Navy set to open against dangerous Delaware squad
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo doesn't need to be put on upset alert.
He is fully aware the type of football that Delaware - one of the top Football Championship Subdivision teams in the country - is capable of playing. He has witnessed it first hand.
Niumatalolo was on the sidelines when the Blue Hens beat the Midshipmen in 1995, 1996, 2004 and 2007.
''I don't like playing Delaware. I've been pretty vocal about that,'' Niumatalolo said. ''There is no doubt in my mind that if their administration decided, their program could play at the Division I-A level. Delaware is as good as any of the teams we play.''
And the Blue Hens are coming back to Annapolis Saturday for the season opener for both schools.
Navy and Delaware have enjoyed a healthy border state rivalry, meeting 14 times since 1985. It has been an even series during that stretch with each school winning seven games. The Midshipmen hold a narrow 8-7 lead in the overall series thanks to last year's 35-18 victory.
Current Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco led the way as the Blue Hens beat the Mids in a wild shootout, 59-52, in 2007.
''We definitely understand what Delaware is all about. This is a tough team that is going to be a real good test,'' said Alexander Teich, Navy's offensive captain.
Delaware is coming off one of the finest seasons in school history, compiling a 12-3 record and finishing as runner-up in the FCS. The Blue Hens return 16 starters from last year's team that lost to Eastern Washington, 20-19, in the national championship game.
Delaware, which is ranked fifth in the FCS poll, boasts seven preseason All-Americans. The Blue Hens bring back 10 starters on defense and have added two talented transfers in linebacker Jessel Curry (Auburn) and cornerback Travis Hawkins (Maryland).
''We're facing a team right out of the gate that was a couple plays away from winning a national championship. Delaware scares me to death because I know how good that program is year-in and year-out,'' Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Delaware will be led offensively by sophomore tailback Andrew Pierce, who rushed for 1,655 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound native of New Jersey, a former walk-on, combines speed and power.
Pierce will be running behind a veteran offensive line that is anchored four returning senior starters. Left tackle Shea Allard (6-5, 290), left guard Gino Gradkowski (6-4, 295) and center Rob McDowell (6-3, 285) are all preseason All-Americans.
''We're preparing for this team like it's Ohio State. At Navy, we don't overlook any opponent,'' Navy defensive end Jabaree Tuani said. ''The first game sets the tone for the whole season. You also want to win that opener and build some momentum.''
Delaware lost an outstanding starting quarterback in All-American Pat Devlin, who signed a free agent contact with the Miami Dolphins. Head coach K.C. Keeler said on yesterday's Colonial Athletic Association teleconference that he hasn't decided whether Trevor Sasek or Tim Donnelly will line up under center against Navy.
''We'll have our No. 1 quarterback in place sometime prior to 3:30 on Saturday,'' Keeler said. ''Both of those guys have pushed each other and made each other better.''
Navy will also have a new starting quarterback, although Kriss Proctor is somewhat of a proven commodity after appearing in 11 games with three starts the previous two seasons. Proctor is a strong runner who is very adept at running the team's potent triple-option offense.
The Midshipmen return two dangerous weapons in fullback Alexander Teich and slotback Gee Gee Greene. Teich led the Mids with 1,344 all-purpose yards in 2010 while Greene has averaged 6.6 yards per carry during his career.
''This is an unbelievable test for us. We are trying to stop a very high-level offense,'' Delaware head coach K.C. Keeler said. ''We need to control the ball and keep our defense off the field. If we start with a couple three-and-outs, it's going to be a long day at Navy.''