Non-Conference Preview - Part 4

This is the fourth in a five part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the non-conference schedule with a look at the reborn Navy Midshipmen. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


Navy gets it.  Former Head Coach Charlie Weatherbie deviated from the run-oriented spread option offense and incorporated more aspects of the typical spread offense.  Navy, which had success with the spread option, including an Aloha Bowl appearance in 1996, subsequently cratered.  Lacking the athletes to operate the passing elements of the spread, the Middie offense sputtered while the overworked defense, no longer protected by a clock-eating, ball-hogging offense, collapsed.  As a result, Weatherbie is a former head coach.  And Navy Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk hired former Weatherbie Offensive Coordinator Paul Johnson - most recently head coach at Division IAA Georgia Southern.  Navy realized that option football offers an academy team - hamstrung in recruiting by the subsequent military commitment - the best chance to compete.  So Navy brought Johnson back to Annapolis to replace Weatherbie and re-institute option football. 

Johnson had a rough season in his inaugural year at Navy, finishing 2-10.  Navy hammered SMU to open the season and hapless Army to close the season.  In between, the Middies lost 10 straight games.  However, Navy was no pushover.  The Midshipmen gave Northwester, Rice, Notre Dame, and Wake Forest tough games, losing by a total of 26 points.  The Middies, with many players originally recruited to run the spread option, quickly re-acclimated to Johnson's offense.  However, defense was a disaster, yielding points and yardage at rates incompatible with a ball control offense.  Johnson has had a year to implement his unique spread option offense.  Johnson has also moved decisively to remedy his defense, directing Defensive Coordinator Buddy Green to implement a 3-4 defense better suited to the Middie's talent.  Johnson returns 13 starters - plus two kickers - from a team that showed signs of bouncing back from rock bottom.  Here is a look at the reborn Midshipmen of Navy. 


Navy returns 7 starters from an offense that quickly gained respect as a formidable threat.  Navy runs a spread offense unlike any in the country - more closely resembling the wishbone than a typical spread.  The Navy spread - aka double slot or flexbone - lacks a TE and blocking FB typical of the spread.  The slot backs - aligned behind and at opposite ends of the OLine - and two WRs provide the illusion of a spread offense.  But that is where the similarities end.  The single RB, a FB in actuality, acts like a wishbone FB - the FB dive is the first option in the triple option.  The slot backs play the wishbone HB roles in the spread option - one is the lead blocker for the option outside and the other is the trailing pitch man as the last option in the triple option.  The pitch man is always in motion at the snap of the ball, in a clockwise (or counterclockwise) sweeping arc in the backfield.  Navy's 2002 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 24 points per game (#79 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 369 yards per game (#67 in Division 1A)
  • 271 rushing yards per game (#3 in Division 1A)
  • 99 passing yards per game (#115 in Division 1A)

Navy returns both its starting and backup QBs, who accounted for nearly one-third of Navy's rushing yardage and over half of the total offense.  Leading rusher Sr QB Craig Candeto (51 of 103 for 843 yards, 5 TDs, and 4 INTs plus 177 carries for 775 yards and 16 TDs) will likely maintain his job.  Backup QB Aaron Polanco (21 of 47 for 253 yards and 4 INTs plus 74 carries for 211 yards and 7 TDs), who nearly led Navy to an upset of Notre Dame last season, likely will not displace Candeto.  So QB Lamar Owens, who did not play last season, could replace Polanco as the backup QB, only hit away from a starting job at which getting hit is a regular occurrence.  The success of the triple option revolves around the performance of the QB - his reads, his execution, his running, his passing, and his ball security.  Navy committed 25 unforced TOs last season, most likely a result of the QB-FB exchange or the option pitch.  The QB play should improve, as both Candeto and Polanco were newcomers last season to the spread option. 

Navy returns intact its starting backfield but lost its second team.  Backups FB Bryce McDonald (47 carries for 292 yards) and SB Brad Tepper (9 carries for 27 yards) departed.  SB Sam Matthews (12 carries for 80 yards) transferred and the academy administration dismissed SB Aaron Weedo (5 carries for 79 yards).  Starting FB Jr Kyle Eckel (144 carries for 510 yards and 4 TDs plus 7 receptions for 63 yards) will again be the battering ram whose dives keep the DTs and MLB honest and set up the option outside.  Two-year starter Sr SB Tony Lane (57 carries for 480 yards plus 11 receptions for 174 yards) and leading receiver Jr SB Eric Roberts (58 carries for 469 yards and 4 TDs plus 17 receptions for 429 yards and 2 TDs) receive the fewest carries as the last option but average the most yardage on a per carry basis because defenses often overcompensate inside to stop the FB and QB.  Backup FB Jr Michael Brimage (39 carries for 291 yards) was very effective when he replaced an injured Eckel.  Jr SB Frank Divis and Sr FB Bronston Carroll will battle So SB Marco Nelson and So SB Luke Penrose for the backup SB duties.  Navy is plenty deep at FB but has no proven depth at the less frequently used SB position. 

