Navy Coaching vs. Utah Coaching
The coaching carousel finally hit the Naval Academy when Paul Johnson accepted the position of Head Coach at Georgia Tech. This led to a whirlwind 24 hours that culminated with the hiring of Ken Niumatalolo. Coach Ken was offensive line coach and assistant head coach under Johnson. This hiring is a coup for Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk as the brevity of the process allowed for very little turnover in the staff. Continuity was one of the key components to the success of the last 5 seasons. With key assistants in place, very little will change in the Navy game plan, and the principles that led the program to a 43-19 record over the last five years will still be in place. Kyle Whittingham replaced Urban Meyer after Utah made history in becoming the first team to crash the BCS party. Whittingham has led the Utes to a 23-14 record and three consecutive bowl games. All Meyer has done is win a National Championship at Florida. This has been an up and down season for Utah. After starting 1-3, the Utes rattled off seven straight wins, until falling to conference champion BYU the final week of the season. Utah has posted several impressive wins this season most notably against UCLA and at Louisville.
Navy Offense vs. Utah Defense
Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada finished off a successful regular season by leading his team over rival Army. Kaipo leads the team with 162 carries for 782 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is also 48 of 84 passing for 830 yards with 6 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Jarod Bryant has also shown he is more then capable of running this offense. Jarod has 463 yards on 93 carries with 5 touchdowns. He is also 17 of 31 passing for 252 yards. Fullbacks Adam Ballard and Eric Kettani lead the backs in yards and attempts with Kettani having 755 yards on 140 carries and Ballard having 644 yards on 135 carries. Kettani has 9 touchdowns to go along with Ballard's 5. Ballard has climbed to seventh on the Navy all-time rushing list. The senior form Lewisville, Texas is only 70 yards behind Alton Grizzard for sixth place. Zerbin Singleton is by far the most decorated player on the Navy roster. Singleton has not only won the Disney Wide World of Sports Spirit Award and the FedEx Orange Bowl- FWAA Courage Award, but has been selected Brigade Commander for the second semester, this to go along with his 478 yards rushing, 9 touchdowns and 199 receiving yards. Shun White is the fastest Navy player and his 8.2 yards per carry only proves that. White is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. It will be bittersweet to see Reggie Campbell play his final game for the Midshipmen. Campbell has become one of my favorite players of all-time. His MVP performance against Army was the stuff of legend. On the offensive line, Navy sends four seniors out for the final time Thursday. Center Antron Harper, guards Anthony Gaskins and Ben Gabbard, and tackle Josh Meek have helped pave the way to a record setting third consecutive rushing title. Wide receiver O.J. Washington will also be making his last appearance for the Midshipmen. He has 11 catches for 213 yards and a touchdown on the season. Senior left end Martail Burnett was named first-team all-conference. He leads the team in sacks with 7 and tackles for loss with 14. Burnett recorded a career high 11 tackles against Colorado State. His 47 tackles are good enough for sixth best on the team. Senior nose tackle Gabe Long missed the third and fourth games of the year with a knee injury, but still managed to make second-team all-conference. Long injured his shoulder against BYU and is questionable. If he can't go sophomore Kenape Eliapo will start in his place. He started the first two games of the season. Eliapo has 27 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Freshman Paul Kruger has had a banner season. He was named second-team Freshman All-American by several media outlets as well as honorable mention all-conference. Kruger has 53 tackles, which are the most by a Mountain West Conference freshman defensive lineman. Sophomore tackle Koa Misi rounds out the starting four. His 58 tackles lead the unit.
Middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni has struggled with ankle injuries all season. The last two weeks he has began to regain his form. Sophomore Stevenson Sylvester leads the unit with 80 tackles, which is second on the team. Sylvester also has 10 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. He had a career-high 14 tackles against UNLV. That is the most single game tackles by a Ute defender this season. Senior linebacker Malakai Mokofisi may be able to return after missing the final two games of the regular season with a calf injury. Mokofisi has 21 tackles on the season. Sophomore Kepa Gaison was starting in his place. Gaison has 13 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack on the season.
Strong safety Steve Tate leads the team with 98 tackles. He also has 3 interceptions and 10 tackles for loss. Tate was voted first-team all-conference. Robert Johnson had a career day against UCLA. In Utah's upset win he had two interceptions, a pass breakup and a forced fumble into the end zone for a touchback. Johnson has 38 tackles on the season. Starting corners R.J. Stanford and Brice McCain have 5 and 11 pass break-ups respectively, while nickel back Sean Smith has a team high 4 interceptions.
Utah Offense vs. Navy Defense
Junior Brian Johnson broke his collarbone the first week of the season. But since returning to the starting lineup the team is 7-1. He is 161 for 247 passing on the season for 1,621 yards and 10 touchdowns. It's the 9 interceptions that have Ute fans concerned. Johnson was highly recruited and is thought to be prototypical for the spread offense that Utah employs. But he has only rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown. While he was out injured, senior Tommy Grady stepped in. Grady was 58 of 115 for 681 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions during Johnson's absence.
