Navy hopes win over Irish keys bounce-back season
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo spent much of the offseason figuring
out ways not to duplicate problems the Midshipmen had last
For the first time since 2003, Navy finished with a losing
record – going 5-7 in 2011 and had its run of eight straight bowl
The Midshipmen enter the 2012 season with a sense of
”Nobody, coaches or players, was happy with what happened last
season,” Niumatalolo said. ”All of us are determined to do
whatever possible to get things turned around.”
Five of Navy’s losses were by a total of 11 points and the
fifth-year head coach was unhappy with all the uncharacteristic
mental and physical mistakes. So Niumatalolo placed renewed
emphasis on fundamentals and toughness.
”We wanted to get back to the basics during spring practice so
we hit more than usual to toughen people up and really focused on
doing things right technique-wise,” he said. ”At Navy, we have to
remember who we are. Our opponents are always going to be bigger,
stronger and faster. We have to win by being tougher, playing
harder and not making mistakes.”
One of those bigger, stronger and faster teams is Notre Dame,
Navy’s opponent in the season opener Saturday. The game will be
held in Dublin, Ireland.
The Midshipmen utilize the triple option, and while the Irish
have practiced against it this summer, they know stopping it won’t
”Our scout team is doing great, but obviously they’re not going
to be the same speed as Navy is going to be,” Notre Dame
cornerback Bennett Jackson said. ”You’ve got to pay attention to
your keys with a triple-option team like Navy. We’re working at it
every day. If everybody pays attention to your keys and keep their
eyes right, we should be pretty good.”
For the second straight season, Navy will have a first-time
starter at quarterback directing the triple option. Junior Trey
Miller appeared in six games with one start last season in relief
of starter Kriss Proctor. After a spring and summer of running the
first team in practice, Miller has developed as a leader and gained
a better understanding of how to read defenses.
”Trey has all the tools and I like his mentality. He’s a tough
kid who works hard and wants to learn,” Niumatalolo said. ”Every
day, I see him becoming more confident, more assertive.”
Navy can only hope Miller stays healthy. Neither backup,
sophomore John Hendrick and freshman Keenan Reynolds, has taken a
varsity snap. The Midshipmen have not had a quarterback start every
game of the season since Lamar Owens did so in 2005.
Although Navy makes a living off its ground game, the Irish also
will be wary of the pass.
”Certainly they’re still difficult to defend. They’re always
going to have some new wrinkles,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly
said. ”The quarterback they have this year, there’s going to be
the opportunity to throw the ball more effectively.”
Navy will have an inexperienced first-year starter at fullback,
the centerpiece of the offense. Sophomore Noah Copeland played on
special teams in 2011, but carried the ball just twice.
At 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, the Texas native is the smallest
starting fullback during a triple-option era that began years under
coach Paul Johnson.
”We’re really excited about Noah. He’s fast, elusive and a lot
stronger than he looks,” Niumatalolo said.
Senior slotback Gee Gee Greene is the most proven weapon, having
totaled 507 yards rushing and 165 yards receiving with seven
touchdowns in 2011. Senior Brandon Turner led the team in receiving
with 14 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns. Right guard
Josh Cabral, a three-year starter, will anchor an offensive line
that will feature three new starters.
Navy struggled to stop opponents in 2011, ranking 86th
nationally in total defense (414 yards allowed per game) and 78th
in scoring defense (29 points per game). But players such as free
safety Chris Ferguson and cornerback Parrish Gaines grew up quickly
after starting as freshmen.
Inside linebacker Matt Warrick and strong safety Tra’ves Bush
return after leading the team in tackles with 103 and 93,
”Navy’s defense is very unique,” Notre Dame offensive tackle
Mike Golic Jr. said. ”They’re obviously a group that is not as
large in size as everyone else, but they’re good at what they do.
They like to move around a lot and they give offenses trouble
because of that.”
Navy has a contract to appear in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in
San Francisco if it wins six games. Returning to the postseason is
a priority, but the Midshipmen are more concerned with reclaiming
the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy that Air Force has held for the
last two years.