Non-Conference Preview -- Part 5

This was the last in a five part series previewing Rutgers' non-conference opponents. I close with a look at the resurgent Navy Midshipmen. This article was researched and written with a preseason perspective. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.


Navy football enjoyed a glorious rebirth in Head Coach Paul Johnson's second campaign.  Navy (8-5) recorded its first winning season since 1997, when Johnson served as offensive coordinator.  Although the Middies lost 38-14 to Texas Tech in the Houston Bowl, the game marked Navy's first bowl appearance since 1996 (Aloha Bowl).  The Middies also beat Top 25 rival Air Force, its first win over the flyboys since 1996 and the first win over a Top 25 team since 1985.  A second consecutive win over archrival Army earned Navy its first Commander-in-Chief trophy since 1981.  While Army pulled the plug on a disastrous experiment with the spread offense, Navy thrived with its spread option offense. 

Johnson now faces the formidable challenge of surpassing last season.  Navy hasn't won back-to-back Commander-in-Chief trophies since 1981.  Johnson has a young team because many of his backups played as freshmen last season.  These rising sophomores represent Johnson's first true recruiting class.  Johnson returns 13 starters – and no kickers – from a breakthrough team that restored prestige to Navy football.  Here is a look at the resurgent Midshipmen of Navy. 


Navy lost five starters from the best rushing offense in the nation.  Johnson employs a spread offense unlike any in the country – more closely resembling the wishbone than a typical spread.  The Navy spread – aka double slot – lacks a TE and single RB typical of the spread.  The slot backs – aligned behind and at opposite ends of the OLine , two WRs, and a single RB 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 typically in motion at the snap of the ball, in a clockwise (or counterclockwise) sweeping arc in the backfield.  Navy's 2003 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 31 points per game (#30 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 424 total yards per game (#27 in Division 1A)
  • 323 rushing yards per game (#1 in Division 1A)
  • 100 passing yards per game (#116 in Division 1A)

Johnson lost only player from his backfield – three-year starter SB Tony Lane (48 carries for 623 yards and 5 TDs plus 9 receptions for 150 yards).  Two-year starter and leading rusher Sr FB Kyle Eckel (236 carries for 1,249 yards and 10 TDs plus 3 receptions for 62 yards) will again be the battering ram whose dives keep the front seven honest and set up the option outside.  The SBs 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.  Two-year starter Sr SB Eric Roberts (69 carries for 630 yards and 5 TDs plus 20 receptions for 493 yards and 5 TDs) returns with Eckel in the backfield.  Former backup SB Sr Frank Divis (17 carries for 82 yards) will likely replace Lane opposite Roberts.  So SB Trey Hines (13 carries for 112 yards and 3 TDs) and Jr SB Marco Nelson (2 receptions for 34 yards) return as the backups.  Backup FB Sr Michael Brimage (39 carries for 146 yards) also returns behind Eckel.  Navy has plenty of experience and depth in the backfield.  Eckel may be the best FB in the nation. 

The Middies lost two-year starter QB Craig Candeto (271 carries for 1,112 yards and 16 TDs plus 64 of 131 for 1,140 yards, 7 TDs, and 5 INTs).  Candeto was a tough runner and good decision-maker but lacked the arm to fully exploit opponents who sold out to stop the Middie rushing attack.  Former backup QB Sr Aaron Polanco (31 carries for 173 yards plus 8 of 20 for 98 yards), who has played significantly in each of the past two years, will replace Candeto.  Jr QB Lamar Owens (6 carries for 3 yards) will backup Polanco.  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 only 20 TOs last season, a tribute to the disciplined execution of the offense by Candeto.  Although Polanco is not the runner that Candeto was, Polanco is a better passer.  Therefore, Polanco gives the Navy offense more big play capability to punish opponents for cheating on the option. 

