By Todd McElwee
It began in early September on a Jon Teague kickoff at Ohio State and will conclude New Year’s Eve in Houston with a Texas Bowl showdown against Missouri. Large or small, Navy has dodged no challengers during a highly-successful 2009 campaign that will surely go down as one of the most arduous in school history.
“This is by far the toughest schedule we’ve had in my tenure here as an assistant and head coach,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “I’ve been very pleased. I think our players have battled, and our assistant coaches have done a great job.”
The Midshipmen’s dance card was potholed with peril. Five of Navy’s initial 12 opponents garnered postseason bids, while three of its four losses came against bowl teams. Notre Dame finished 6-6 but declined all bowl invitations.
Niumatalolo said his team will continue to schedule top-shelf opponents, but laughed and added, “I don’t know if we want to go to The Horseshoe (Ohio State’s stadium) every year.”
No matter the magnitude of the stage or aptitude of the adversary, Navy was in every game. Only one of the Midshipmen’s four setbacks, a 27-14 loss at Pittsburgh, came by more than one possession.
To nobody’s surprise, Navy relied on the run. Employing their heralded triple option attack, the Midshipmen entered their regular season finale against Army rated third in the nation with a rushing average of 279.67 yards per game. Through 12 games, 39 of Navy’s 41 offensive touchdowns came on the ground.
Junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs has already written himself into the Academy’s record book. On Nov. 14, he broke Bill Ingram’s record of 21 rushing touchdowns in a season, set in 1917, with five scores in a 35-18 drubbing of Delaware. Dobbs had 924 yards and 23 touchdowns on 252 carries, while also throwing for 840 yards and four touchdowns, as of Dec. 11.
“It’s been a pretty good season,” Dobbs said. “There have been moments where there have been breakdowns in execution that have hurt us in a few games.”
Defensively, senior linebacker Ross Pospisil is again pacing the Midshipmen in tackles. The defensive captain tallied 91 stops and 2.5 sacks through 12 games after topping Navy with 106 tackles in 2008.
Pospisil, commissioned as a Marine Corps pilot, is one of Navy’s 32 seniors. The Class of 2010 is arguably the most successful in school history, posting four straight victories over Army and claiming the same number of Commander-in-Chief's Trophies. This class has received four bowl bids and twice defeated Notre Dame. Prior to 2007, Navy had dropped 43 straight meetings with the Irish.
“They’re a great group of young men who are great leaders,” Niumatalolo said. “They’ve been a resilient group who have battled, and I know they’ll be great leaders in the Navy and Marine Corps."
Making a program-record seventh straight bowl appearance, the Midshipmen will cap off 2009 against Missouri in the Texas Bowl. The game will be contested at Houston’s Reliant Stadium and will air on ESPN at 3:30 p.m.
Missouri (8-4) finished second in the Big 12 North and is making a fifth straight bowl appearance. Coached for eight years by Gary Pinkel, the Tigers have won three straight and average just over 30 points per game.
Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert has racked up 3,302 yards, 23 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. His favorite target is senior receiver Danario Alexander who has hauled in 107 receptions for 13 touchdowns and a Division 1-A best 1,644 yards. He’s an All Big-12 selection.
The Tigers allow 24.6 points and 96.4 yards rushing per game. All-Big 12 senior linebacker Sean Witherspoon has 104 tackles, including 14 for a loss.
Navy has not met Missouri since 1948 and is 0-2 all-time against the Tigers.
Issue 144: December 2009