Head-to-head: Navy vs. Delaware

Navy opens the 2011 football season on Saturday when they host local rivals Delaware. GoMids.com compares different critical team areas of Navy and Delaware and indicates which team has the edge.

Navy rushing offense
Delaware rushing defense
Navy finished last year ranked sixth in the nation as they averaged over 284 yards per game. The Mids return all of last year's running back starters in fullback Alexander Teich (868 yards, 5 tds), slotbacks Gee Gee Greene (505 yards, 5 tds) and Aaron Santiago (455 total yards, 4 combined tds). The Navy offensive line returns four starters and seems primed for a big year. Kriss Proctor provides more speed and operates the triple option more smoothly than Ricky Dobbs did at quarterback.

Delaware returns only three starters from last year's dominate defense that allowed only 12.1 points per game. Fortunately the Blue Hens return defensive end Michael Atunrase who made the preseason FBS All-American team. Junior linebacker Paul Worrilow led the team with 113 tackles last season. Look for Delaware to put ten men in the box like they've done in the past against the Mids offense to stuff Navy's running game and try to make Proctor beat them through the air.
Navy passing offense
Delaware passing defense
Navy is back to being a more pure triple option team with Kriss Proctor at quarterback. Former quarterback Ricky Dobbs' arm strength opened up the passing game. Proctor doesn't possess that type of ability. Kriss doesn't have a strong or accurate arm and the staff worked this off season on his timing with the receivers. Proctor has to be careful when throwing down field outside the hash markets because his passes lack velocity and tend to float. It will be interesting which receiver emerges as Proctor's favorite this season.

Delaware needs to replace its entire talented secondary from last year. Maryland transfer Travis Hawkins has earned one cornerback slot. Top backup junior Marcus Burley (47 tackles, 2 interceptions) moves into the starting cornerback role. Special teams star Tim Breaker is now the starter at safety. Navy needs to make sure it blocks right defensive end Michael Atunrase (3.5 sacks in 2010) who can generate pressure.  
Delaware rushing offense
Navy rushing defense
Delaware sophomore running back Andrew Pierce was named to the preseason FCS All-American team. It was no surprise after Pierce finished the season with 1,655 yards and 14 touchdowns on 329 rushing attempts. He also caught 32 passes for 199 yards and scored another three touchdowns. Pierce plays behind an experienced offensive line which returns four starters. The line is so highly regarded that three seniors-- left guard Gino Gradkowski, center Rob McDowell, and left tackle Shea Allard-- were named to the preseason FCS All-American team.

Navy ranked 75th in the country in stopping the run in 2010. The right side of the Blue Hen line will have its hands full attempting to block Navy co-captain Jabaree Tuani. Nose guard Jared Marks and new defensive end Wes Henderson battle against the strength of Delaware's offensive line will be interesting to watch. The real key will be to see if the Navy linebacker play improves over last year when they often were stuck on blocks or overran their gap responsibility.
Delaware passing offense
Navy passing defense
It's hard to comment here since this is a matchup of the unknowns. Delaware has yet to name a quarterback starter with less than a week to go. Tall sophomore Trevor Sasek (6-6) is battling junior Tim Donnelly for the starting quarterback spot. Sasek was the backup last year when he saw limited duty in seven games completing 62.5% of his 32 pass attempts with a touchdown and an interception. Whoever wins the starting spot will be able to throw to last year's leading receiver Nihja White. White caught 60 passes for 752 yards and scored six touchdowns. Senior tight end Colin Naugle had 14 receptions for 178 yards and a touchdown and was named to the preseason FBS All-American team.

Navy is breaking in three new starters in the secondary. Kwesi Mitchell last years starting cornerback has moved to the Rover position that was manned by Wyatt Middleton the past four seasons. David Wright and David Sperry are the two new cornerbacks. Both have experience on special teams and did see some action on defense last season. Sophomore Shawn Lynch won the free safety spot after he was moved from wide receiver this past spring. Navy has to do a better job generating pressure from its linebackers than it did last season.  
Special Teams
Delaware field goal kicker Mike Perry returns after hitting 20-of-26 field goals last season. Perry is solid inside the forty yard line but lacks a big leg. Kick off specialist Sean Baner will now also punt. Rod Jones is a solid punter returner (6.4 ypr.)

Navy senior kicker Jon Teague is the new kicker. Last year he replaced an injured Joe Buckley for a few games and hit all 16 of his extra points and both his field goal attempts. Freshman Pablo Beltran easily won the punting job with a terrific job in summer camp. Speedy sophomore Marcus Thomas returns kickoffs once again along with Bo Snelson. Gary Myers won the punt returner job his summer but was rather ineffective last season. Myers did have a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in this summer's scrimmage.
K.C. Keeler ranks fifth in preseason polls. With his Terminator sunglasses and a sideline demeanor that makes Al Golden seem stoic Keeler can be annoying on game day. However give the man his due. Keeler built Division III Rowan into a powerhouse (88-21-1). In his nine years at his alma mater Keeler has proven when he has a big time FBS quarterback transfer he can win big, Andy Hall (National Champions 2003), Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (title game in 2007) and last year with Pat Devlin (title game in 2010). Keeler is 74-42 since replacing the legendary head coach Tubby Raymond.

Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo enters the 2011 season looking to extend Navy's team record streak of eight straight years with at least eight wins. The staff must replace most of the impact players that have helped him fashion a 27-14 record during his first three seasons as head coach. Niumatalolo has recruited well and his in game decision making and clock management has improved
Delaware usually responds to the challenge of playing FBS locals Navy and Maryland. Keller is 2-2 against Navy. Delaware has a 7-8 all-time record against the Mids and always seems to play its A game in Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.  

PREDICTION: Navy, 28-20.

See what Navy fans are saying about this upcoming game in the GoMids.com GoMidshipmen FORUM.

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