Navy returns intact its receiving corps.  Two-year starter Sr WR Lionel Wesley (13 receptions for 131 yards) and starting WR Sr Amir Jenkins (14 receptions for 252 yards) will resume their starting roles.  So WR Jason Tomlinson (10 receptions for 165 yards) and Jr WR Mike Yokitis will likely backup Wesley and Jenkins.  The Middie WRs are not the playmakers for Navy as they are matched against CBs.  The SBs, typically blocking for the option, the big play threats on option "play-action" because safeties often overcommit to stop the option, allowing the SB to get behind them.  The roles of the WRs are to block CBs or safeties on the option or be possession receivers in obvious passing situations. 

For the second consecutive year, Navy lost three starters off its OLine – two-year starter RG Shane Todd, two-year starter RT Josh Goodin, and LT Nick Wilson.  Backups RG Sean Magee and LG Tucker Bennett also departed.  Starting LG Sr Dennis Ray Phillips and starting C Sr August Roitsch, who missed the final nine games with a season ending foot injury, both return.  Former backups Sr RT Casey Hughes, who started six games at RT after the OLine was shuffled to replace Roitsch, and Sr LT Tyson Stahl, who played in eleven games, will replace Goodin and Wilson, respectively.  Sr RG Matt McLaughlin, with only three games experience, is slated to replace Todd.  Having lost the equivalent of a one-deep to graduation, the backups are, not surprisingly, very inexperienced.  Only Jr LT Marshall Green, who started three games at center in place of Roitsch and played in four others, is the only experienced backup yet could not beat McLaughlin for a starting job.  RS Sr RG Kevin Schwind, a converted NG who started four games last season, was switched to the OLine in spring camp and will backup McLaughlin, whom he could eventually displace.  Sr RT Sam Brown, So LG Zach Gallion, and So C James Rossi have four combined games experience.  The right side the Middie OLine is suspect with an inexperienced player at RG and the entire second unit lacks experience. 


Navy lost four starters from an undersized defense that is the Achilles heel of the team.  While Johnson can use scheme and misdirection to camouflage Navy's lack of talent on offense, Defensive Coordinator Buddy Green has less recourse for his unit.  Green operates a 3-4 scheme to put more athletes on the field but the Middies are still slow and undersized.  Inevitable consequence for an academy.  Nonetheless, the Middie defense improved dramatically in the new scheme, improving from one of the nation's worst to the upper third.  The ball control offense undoubtedly contributes to that effectiveness by keeping the opposing offense off the field and resting the defense.  Navy's 2003 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 22 points per game (#34 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 353 total yards per game (#42 in Division 1A)
  • 173 rushing yards per game (#78 in Division 1A)
  • 180 passing yards per game (#14 in Division 1A)

Navy lost two starters off its best defensive unit – the secondary.  Two-year starter and second leading tackler SS Eli Sanders (100 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 2 INTs) and CB Shalimar Brazier (78 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2 INTs, and 2 FF) departed.  Two-year starter and leading tackler Sr FS Josh Smith (108 tackles, 5 TFLs, 4 INTs, 2 FF, and 2 FR) returns as the anchor of the Middie defense.  Two-year starter Sr CB Vaughn Kelley (60 tackles) also returns.  So SS DuJuan Price (34 tackles) will replace Sanders.  So CBs Keenan Little (10 tackles) and Hunter Reddick will compete for Brazier's vacated starting job.  So FS Kevin Newsome (18 tackles) is the most experienced backup.  So Kerwin Scott will fill the other backup CB role while Reddick will also backup Price at SS.  The Navy secondary was busy making tackles last year – but not making plays.  Three of the top five tacklers were DBs.  Since the Navy defense improved tremendously, it would appear that many of these tackles were in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage although not behind it.  The secondary should again be the strength of the defense, especially as Johnson infuses the unit with young talent that he has recruited. 

