A season ago the Blue Devils stormed up and down the field to the tune of more than 500 yards of total offense led by quarterback Thaddeus Lewis who 23-of-36 pass attempts for 428 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Eron Riley had a career afternoon as well, hauling in six catches for 235 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately as good as the offense move the ball against the Midshipmen, the Navy offense moved up and down the field against the Duke defensive unit - racking up 540 yards of total offense including a staggering 306 yards on 69 attempts.
Heading into the third quarter the Devils held a 43-32 advantage before the collapse started. Facing a third and 21, Lewis was picked off Ketric Buggin at the Navy 21 yards line. The Midshipmen would drive the ball down to the Duke 25 before kicker Joey Bullen knocked the game winning 44-yard kick through the uprights as time expired.
It was the fourth consecutive victory for Navy over the Blue Devils dating back to the 2002 season when Duke earned a 43-17 victory in Durham. Since that game Navy has owned the series, winning the four subsequent contests by an average of 12.5 points per game.
Navy on Offense:
Despite the departure of head coach Paul Johnson to Georgia Tech, the Midshipman approach to offense hasn't changed much under long time Johnson assistant Ken Niumatalolo. In the "look out for this" category, is the team's ability to rack up lots of yards on the ground and lots of points very quickly. In two games this season Navy has scored four times in drives that consist of five plays or less and four drives that have taken less than two minutes off the clock.
Much of the big play ability comes from senior running back Shun White who is averaging a ridiculous 10.5 yards per carry for his career, which is easily on pace to break the school's YPC career mark of 8.9 yards per touch. For the season White is rumbling for 14.9 yards per carry. Most of these bloated numbers can be traced to a career opening day against Towson (348 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns). Joining White in the backfield is senior fullback Eric Kettani who is logging 5.5 yards per carry.
Success in the ground game should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Midshipmen. In each of the last three seasons the program led the country in the ground attack averaging 318.7, 327, and 348.8 rushing yards per game in 2005, 2006, and 2007 respectively. Through the first two games the team is well on its way to continuing such numbers by racking up 452 rushing yards per contest.
Under center will be senior signal caller Kaipo-Nao Kaheaku-Enhada - a dual threat quarterback that is just two scores from claiming the career touchdown mark at his school, having scored 22 career rushing touchdown. Though he can throw the ball at a passable clip Kaheaku-Enhada is at his most dangerous on the ground having topped the 100-yard rushing mark on his own six times in his career. As a junior he rushed for over 100 yards four times, but has kept opponents honest by completing 44 of his 72 pass attempts for 788 yards and seven scores over his last 10 games. All told he averaged an amazing 6.4 yards per play in 2007.
The key for Navy's offense has been to reach the 30 point plateau - at least it was before they fell to Ball State a week ago. Prior to that match up the Midshipmen had won seven straight games when scoring at least 30 points. Over the past six years the Midshipmen have posted a remarkable 31-4 mark when achieving this scoring output.
This season has seen Navy struggle when the Mids reach the red zone - something the Blue Devils will hope to capitalize on. In nine trips to inside the 20 yard line, the Midshipmen have scored a respectable seven times, but only three of those scores have been touchdowns (33%).
Navy on Defense:
The defense isn't nearly as accomplished as their offensive counterparts, though the defense did look solid against Towson in the opener before being pull apart by Ball State in the second week of action. In the first game of the season the Midshipment allowed only 30 yards on 26 carries. Leading the defensive charge up front is junior defensive end Matt Nechak who enter the game against Duke coming off a career best six stops last week.
The linebacking group is led by senior OLB Corey Johnson who has 12 tackles through two games. Johnson has successfully made the transition to football after being on the Navy basketball team where he was a tenacous defender - making 139 career steals as the team's point guard. Before 2007, Johnson had not played football since his senior season of high school. Fellow linebackers Ross Pospisil and Clint Sovie (voted team defensive captain) make up the rest of the group which is regarded as one of the best in recent memory in Anapolis. Stovie finds himself as one of 66 players on the watch list for the 2008 Butkus Award. Stovie returns after a season ending knee injury last year.
Strong safety Jeff Deliz (16, 2 TFL, 1 sack) also returns after falling to the injury bug a season ago after a foot injury forced him completely out of school to rehabilitate his foot. Back and healthy, Deliz is considered as one of the team's best pure tacklers - a skill he showed off 12 times against Ball State. Notable players joining Deliz in the secondary include cornerbacks Rashawn King and Blake Carter who have combined for three interceptions in two games.
When opponents make it inside the 20 yard line against Navy, odds are they will take it to the house. In the three instances of a drive into the Midshipmen's redzone, opponents have recorded three touchdowns. Moving the ball against the Midshipmen should be something the Blue Devils can do if the trends hold. Against Ball State the Midshipmen gave up 488 yards of total offense including 326 passing yards.
For Duke to Win:
The name of the game against Navy is simple. Keep the ball away from the team's offensive unit which will gobble up yards and continually move the ball subsequently tiring out the Duke defense with the constant movement and repeated cut blocking (which sometimes strongly resembles chop blocking). Last season the Blue Devils looked to be on the road to victory before tired legs (due to Navy's offense rolling along unencumbered) caught up and the little mistakes added up and sent Duke to another loss.
Fast forward a year and you see a Blue Devil team that is in much better shape and much more disciplined - though the little mistakes have already cost Duke a game (against Northwestern). If Duke wants to move to 2-1 for the first time in more than a decade, it will be crucial for quarterback Thaddeus Lewis to bounce back from some accuracy problems against the Wildcats last week while the running game continues to thrive with much improved offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball the defensive linemen should be able to get penetration against the Mids' O-line, but that could very well be fool's gold given the quickness and precision of the Navy offensive scheme. Linebacker pursuit and secondary help will be crucial in preventing the long plays from turning into game breaking ones. If the linebackers and secondary units have poor days with tackling and pursuit, Duke will lose.
The Blue Devil offense is going to put up points against the Navy defense, which, as a unit, could be the weakest of the first three opponents. That being said, the Midshipmen are going to run the ball and they will also be able to score points. Getting off to a good start will be crucial as Navy has an impressive record when it comes to maintaining an advantage - more specifically the Midshipmen are 33-4 (.892) over the last seven years when leading at halftime and 40-4 when leading after three quarters. If Duke can establish the momentum early with a good opening handful of series, and Lewis is given the time he needs, Duke should be in great position to win. If, however, Navy is allowed to chew up the clock, the field, and thus the defensive unit's endurance, Coach Cutcliffe's boys could struggle. We look for the former.
Duke - 36
a Navy - 28