Georgia Southern picks a coach

From a Navy fan’s point of view, the Georgia Southern head coaching search boiled down to Ivin Jasper vs. Not Ivin Jasper. In the end, it was the latter that won out, as the powers that be in Statesboro chose Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz.

I don’t follow Georgia Southern closely enough to have too much of an opinion on the hire, but I am a little surprised that Coach Jasper didn’t get the job. He seemed like the natural pick to keep the momentum going after Jeff Monken returned the program to its option-running roots. Then again, perhaps Jasper’s background worked against him instead of for him. Jasper was probably seen as the “safe” pick. Maybe the AD wanted to make a splash instead, to put his own stamp on the program. Maybe the school’s leadership felt that the new FBS era called for a new approach. Or maybe they just plain liked Fritz more. Certainly his record as a head coach speaks for itself, and there are plenty of football programs that would feel lucky to have him.

Whatever their reasoning, Georgia Southern’s loss is most definitely Navy’s gain. I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this blog already knows what I think about the Navy offense under Jasper. Not quite as obvious is how good he is as a quarterbacks coach. He’s so good at teaching quarterbacks how to run the option that Navy feels they can go after any quarterback, not just guys who ran the option in high school. Without Coach Jasper, there is no Ricky Dobbs or Keenan Reynolds. He single-handedly increases Navy’s recruiting pool. All of that really only scratches the surface on everything he does for the Navy program.

Football is just fun for us fans, but it’s a career for these coaches. I know that. Coach Jasper has earned the chance to run his own team. That said, my emotions here are not mixed. I’m thrilled that he’s still in Annapolis. Yeah it’s selfish, but I don’t care. Coach Jasper is awesome, and I like when awesome people are at the Naval Academy. It’s only a matter of time before someone does give Jasper a head coaching job, and whoever does will probably become my second favorite team. Until then I’m just going to be thankful for every season this coaching staff sticks together.

ARMED FORCES BOWL: NAVY 24, MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE 6

The Navy defense picked a good time to turn in their two finest performances of the season, saving their best for last.

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Might as well talk about it

I am extremely hesitant to bring up the topic of Middle Tennessee’s conduct from yesterday’s game, mostly because there is a subculture of Navy fans that craves reasons to be offended. I am not interested in fueling that embarrassing fire. However, I feel compelled to talk about it because it wasn’t just a sideshow; it had a very real impact on the outcome of the game, and I’m not completely sure that it wasn’t at least a little bit intentional.

The players and coaches see things that we’ll never get on TV, so it’s hard to capture everything on video. It’s also tough to get a sense of what’s really being said at times. Still, here’s an attempt to capture some of the lowlights that could be seen on TV. Some things you see here wouldn’t be that big of a deal in a vacuum (guys running their mouths, for example), but combined with everything else that went on they help paint a certain picture. It started on the very first drive of the game. The clips you’ll see range from mild to completely beyond the pale. They include:

1. A lot of talking, standing over tackled players, etc.
2. Linebacker Rod Blunt continuing to try to rip the ball out of Noah Copeland’s hands long after the whistle, and appear to take a shot at Copeland’s groin.
3. Blunt pulling Keenan Reynolds backwards after Reynolds scored Navy’s opening-drive TD.
4. Throat slash gestures.
5. Blunt delivering a forearm to the head of Darius Staten, who was on the ground.
6. Blunt pushing Blaze Ryder into the pile long after the play ended (and Marcus Thomas’ retaliation).
7. Blunt gouging Keenan Reynolds’ eyes.
8. Safety Xavier Walker taunting the Navy sideline after the Mids converted on 4th down.
9. Blunt laying on top of Darius Staten after the play and having… words.
10. Late hit on D.J. Sargenti’s interception.
11. Knocking the ball away after the end of the play.
12. On the same play, Reynolds gets hit late while Blunt delivers a forearm to DeBrandon Sanders’ head.

Not all of these were created equal, obviously, and I’m sure there are people who will see something different when they look at those clips. Still, as a whole I’ve never seen anything like it. It looked like the campy depiction of a “bad guy” football team on an after school special. I thought it was affecting the Mids’ play in the first half, and I was concerned that it would carry over to the third quarter. To Coach Niumatalolo’s credit, he knew exactly what was going on and was very calm in his halftime interview. He probably conveyed that sense of calm and restraint in the locker room. Being calm isn’t exactly what he’s known for, so it’s a testament to Coach Niumatalolo’s situational awareness. The Mids settled down in the second half.

