Who Saw That Coming?

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has his work cut out for him. He's got to find something for the Mids to improve upon as they prepare for Western Kentucky this week. Good luck. Navy put together a near flawless performance in whipping FCS power Delaware, 40-17 to open the 2011 season. Who saw that coming? Not me…that's for sure.

I officially entered the prediction business with a big, loud thud. As you can read here, I thought that on-paper…and on the field…that the Blue Hens were the better team. It took all of three plays into the game on Saturday for me to look for some humble pie. That's when Kriss Proctor rumbled for a 75-yard touchdown – his longest run since high school according to the senior quarterback – to put the Midshipmen ahead to stay.

For Niumatalolo, getting ahead early and keeping the momentum was something he stressed all week to the team. And once Navy won the toss, the coach did not hesitate to take the football and let his experienced unit set the tone for the game. There was a time not so long ago that Navy fans assumed that if the Mids won the coin toss, they would differ to the second half…putting the defense on the field to start the game. I think it is safe to say that in 2011 at least, Navy's offense under Proctor's direction, will be looked upon to light a spark for the Midshipmen.

As for where Niumatalolo can look on the offensive side of the ball for improvement – I'm really not sure. If he is looking at the stat sheet for some help, he won't find any. The Mids rushed for 391 yards, put together a 17-play drive, committed zero penalties, and had 13 different players touch the ball.

One of the major areas I thought would be a difference maker in the game was Proctor's ability to throw the ball. It turns out he really didn't need to. He finished the game 4-7 for 46 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. And even the coach conceded after the game that the interception, although not a great decision by Proctor, was as effective as a punt in that situation. So even Proctor's one gaffe (perhaps there were more in his option reads) leaves little room for criticism. He tried to make a play, with a 16-point lead, and deep in the opponent's side of the field.

And as impressive as Proctor and the offense was, it was the Navy defense that should be talked about just as much after they dominated a much ballyhooed (at least by me) Delaware offense. With four senior starting offensive linemen and a 1,600-yard rusher behind them, I thought the Blue Hens would be able to push around an inexperienced and unproven Navy defense – and that was before I knew that senior nose guard Jared Marks had been suspended for the game for violating team rules. That left Jabaree Tuani, Kwesi Mitchell and nine other (before today) undistinguishable players to keep the Blue Hens in check. Mission accomplished…and then some.

I think one of the most impressive parts of the Navy defensive performance was the amount of pressure they were able to generate on the quarterback. Granted it will not show in the stat sheet, but led by Tuani, it seemed as if Navy dominated the line of scrimmage at critical junctures of the game. After the game, Niumatalolo talked about the importance of conditioning, especially in the humid weather, and it looked as if it really paid off. Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green was cycling in defensive linemen and linebackers throughout the game – proving that not only is Navy's young defense better than I expected – they also have some depth.

Inside the Stats

- Plebe back-up safety Chris Ferguson had four tackles.

- Navy was 4-4 on red zone scoring opportunities.

- Sophomore fullback Mike Patrick's first career carry went for 8 yards in the fourth quarter.

- Delaware and Navy both ran 66 offensive plays and both had 22 first downs.

- Navy only attempted one fourth down…and converted it on the next to last play of the game.

Game Rewind

- I'll be interested to learn more about one of the new plays (at least it looked new to me) that the Mids debuted against Delaware. It came with under two minutes left to play in the first half. Navy was in a heavy formation to the right and put SB Aaron Santiago in motion to the left. Proctor pivoted left and faked to nobody (FB Alex Teich went to the other side of Proctor). Meanwhile, Santiago came back around to the right and Proctor pitched him the ball – much to the surprise of the Blue Hens defense including sophomore Travis Hawkins. If you watch the game again (like me), you will also notice that Hawkins was in no-man's land on Proctor's 27-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter.

Fast Forward

Looking ahead to this Saturday, Navy will face Western Kentucky for the second time in program history. The Mids defeated the Hilltoppers 38-22 in 2009 behind a four-touchdown performance by Ricky Dobbs. In their opener on Thursday, Western Kentucky lost to Kentucky, 14-3. And although the Hilltoppers boast having 10 returning starters on defense, only two of them (J. Clendenin and Ryan Beard) have experience against Navy's triple option offense.

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