Navy lost three-year starter OLB Eddie Carthan (79 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 5 sacks, and 4 INTs).  Former starting ILB Ben Matthews (29 tackles) also departed.  Two-year starting ILB and third leading tackler Sr Lane Jackson (95 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, and 2 FRs), a converted OLB who moved inside midway through last season, assumes Carthan's leadership mantle.  Sr ILB Bobby McClarin (60 tackles and 4.5 TFLs) and So OLB David Mahoney (53 tackles and 2.5 TFLs) also return as starters.  Former backup OLB Sr Reggie Sealey (6 tackles) will replace Carthan.  Sr ILB TJ Costello (9 tackles) and So OLB Tyler Tidwell (7 tackles) are the only experienced backups and will backup McClarin and Mahoney.  Former backup ILB Jeremy Chase (66 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 4 sacks) was switched to DE in spring camp.  Jr OLB Jason Monts and So ILB Rob Caldwell will backup Sealey and Jackson.  Navy lost the biggest playmaker (Carthan) from a unit that did not make a lot of plays – two DBs were the leading tacklers.  And Johnson has not yet addressed this deficiency with his recruiting as holdovers from the Charlie Weatherbie era are still filling the unit. 

The DLine lost two players off its two deep.  Starting DE Ralph Henry (17 tackles), who displaced the original starter midseason, departed.  Backup NG Sr Kevin Schwind (15 tackles), who started four games before being replaced, was switched to the OLine during spring camp.  Sr DE Jeff Vanak (40 tackles and 6 TFLs) and Sr NG Babatunde Akingbemi (28 tackles and 3.5 TFLs), who replaced Schwind, return as starters.  Jr DE Jeremy Chase (66 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 4 sacks), a converted ILB, will replace Henry in the starting lineup.  Sr DE Pierre Moss (31 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 FR) is the only experienced backup.  Jr NG Dan Wendolowski and So DE John Chan will backup Akingbemi and Vanak but likely will not play much.  The DLine is undersized and lacks playmakers. 


Navy lost both kickers – PK Eric Rolfs (8 of 10 FGAs and 38 of 39 XPAs) and P John Skaggs (41 yards per punt).  Sr PK Geoff Blumenfeld (3 of 6 FGAs and 11 of 12 XPAs), who shared placekicking duties with Rolfs, will assume the full responsibility.  Jr Mick Yokitis, who also plays WR, will replace Skaggs as the punter.  So PR Jason Tomlinson (8 yards per return) will resume those duties.  So KORs Jeremy McGown (23 yards per return) and Brian Hampton (19 yards per return) will again share return responsibilities.  The infusion of youth has improved the Navy return game but the loss of Skaggs will hurt the kicking game. 


Navy has an 11 game schedule with 6 home games and neutral site games against Army at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and against Notre Dame at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  Navy is an independent (i.e., no conference affiliation).  The Middies again have an easy schedule, loaded with DIAA and lesser DIA programs.  Navy faces two Division IAA opponents – Northeastern and Delaware.  The Middies also face downtrodden Duke, Vanderbilt, Rice, and Army plus three programs trying to rise from the ashes – Tulsa, Tulane, and Rutgers.  Navy showed a year ago that they can compete with Air Force.  Only improved Notre Dame is really out of Navy's grasp.  Navy plays only three road games but each will be challenging – at Tulsa, at Air Force, and at Tulane.  The home schedule is very favorable – Duke, Northeastern, Vanderbilt, Rice, Delaware, and Rutgers.  The Middies have plenty of winnable games and could improve upon last year's eight win regular season record. 


September 4


September 11


September 18

@ Tulsa

September 25


September 30

@ Air Force

October 16

Notre Dame (in East Rutherford)

October 23


October 30


November 6

@ Tulane

November 20


December 4

Army (in Philadelphia)



I predict that the Midshipmen will finish 7-4.  The offense will be as formidable as it was last year though it should be slightly less one-dimensional with Polanco replacing Candeto.  Navy will beat its two Division IAA opponents.  The Middies will win five of their six home games – only Rutgers will win at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.  The road will be tougher as the Middies will lose at Tulsa and at Air Force.  Navy will also extend its losing streak to Notre Dame to 41 games.  While Army is likely to improve under new Head Coach Bobby Ross, but Navy will still beat Army, though in a much more competitive affair after last years 34-6 beating. 

Please send any comments to I welcome and appreciate your feedback. And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam. In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the Navy game with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.

Scarlet Report Top Stories