Winless Navy hopes to reduce mistakes against VMI
A matchup against Virginia Military Institute couldn't come at a better time for struggling Navy.
The Midshipmen (0-2) opened the season with successive lopsided losses to Notre Dame (50-10) and Penn State (34-7). Desperate to get into the win column, Navy will welcome an FCS opponent it has traditionally dominated on Saturday.
Navy is 8-0 all-time against VMI, outscoring the Keydets by a combined score of 230-40. But given the way the Midshipmen have played thus far, it would probably be a mistake for them to be overconfident.
''This is a huge game for us,'' coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ''We have to find a way to get things right, find a way to play better. If our guys don't understand that by now, we're in trouble.''
Niumatalolo wants his team to rediscover the formula that produced eight straight winning seasons from 2003 through 2010. During that stretch, the Midshipmen rarely beat themselves with turnovers, penalties and mistakes.
Navy committed four turnovers against Notre Dame and another four against Penn State. Last season, the Midshipmen had only 15 turnovers in 12 games.
Penalties have also been an issue. Navy had the fewest penalties in the nation last year (28). In two games, they've already been flagged nine times, including seven against the Nittany Lions.
''We try to preach that it's hard to win, that you have to do certain things to win,'' Niumatalolo said. ''Hopefully, we don't have to have another hard lesson of losing a game in order to get guys' attention about that stuff.''
VMI (1-2) is coming off a 47-6 thrashing by Richmond. In three games, the Keydets have 10 turnovers and been penalized 29 times.
''We didn't play well last week against a good Richmond club and we have an even greater test this week with Navy,'' coach Sparky Woods said.
Woods attributed Navy's two losses to the caliber of competition, rather than poor play by the Midshipmen.
''I think Navy is a strong program with good coaches and good players,'' Woods said. ''They played two of the greatest football programs in all of college football and it seemed like nothing went their way in either game. I'm sure they are mad about what's happened so far this season and are very hungry for a win. I fully expect to get Navy's best effort on Saturday.''
Niumatalolo hopes to get improved play from starting quarterback Trey Miller, who has been responsible for five of the team's turnovers. Miller, a junior in his first season as the full-time starter, has also struggled with reading defenses and distributing the ball in Navy's patented triple-option offense.
The Midshipmen were forced to abandon the running game after falling behind by large margins in the first half of both games. That's not Navy's game, and a big reason why the offense has produced only two touchdowns.