How bad have the Hilltoppers been through the first three weeks of 2009? Consider that Bowling Green Daily News writer Nick Baumgardner wrote that there were "no positives" after the team's most recent loss this season. That loss came to FCS opponent Central Arkansas, a program which is still transitioning up from Division II. Despite the problems experienced by the Hilltoppers this year, the Mids will have to be on their best to get back to .500, as the schedule offers no breaks through October. Here are three key personnel matchups that will decide Saturday's game.
If there was one offensive bright spot on offense during Navy's 27-14 loss to Pittsburgh last Saturday, it was the play of fullback Alex Teich, who finally had a chance to show off his burst and aggressive first step when he rushed for 80 yards. Teich would have had an even bigger game had quarterback Ricky Dobbs not made some error-prone reads in the first half, and had the Mids not had to throw the ball so much in the fourth quarter to come back. After last week's performance it is likely that Navy will try to get back to its "bread and butter" against Western Kentucky's 3-4 defensive scheme, which has struggled against the run early this year. The Hilltoppers are lead defensively by inside linebacker Thomas Majors, who currently is second on the team with 26 total tackles. As Dobbs and Navy look to get back to basics in the triple option against Western Kentucky, the job of stuffing Navy's inside running game will likely fall to Majors, who will also have to contend with shedding Teich's blocks on midline option plays in which Dobbs keeps the ball. However the two meet on Saturday, the matchup is bound to provide a physical test for both players that will set the tone for the rest of the game.
Curtis Bass played extremely well given the circumstances of the first two games of the season, but had some difficulty against Pittsburgh's defensive front last Saturday. This week, he'll be called to go up against an undersized nose guard in the 5-foot-11, 270-pound freshman Allen. Allen has been overwhelmed through three games, as he and his fellow defenders have given up an average of 275.3 yards on the ground through the first quarter of the season, including 193 rushing yards (6.1 per carry) to Central Arkansas last week. Bass has already been tested against some of the better interior linemen in the country, and even though the Hilltoppers are likely to line up in an odd front against Navy, Bass should be able to handle the athletic redshirt freshman without too much difficulty.
While the Mids have started the season 1-2, the play of Buddy Green's defense – particularly the run defense – has been a pleasant surprise, allowing a very respectable 3.2 yards per rush. Aside from the efforts of nose guard Chase Burge and the rest of Navy's defensive line, this can be attributed to senior linebacker Ross Pospisil, whose 26 tackles (including 13 solo and 1.5 for a loss) lead the Midshipmen on the young season. Pospisil has done an excellent job with gap discipline this season, and has been aggressive but smart in covering his assignments against the run. With Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Smith nursing a sour shoulder after being knocked out of last week's game, coupled with the inconsistency of Western Kentucky's offensive line play, expect the Hilltoppers to try to establish running back Bobby Rainey early in the game. The 5-foot-7 back hasn't been a factor through three games this year, but he's a quick and shifty runner who does a good job in allowing his blocks to set up. Pospisil will need to stay disciplined in his gap assignments this week and not allow Rainey to bounce any inside runs to the outside, where the Mids could be exploitable after starting outside linebackers Ram Vela and Clint Sovie suffered injuries last week.