recruits especially liked how President Barack Obama took an active interest in the game. Not only did Obama attend the game, but he joined CBS commentators Verne Lunquist and Gary Danielson in the production booth for a portion of the first half.
"It was exciting to watch, I liked it," said Hillgrove (SC) defensive back Jordan Marshall, who has scholarship offers from both Army and Navy. "I like how the president was there and everything," he added.
Gulley said having Obama at the game was exciting because it gives him hope that he'll someday meet his hero.
"I have always wanted to meet the president and now that I will have a chance to is just great," said Gulley, who will take an official visit to Annapolis during either the first or second week of January.
So did the game play a role in steering uncommitted recruits towards Navy? Depends on which ones you talk to. Marshall said a Navy victory, coupled with other factors, has made him favor going to Navy over Army at this point in the recruiting process.
"I'm liking Navy. Coach Ingram is supposed to come do an in-home visit soon, and I can't wait to go up for my official," Marshall said.
But E.K. said a victory didn't distinguish Navy. Instead, just as he said before the game, he finds the complete package offered by the Naval Academy to be an attractive choice.
"I think I had Navy as one of my top choices no matter the outcome of the game," Binns said. "If I do attend there it would be more than just for football."
Closing the gap
Earlier this week, longtime Annapolis Capital columnist Bill Wagner wrote how he believed Army no longer is at a significant talent disadvantage when it comes to playing Navy. Asserting that Navy "had a decided advantage in team speed over Army" in the years between 2005 and 2008, Wagner cited a few prominent examples of Navy's supposed talent advantage – former Patriot League sprint champions Shun White and Reggie Campbell among them – as evidence that Navy had developed both a coaching and personnel advantage over Army during that time.
That advantage, Wagner believes, has now been equalized -- evidenced by several long runs coming from slotbacks Malcom Brown and Raymond Maples.
My take? While I'll be the first to tell you that Wagner has gleaned more into the dynamics of Navy football than any of us combined during the time he has had the Navy beat, I'm skeptical of his assertion.
As Wagner himself said in his story, both defenses looked "exceptionally slow," and to reduce athleticism and speed to a stat sheet and yards per carry ignore the more compelling evidence that ten-straight Navy wins in the rivalry demonstrate a degree of dominance that exceeds luck, coaching, or any other factor. They also, as it happens, ignore the obvious fact that Navy has been limited in its ability to throw the ball given the status of Kriss Proctor's elbow.
There are other points to be heard as well, notably that perhaps Navy's supposed speed "advantage" was never quite what Navy fans had convinced themselves it was. Perhaps more owing to two dynamic players (White and Campbell) and years of porous defensive gameplanning (when, I should mention, Army was not practicing against an option offense each week, nor under the direction of one of the game's best defensive minds) than a wholesale trend, the mirage of the "gap" has lifted.
If nothing else, Wagner's assertion – true or not, and I'm still skeptical – brings up an interesting discussion on the current state of the rivalry. Do you have an opinion? Let GoMids know by sounding off in our message board topic on this issue
Warrick comes of age
One of the things I came away most impressed with during the Army-Navy game was the play of inside linebacker Matt Warrick. Warrick, who was named the FBS Independent Player of the Week for his efforts against Army, paced the Mids with nine total tackles in the game, including two for a loss. None, of course, were bigger than his fourth-and-seven tackle for a loss of Trent Steelman during Army's attempt to prolong the game late in the fourth quarter.
That the athletic middle linebacker was all over the field during the second half of Navy's victory shouldn't have been a surprise. We've known all year that Warrick has the tools to be a great player in Buddy Green's defense. But sometimes those tools have led him to over-think and over-pursue plays this year, and his effectiveness has been limited against some of the spread teams Navy has played. But against Army it was different. Not only was Warrick constantly in the right place, but he was in the right place at critical moments of the game.
All together, it's a welcome sign for Navy fans, who've had to witness the program's largest single season defensive regression since 2007. While the 2012 defense likely won't scare any team coming off the bus (especially not with the loss of DE Jabaree Tuani) the good news is that the latter half of 2011 provided the opportunities for some of Navy's underclassmen to gain valuable reps on defense. I've made parallels between the struggles of 2007 and the struggles of 2011 before, and as the season concludes I'm cautiously optimistic that the strides made by Warrick and others will mirror the strides made by the younger players of Navy's 2007 defense.
Adam Nettina welcomes reader emails, comments, and questions. He can be reached at AdamNettina – at – gmail.com
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