Navy lost starting WR Chandler Sims (14 receptions for 197 yards) and backup WR Brian Yarbrough (5 for 41 yards).  Starting WR Jr Lionel Wesley (8 for 115 yards) returns.  So WR Mike Yokitis will likely start opposite Wesley.  Jr WR Amir Jenkins (3 receptions for 22 yards) and Jr WR Corey Dryden will likely handle backup duties.  Navy lost its only big play WR from an offense whose WRs should make big plays because defenses are so focused upon stopping the triple option.  Johnson desperately needs an infusion of talent at WR. 

Navy lost three starters off its OLine - two-year starter LG Grant Moody, two-year starter RG Matt Nye, and LT Derek Jaskowiak.  Backups RG Brett Cochrane and RT David Walsh also departed.  Starting RT Sr Josh Gooden and starting RG Sr Shane Todd, who was moved from C, both return.  Jr C August Roitsch, who displaced Todd as the starter late last season, will continue in that starting role.  Former backup LT Jr Nick Wilson and Sr LG Sean Magee will replace Jaskowiak and Moody, respectively.  The backups are inexperienced.  Sr Tucker Bennett will battle with Jr Tyson Stahl, Jr Casey Hughes, and Jr Sam Brown for the backup OT jobs.  Bennett has seen some action but Stahl, Hughes, and Brown are undersized.  Jr Matt McLaughlin, Jr Dennis Ray Philips, and So Brett Nungesser will vie for the backup OG slots.  Sr C Dan Peters and undersized So C Marshall Green will compete for the backup assignment.  The left side the Middie OLine is inexperienced and the entire second unit lacks experience, depth, and size. 


Navy returns 6 starters from an undersized defense that has switched schemes to compensate for the lack of size.  Much as a lack of legitimate DL forced former Rutgers Head Coach Terry Shea to switch from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 alignment in 2000, Navy DC Buddy Green has similarly switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4 to put more of his better athletes - LBs - on the field.  Navy's 2002 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 36 points per game (#108 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 423 yards per game (#99 in Division 1A)
  • 203 rushing yards per game (#102 in Division 1A)
  • 220 passing yards per game (#63 in Division 1A)

The two deep at LB returns nearly intact, allowing Green to increase its role with a switch to the 3-4 scheme.  Only co-starter MLB Andy Sinitiere (27 tackles) departed - and did so prematurely.  Second leading tackler Sr SOLB Eddie Carthon (74 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 3 FRs) - the former SLB in the 4-3 scheme - and Jr WOLB Lane Jackson (53 tackles and 5.5 TFLs) - a co-starter at WLB last season - will man the outside.  Sr WILB Ben Matthews (53 tackles, 4 TFLs, and 3 FRs) - a co-starter at WLB last year - and So SILB Jeremy Chase (33 tackles and 3 TFLs) - a co-starter at MLB last year - will start inside.  Jr SILB Dustin Elliott (24 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 2 sacks) and Jr WILB Bobby McClain (23 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, and 2 FF) will likely backup Chase and Matthews, respectively.  Jr SOLB Reggie Sealy and Jr WOLB Jason Monts, a converted QB, will be the likely backups on the outside.  Navy has the most depth and experience at LB.  With younger players pushing for playing time, the LB corps will be the heart of the Middie defense.

Navy returns an experienced secondary but departures have hurt depth.  Two-year starter SS Lenter Thomas (57 tackles), backup SS Michawn Yuvienco (38 tackles), and backup CB Matt Furqan (8 tackles) departed.  Leading tackler Jr FS Josh Smith (127 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 FF, and 2 FR) will anchor the defensive backfield.  Former starting FS Sr Eli Sanders (27 tackles) will replace Thomas as the starting SS.  Starting CBs Sr Shalimar Brazier (59 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 2 FF) and JR Vaughn Kelley (68 tackles) both return.  Sr CB Marcus Sanders (11 tackles) is the only experienced backup.  Jr CB Jontavius Singleton, Jr CB Lord Cole, and So CB TJ Irwin will vie for the other backup job.  Jr Lane Montgomery, Jr Wayne Irons, and So Roman Rodriguez will compete for the two backup safety slots.  The Navy secondary was busy making tackles last year - but not making plays.  This indicates that the DBs were frequently the last line of defense and not necessarily the strength of the defense. 

