It’s easy for any member of the Navy offense to be mad, distracted and overconfident right now — yes, not just one of those emotional conditions, but all three at the same time.
Feeling off-center — for reasons good or bad — is entirely understandable. No one on the Navy offense should think that’s unacceptable. We all move through each day feeling uncomfortable, angry, or — in some cases — full of pride after the twists and turns of life carry us in a particular direction. It’s natural to endure the full scope of sensations that course through our veins.
It’s a part of an honest an accountable life — owning our feelings and emotions without self-judgment. We should never have to apologize to others — or view ourselves negatively — when a feeling (any feeling) surges and wells up inside us.
Feeling a given way is never, ever wrong.
What’s usually if not always wrong: acting out our worst feelings and our most uncomfortable moods.
“I feel like breaking something after Ivin Jasper was snubbed for the Broyles Award.”
“I feel like decking that guy (a Broyles Award voter) in the face.”
“I feel invincible — nothing can stop our offense.”
“I feel angry — Western Michigan hasn’t beaten anyone and yet might get the Cotton Bowl bid instead of us.”
What Navy player hasn’t at least thought one or more of these thoughts in the past 48 hours since the 75-31 thumping of SMU, which followed the 66-31 beatdown of East Carolina? Feeling these emotions is human.
The key for the Midshipmen as they prepare to play in their first conference title game in recorded (football) history?
Express the feelings properly instead of allowing them to control this week of preparation.
Yes, it’s an outrage Jasper wasn’t selected as one of the five best assistant coaches in the country, a thoroughly absurd snub from Broyles Award voters.
Yes, if Western Michigan beats Ohio late Friday night — the game will end roughly 13 hours before Temple-Navy begins — it will be immensely unfortunate that Navy’s season probably won’t be rewarded with a Cotton Bowl invitation, should the Mids clip the Owls.
Yes, it’s really easy to think — after a combined two-game total of 18 rushing touchdowns and more than 130 offensive points in the last two weeks — that Navy won’t need an extra-special performance to solve Temple’s defense. “Just play our game, and we’ll be fine.”
Feeling these feelings, thinking these thoughts — none of it is wrong.
The only mistake would be to take the field on Saturday in Annapolis with clouded, cluttered minds occupied with the noise and distractions of the week. The only shortcoming would be to get caught up in this wave of emotion and allow it to detract from Saturday’s performance. The only regret Navy might have near the end of a very special and successful season would be to not finish the job in this climb to the top of the American Athletic Conference.
If players want to be grumpy in the wake of the Jasper snub on Tuesday or tense about the Western Michigan-New Year’s Six situation on Thursday, sure — get it out of the system.
Saturday, it has to be all about pure focus, and putting forth (no, not a “typical” performance, but) an especially strong effort against the AAC East champions from Philadelphia.
Forget about winning the AAC for a moment, though it is and has been a core goal of the team this year. Winning this game would send a loud message to all the voters who robbed Ivin Jasper; to the playoff committee which might not vote Navy above Western Michigan; and to the pundits who think Temple will win this game based on how the Owls and the Midshipmen fared against South Florida.
That message goes beyond proving that Navy is the best AAC and Group of Five team in college football for 2016. The even more impressive statement: Navy is bigger than the noise, distractions and emotional traps of a situation it has never previously faced.
Beating Temple would be hugely satisfying; triumphing over critics and frustrations (and the possibility of overconfidence) would multiply Navy’s accomplishment a hundred-fold.
Temple is a formidable enough opponent in its own right. The AAC West is a division with abundant speed and passing-game prowess. Temple might not have South Florida’s skill-position talent, but the Owls beat the Bulls because they were much stronger at the point of attack and cultivated a defense which should be a lot more resilient than Memphis or Tulsa (or the road-field version of Houston’s defense, which is entirely different from home-field Houston).
This game doesn’t feel like a 42-40 donnybrook. It seems like a 27-24 game, and for that reason, giving up a quick first-drive touchdown might hurt more than it has in the past. Dale Pehrson and the Navy defense need to be on their toes this week.
This game doesn’t feel like a 46-40 shootout. Temple will offer more resistance and won’t want to lengthen a game the way Memphis or Tulsa did. Temple won’t mind shortening this game as long as it can get the edge early. The Owls would love to get a 10-0 lead and then grind the clock away, forcing Will Worth and Company to watch from the sidelines. Navy might be used to playing calculator games against the AAC West, but Temple poses a different kind of threat. It’s going to be hard to beat the Owls without a consideration of any externals.
Navy therefore can’t allow the externals to enter the equation. The Midshipmen don’t necessarily need to “block out” distractions, as though they can be thwarted. Navy has to flush out the distractions — they exist, but they don’t have to be given any power. If minds are clear and bodies are relaxed, Navy can match Temple’s toughness and then exceed the Owls with execution on both sides of the ball.
Navy can — maybe even should — feel uneasy and frustrated in a world where its offensive coordinator didn’t receive due recognition and its postseason destination might not be that great if Western Michigan wins.
The best response — the only response — for everyone in the Midshipmen’s locker room: Pay the price on Saturday, focused and entirely unbothered by externals.
Beating Temple — with or without the Cotton Bowl berth — will be the right way to address everything that’s happening during one of the more consequential weeks in Navy football history.