The Navy football team looked into the future yesterday in Annapolis and received some promising results. Sophomore quarterback Ricky Dobbs, the heir apparent to seniors Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada and Jarod Bryant, is apparently ready for the job.
Playing most of the game after Bryant was knocked out with a shoulder sprain, Dobbs scored on the Midshipmen's first three possessions and four times overall to lead Navy to a 34-7 victory over Southern Methodist before an announced 31,698 rain-soaked fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
A week after scoring a meaningless touchdown in the final minute of a 21-point loss to Pittsburgh, Dobbs finished with 224 yards on 42 carries. It was the first time a Navy quarterback rushed for more than 200 yards since Brian Madden in 2001.
"He played phenomenal when we needed him to," first-year Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "A hard guy to tackle, he did some great things out there. He played great. Before he got hurt, Jarod was doing some great things, too. I just thought overall, we played better."
Dobbs, who played in a pro-style passing offense in high school, said: "It was totally unexpected. I was fortunate enough to be in there. I had good guys behind me on offense and defense; they had faith in me, and that gave me a lot of confidence."
The victory helped Navy (5-3) put the most one-sided loss under Niumatalolo in the past and moved the Midshipmen within one game of clinching a spot in this season's Eagle Bank Bowl. Navy can become bowl-eligible with a win Saturday at home against Temple. The loss was SMU's eighth in nine games under June Jones, in his first year after coming to the Mustangs from Hawaii.
Because of the windy and wet conditions, as well as its 27-0 lead by halftime, Navy didn't attempt a pass, the first time that is believed to have happened in at least 60 years since the school began keeping such statistics. Army and Air Force have also won this season without completing a pass.
Asked whether he ever thought he would coach a game without a pass thrown, Niumatalolo, a former quarterback who once worked with Jones at the University of Hawaii, smiled. "Here at Navy, yeah," he said. "Maybe [not] somewhere else."
It didn't matter because of Dobbs and a defense that held the Mustangs to minus-13 rushing yards, the lowest total against Navy since 1978. The defense also limited freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to 157 yards - a little more than half his season average - and intercepted him once.
"Buddy had a great game plan; the kids executed it," Niumatalolo said of defensive coordinator Buddy Green and a group that came up with its 14th turnover in the past five games.
Niumatalolo acknowledged that the elements played in Navy's favor, especially in the second half. The only mistake Dobbs made, mishandling a snap in the third quarter, led to SMU's lone touchdown. But he came back and led the Midshipmen on an 80-yard drive and scored on a 7-yard run.
Dobbs showed more power and quickness than Kaheaku-Enhada, who has been sidelined most of the season with a hamstring injury, and more speed than Bryant, who had recently struggled with the offense.
Along the way, Dobbs had a spinning 38-yard run to set up his third touchdown and a 25-yard run to set up his fourth.
"We always knew he could play like that. I'm glad he got his chance to prove that he can play," Navy safety Wyatt Middleton said. "He's an elusive quarterback - that's the good thing about it."
Dobbs was hard to pin down about his immediate future at quarterback.
Asked about the possibility of taking over as the starter, beginning Saturday, he said: "That's up to the coaches. I'll just be patient and take life as it comes.
One thing is apparent: The heir to the Navy quarterback job had a promising debut.
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What went right: : Sophomore quarterback Ricky Dobbs, getting the most extended opportunity of the season after Jarod Bryant injured his shoulder, rushed for 224 yards on 42 carries and scored four touchdowns on his first three possessions.
What went wrong: : About the only blip for the Midshipmen was senior kicker Matt Harmon, a candidate for this season's Groza Award, missing his first PAT after 70 straight conversions.
Defining moment: : When Bryant got hurt the first time, on Navy's second possession, it opened the door for Dobbs, whom many in the media were calling for after Bryant's recent struggles running the triple option.
What it means: : Depending on Bryant's status for Saturday's gameagainst Temple, as well as how quickly Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada recovers from his second hamstring injury this season, it could stir a little quarterback debate for the Midshipmen.
Up next: : Navy plays Temple at home Saturday at 3:30 p.m.