MTSU players said the “chippiness” went both ways. After watching each play several times, I have a very hard time believing it. I saw nothing from Navy that even looked unusual, let alone approaching the level of what MTSU was doing. I’ve seen some comments describing Wave Ryder’s penalty as dirty because it was helmet-to-helmet, but it was shoulder-to-shoulder. I’ve seen other comments claiming that Sargenti hit MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore out of bounds, but he didn’t:

The TV camera doesn’t capture everything, so I suppose it’s possible that all the things MTSU players did were being caught on camera while everything Navy players did was missed. The odds of that are about the same as the odds of me winning a Pulitzer for this blog, though. I challenge anyone accusing Navy players of misconduct to show some evidence. Otherwise, keep your empty talk to yourself.

After the game, Coach Stockstill dismissed the characterization of anyone’s play as “dirty,” saying that he just saw it as physical.

But I’m not going to back down one bit. We came out there and we had something to prove. I thought our defense was very, very physical and tough, and I loved how they played.

Comments like that make me think that some of this was part of the game plan. There was some talk on the radio that MTSU players felt slighted by the bowl, but I’m not sure what Keenan Reynolds’ eyeballs had to do with that. To their credit, both Stockstill and Blunt have since issued apologies. While they’re both probably the product of damage control, there’s no reason for fans to get indignant. We weren’t the ones getting forearms to the head. If the players and coaches aren’t going to carry on about it, neither should we. Just be proud that the Mids kept their cool and took care of business.

Postgame Haiku, Vol. 74

In so many ways
The better team won today
Like they have all year

ARMED FORCES BOWL PREVIEW: MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

The Armed Forces Bowl was originally supposed to be between Navy and a Mountain West team. With my new high-capacity DVR, I was going to be prepared. I recorded every Mountain West game I could find, including all of Air Force’s and New Mexico’s televised conference games to see how their opponents defended the option. Whatever Mountain West team Navy would be lining up against, I was ready for them.

LOL at me.

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MERRY CHRISTMAS

I don’t usually get too wrapped up in winning bowl games. Don’t get me wrong; of course I want Navy to win. To me, though, just getting there is the most important thing. Once Navy has that 6th win and we all start looking at possible matchups for the Mids in the postseason, I don’t hope for whatever team gives them the best shot at winning. I want the toughest one. Give me Oregon or Alabama or the Houston Texans or the Tecmo Super Bowl Raiders with Bo Jackson. Navy tries to schedule reasonably in order to get to a bowl game, but once they’re there, why not hope for a shot at something special? At that point, there’s nothing to lose.

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IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, HIRE THEIR OLD SLOTBACKS COACH

It’s official: Army hired Jeff Monken to replace Rich Ellerson as their head football coach.

Judging by the list of reported candidates, it appeared that Army was choosing between going the “Jim Young” route or the “Paul Johnson” route. As usual when it comes to Army, Paul Johnson won. Of course, it’s unfair to Monken to simply reduce him to a “Paul Johnson guy.” He has a track record of his own to be proud of. Monken inherited a Georgia Southern program that was gut-punched by Brian VanGorder, and treading water under Chris Hatcher. He won immediately, taking the Eagles to the FCS semifinals in each of his first three seasons. Even this year, when 19 of his 63 scholarship players were lost to injury, Monken was still able to guide Georgia Southern to a 7-4 record and a win over Florida. If 7-4 is a down year for you, then you’re probably doing something right.

At first I didn’t think that any former Navy assistants would coach at Army. It wasn’t because I thought they’d have any loyalty to Navy or anything. Having competed against Army for so long, I figured they would have a pretty good idea how Army’s athletic department operates and want no part of it. Monken was part of Navy’s turnaround and knows what it took to make that happen. If he’s willing to give it a shot at West Point, then maybe it’s a sign that enough changes are on the way that he feels he can compete. Or maybe there are only so many places a coach with the “option” stigma can go to get a raise. Either way, it looks like a good hire for Army. If nothing else, it adds a wrinkle to Army-Navy.

Now the wait begins to see what kind of a staff Monken assembles and where Georgia Southern turns for their next head coach.

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