Navy lost its entire starting DLine - DT Pete Beuttenmuller (25 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 6 sacks), DT Joey Owmby (27 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 2 FR), DT Andy Zetts (29 tackles and 2 TFLs), and DE Dan Person (27 tackles).  Backup DT Josh Brindel (10 tackles) also departed.  Former backup Sr DT Ralph Henry (18 tackles) and Jr DE Pierre Moss (17 tackles and 2.5 TFLs) will likely start at DE in the 3-4 scheme.  Sr NG Kevn Schwind, who missed most of last season with an injury, will likely start in the middle; Jr NG Babatunde Akingbemi (9 tackles and 3 TFLs) will be his backup.  Jr DE Jeff Vanak (11 tackles and 3 TFLs) will likely earn one backup job while Jr DE Adam Horne and Jr DE Sean McElhannon will vie for the other slot.  As with Rutgers in 2000, Johnson simply doesn't have enough bodies to deploy a 4-3 alignment.  The switch to the 3-4 will alleviate some of the depth problems.  However, the switch won't guarantee an improvement on a weak performance of the DL.


Army lost the weakest link from an unimpressive special teams unit - PR Mike McIlravy (4 yards per return).  Jr WR Lionel Wesley likely will replace McIlravy as the PR.  Sr KOR Tony Lane (22 yards per return) will resume those duties.  Sr P John Skaggs (41 yards per punt) is the best of Navy's specialists.  Sr PK Eric Rolfs (4 of 6 FGAs and 20 of 21 XPAs) and Jr PK Geoff Blumenfeld (2 of 3 FGAs and 4 of 5 XPAs) will split placekicking duties.  Improved special teams is yet another issue that Johnson must address.


Navy has a 12 game schedule with 6 home games and the neutral site game against Army at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  Navy is an independent (i.e., no conference affiliation).  The Middies have a good schedule for a program trying to restore its confidence and rediscover itself.  Navy faces two Division IAA opponents - VMI and Delaware.  The Middies also face downtrodden Eastern Michigan, Rutgers, Vanderbilt, Rice, and Central Michigan.  Plus, Navy will play an Army team in total disarray, where Navy was two years ago.  Texas Christian, Air Force, and Notre Dame pose the only opponents really out of Navy's grasp.  Navy plays two of the three unwinnable games on the road.  The other three road games - at Rutgers, at Vanderbilt, and at Rice - will be challenging but are winnable.  Eastern Michigan, Tulane, and Central Michigan offer Navy chances for wins at home.  The Middies have plenty of winnable games and should post a better record if the performance improves over last year.  Especially on defense.   

August 30

Virginia Military Institute

September 6

@ Texas Christian

September 20

Eastern Michigan

September 27

@ Rutgers

October 4

Air Force

October 11

@ Vanderbilt

October 18

@ Rice

October 25


November 1


November 8

@ Notre Dame

November 22

Central Michigan

December 6

Army (in Philadelphia)



I predict that the Midshipmen will finish 5-7.  The offense will continue to improve but the undersized defense will struggle.  Navy will beat its two Division IAA opponents.  The Middies also will handle their two MAC opponents --  Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan - at home.  Tulane has too much firepower for Navy's shaky defense and will force Navy into a track meet it can't win.  Texas Christian, Air Force, and Notre Dame are out of Navy's league right now.  While the Middies will put a respectable effort, they nonetheless will be overwhelmed.  Navy will lose at Rutgers, at Vanderbilt, and at Rice as the Middies lack the poise and confidence to win tough games on the road.  But all three will be competitive games, indicating that Navy is improving.  Navy will pound Army in the annual classic, reiterating the message that Army just doesn't get it.  And Navy does.

Coming Next:  Keys to the Navy Game.  I'll review the five keys to a must win game at home.  I'll also identify five key players whose contributions will be essential to a win.

Please send any comments to  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the upcoming Navy game with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.  Thank you for your patronage.

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