The Midshipmen learned firsthand what living in the past can buy you the last time Navy upset Notre Dame, when in 2007 they traveled to North Texas following the upset and gave up 62 points to the Mean Green in a wild shootout which barely saw the team avoid their own upset loss. This week's opponent, Delaware (6-3), comes into the game ranked 23rd in the FCS, and arguably a major upset away from achieving an at-large playoff bid. If that's not reason enough to motivate coach KC Keeler's team, then I don't know what is. As usual, the Blue Hens are one of the most talented teams in the FCS, and are more than capable of matching up with Navy's athletes. It's a point which was made painfully clear when Joe Flacco and the Blue Hen offense picked apart Navy's secondary in UD's 2007 victory against Navy, and a pattern which they'll try to duplicate this Saturday. Here are my three matchups to watch for this weekend's action.
Navy C Eric Douglass vs. Delaware LB Benard Makumbi
Now, raise your hand if you saw that coming? Navy fans may have been surprised to see the 6-foot-2 sophomore in the game against Notre Dame, but that did not stop the Oklahoma native (who came into the year third on the depth chart) from playing an almost error-free first half, helping Navy's offense role to two touchdowns. Douglass was hurt and lost for the second half of the game however, and without him in the lineup the Mids had to undergo another offensive line shuffle. Ken Niumatalolo has indicated that Douglass is questionable for the game this week, but if that he is able to go he will start, allowing the team to move senior Curtis Bass to his preferred position at guard. If this happens, expect Navy's offense to establish the perimeter running game against Delaware, which employs a 4-3 defense similar to Notre Dame. For their part, the Blue Hens will rely on linebacker Benard Makumbi to avoid the cut blocks of whichever Navy center is called upon on Saturday. A 6-foot-1 junior, Makumbi leads the team with 6.22 tackles per contest, but has yet to play the linebacker position against Navy during his career. If he can't adapt to the speed of the offense, then expect fullback Vince Murray and the Navy offense to eat up huge chunks of yardage.
Navy SB Cory Finnerty vs. Delaware S Anthony Bratton
Often a forgotten man on Navy's potent offense, Finnerty has nevertheless been a consistent and reliable blocker for the Mids all season, and has even made his presence felt in the passing game, snagging a critical 29yard pass for a score against Western Kentucky. With senior day on Saturday, it will be Finnerty's last chance to go out on top at NMCM, and you can bet the unheralded slotback will be fired up and ready to go. He'll have his work cut out for him against Bratton however, as the Delaware senior is considered a smart and aggressive player in running the ally and playing against option opponents. Against Navy two years ago, Bratton was instrumental in helping UD hang on for the win, recording both a fumble recovery and interception. The bad news for UD is that Bratton is questionable for the game on Saturday, and if he can't go expect the Navy offense to exploit his absence by targeting receivers Mike Schupp and Greg Jones in the passing game.
The last time a former FBS quarterback transfer from UD came to Annapolis, the Blue Hens threw for 434 yards and four touchdowns. And while Pat Devlin may not exactly be a sure-fire first round draft choice like Joe Flacco was, the former Penn State starter has proven that he's among the best quarterbacks in the FCS. Not only is the 6-foot-4, 220-lb product of Downington East High (Penn) leading the CAA in passing yards and passing touchdowns, but he is a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, which is given yearly to the best offensive player in the FCS. All this will make for an interesting dynamic come Saturday, as Navy safety Wyatt Middleton will have a chance to show that Navy's defensive backs – who were freshmen and sophomores playing against Flacco in 2007 – have matured to a point where they can stop an elite passing attack. They certainly did so against Notre Dame last week, and if Middleton and company can keep Delaware's offense in front of them this week, expect the Mids to come out on top.