Junior Darrell Mack was supposed to redshirt the season but has emerged as a true rushing threat. On the season he has 1,128 yards on 231 carries with 10 touchdowns. Mack was second-team all-conference and finished second in the conference averaging 102.5 yards per game. Fellow junior Ray Stowers is Utah's second-leading rusher with 253 yards on 45 carries. Both Mack and Stowers rushed for 100 yards against Colorado State, with Mack finishing with 151 yards and Stowers 123.
Senior Derrek Richards is the leader of the Utah receiving corps. Richards leads the team with 53 catches for 574 yards. His best game was against Air Force where he had 8 receptions for 109 yards. That was his first career 100-yard receiving day. Junior Bradon Godfrey is second on the team in both receptions and yards but is listed behind senior Brian Hernandez on the depth chart. Hernandez has 34 receptions for 322 yards and a touchdown, while Godfrey has 49 catches for 510 yards and 3 touchdowns. The third listed starter is junior Marquis Wilson. Wilson only has 18 receptions but is averaging a team best 15.9 yards per catch. He also has 3 touchdowns. Starting tight end Matt Sims has one catch for 10 yards.
Utah has two second-team all league performers along the offensive line in right guard Robert Conley and Zane Beadles, a two-year starter who moved from guard to left tackle after a season-ending injury to senior Jason Boone. Senior center Kyle Gunther is the lion man of the group, participating in a team high 789 total plays. Junior right tackle Dustin Hensel and freshman left guard Caleb Schlauderaff round out the Ute starters upfront.
Michael Walsh is starting to come into his own. The junior defensive end led the team with 8 tackles and a forced fumble against Army. He also leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and is tied for the team lead with 3 sacks. Sophomore Nate Frazier had 4 tackles and a tackle for loss against the Black Knights. Senior Chris Kuhar-Pitters concluded up his Army-Navy career with a strong performance. Though he only had three tackles, one was a sack that resulted in a 17-yard loss. Depth along the defensive line continues to improve. Sophomores Matt Nechak, Jordan Stephens and Andy Lark continue to garner more playing time.
Senior linebackers Irv Spencer and Matt Wimsatt wrapped up their regular seasons in style. The Navy defense had its most impressive performance this season. Army was held to 3 points and 217 total yards. Spencer finished with 5 tackles and Wimsatt had 4. Spenser is second on the team with 82 tackles and Wimsatt is third with 73. Wimsatt is questionable with a foot injury. Sophomores Ross Pospisil and Ram Vela have turned the corner. Pospisil had 7 tackles against Army and has 57 on the year. "Supper Ram", folk hero from the Notre Dame game has 50 tackles on the season. Like the line, depth has emerged in the linebacking corp. Tony Haberer and Corey Johnson have both been flourishing in reserve roles.
Wyatt Middleton has had one heck of a plebe season. Middleton leads the team with 85 tackles. After sitting out last season to focus on academics and starting the season with a suspension, Greg Thrasher has emerged to have a solid senior season. Thrasher has 30 tackles on the season and the mover to safety has benefited his game. Thrasher was burned deep against both Rutgers and Duke, but at safety he can use his ball skills to his full advantage. Corners Rashawn King and Blake Carter will have their work cut out for them against Utah. The Utes will try and exploit a Navy secondary that ranks dead last in pass efficiency defense.
Navy Special Teams vs. Utah Special Teams
Former Head Coach Johnson laughed at Joey Bullen when he said he could make a 51-yard field goal at the end of the first half against Army. No one was laughing when the kick sailed through the uprights. It was the second longest field goal in Navy history. Bullen is 10 of 15 on field goal attempts on the season.
The 51-yard field goal attempt was setup by a fantastic punt return by Reggie Campbell. But that wasn't Campbell's best return of the day. The 98-yard kickoff return is the second longest return in Navy history. Campbell had 171 total return yards against Army.
Unfortunately, Greg Veteto had his busiest day of the season punting 6 times. Fortunately he had his best day of the season, with 2 punts inside the 20 and a 53 yarder. Veteto has punted 21 times on the season for a 36.1-yard average.
Louie Sakoda is a special player. As the punter the Football Writers Association of America named him first-team All-American. He is the first, first-team All-American punter in Ute history. He is the 2006 and 2007 Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.
Sakoda was also named first-team All-American as a kicker, though he was only named second-team all-conference. He is 19 of 22 on field goals with a long of 51. All three misses have been from 45 yards or longer. He is also a good enough athlete to be dangerous on fakes. He is a perfect 2 of 2 passing for 42 yards and also has two rushes for 26 yards.
Sophomore Ben Vroman has handled all 66 of Utah's kickoffs and has 17 touchbacks.
Starting wide receiver Derrek Richards is the primary punt returner for the Utes. He was named to the all-MWC second-team as a returner. Richards has 28 punt returns for 421 yards including a 75-yard touchdown against Utah State. The 15-yard average ranks 9th nationally. Kick returning duties have been split between reserve wide receivers Jereme Brooks, Elijah Wesson and starting corner Brice McCain. McCain has 18 returns for an average of 23.3 yards per, while Brooks and Wesson have 7 for 20.1 and 6 for 12.2 respectively. Wesson and Brooks are listed atop the depth chart.