Non-Conference Preview -- Part 4

This is the last of a four part preseason tour of the non-conference opponents. I'll finish my with a look at the reconstituted Navy Midshipmen. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

NAVY MIDSHIPMEN PREVIEW


Navy (10-2) continued its resurgence last year.  The Middies opened the season with four consecutive wins over weak opponents before upsetting Air Force in Colorado Springs.  With its best chance to beat Notre Dame in nearly 40 years, Navy could not capitalize and lost to the Fighting Irish.  Navy won four of five to close the season, including another decisive win over Army in one of the nation's great rivalry games, giving Navy back-to-back Commander in Chief trophies for the last time since 1978-1979.  Navy decisively beat New Mexico 34-19 in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco, punctuating the victory with a 26-play, 94-yard, 14:26 drive that consumed nearly the entire 4th Quarter.  The bowl victory was Navy's first since 1996.  Navy finished the year ranked #24 nationally, the first national ranking since 1978.  Navy won ten games for the first time since 1905.  The 18 wins in 2003-2004 were the most since 1907-1908.  Navy earned a second consecutive bowl bid, the first since 1980-1981 and only the second such pair in Navy history. 

Navy Head Coach Paul Johnson has set a very high standard for his program.  One that he will be greatly challenged to meet this year.  Johnson returns only five starters and one kicker from the little team that could.  Johnson's team is often smaller and slower than its competition but operates an offensive system that allows it to control the ball and rest its undersized defense.  The need to almost completely replace his starting lineup will be a major test for the system that Johnson has implemented.  Here is a look at the reconstituted Navy Midshipmen. 


OFFENSE

Navy lost nine starters from the one of best rushing offenses 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 2004 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 290 rushing yards per game (#3 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 99 passing yards per game (#116 in Division 1A)
  • 389 total yards per game (#45 in Division 1A)
  • 28 points per game (#46 in Division 1A)


Navy lost three-year starter WR Lionel Wesley (5 receptions for 75 yards), former starter WR Amir Jenkins (2 receptions for 35 yards), and backup WR Corey Dryden (7 receptions for 165 yards and 2 TDs).  Starting WR Jr Jason Tomlinson (16 receptions for 273 yards and one TD plus 3 carries for 80 yards) returns.  Former backup WR Sr Mike Yokitis (2 receptions for 20) will likely replace Wesley in the starting lineup.  Sr WR Lloyd Regas and So WR Kyle Kimbro will be the backups.  The roles of the WRs are to block CBs or safeties on the option or be possession receivers in obvious passing situations.  However, Tomlinson provides big play capability as a counterpunch to the rushing attack.  If the Navy QB can pass effectively. 

Johnson lost his entire starting backfield – three-year starter and leading rusher FB Kyle Eckel (235 carries for 1,147 yards and 11 TDs plus 4 receptions for 52 yards), three-year starter Sr SB Eric Roberts (54 carries for 409 yards and 2 TDs plus 15 receptions for 291 yards and 2 TDs), and starting SB Frank Divis (47 carries for 387 yards and 5 TDs plus 5 receptions for 69 yards).  Backup FB Sr Marvin Dingle (6 carries for 15 yards) quit the team during spring camp.  Former backup FB Jr Matt Hall (19 carries for 63 yards) will replace Eckel.  Former backups So SB Reggie Campbell (4 carries for 48 yards plus one reception for 30 yards) and Sr SB Marco Nelson (15 carries for 107 yards plus 5 receptions for 135 yards and one TD) will flank Hall in the backfield.  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.  The SB are also big play receivers against defenses that cheat forward to stop the option.  Former backup SB Jr Trey Hines (20 carries for 113 yards and one TD plus one reception for 24 yards) was switched to FB but could not crack the two-deep despite the loss of the top two FBs.  So FB Adam Ballard, Jr SB Eddie Martin, and Jr SB Byron McCoy – none of whom played last year – will be the backups.  Hall has the biggest shoes to fill in replacing Eckel as the offensive workhorse. 

Navy lost four starters off its OLine – two-year starter LG Dennis Ray Phillips, two-year starter RG August Roitsch, who also started at center, starting LT Tyson Stahl, and starting RT Sam Brown.  Backup RT Casey Hughes, who started twice in place of Brown, also departed.  Jr C James Rossi, who finished the season in the starting lineup and allowed Roisch to return to RG, is the only returning starter.  Former backup OG Jr Zach Gallon, who started four games at RG when Roitsch was switched to center and was also the backup LG, will replace Phillips at LG.  Jr LT Matthew Pritchett, So RG Antron Harper, and Jr RT Joe Person, with six games of combined career playing experience, will complete the starting lineup.  Backup LT Sr Dan Wendlowski, who was not able to beat Pritchet to replace Stahl, will return in the same capacity.  Former backup center Sr Marshall Green, who was replaced as the starter after two games, was switched to OT where he will be the primary backup at both LT and RT.  Jr C Cole Smith, Jr RG Ryan Roeling, and So RT Chris Mozer will complete the second team.  Johnson will employ the least experienced OLine in his four years at Navy. 

The Middies lost starting QB Aaron Polanco (246 carries for 980 yards and 16 TDs plus 61 completions in 114 passes for 1,131 yards, 8 TDs, and 4 INTs).  Polanco was the best passer that Johnson has had at Navy and allowed the Middies to use the pass to hit big plays against opponents overplaying the run.  Former backup QB Sr Lamar Owens (24 carries for 115 yards and one TD plus 2 completions in 5 passes for 38 yards) will replace Polanco.  Jr QB Brian Hampton, who did not play last year, will backup Owens.  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 16 TOs last season, a tribute to the disciplined execution of the offense by Polanco.  With the huge loss of Eckel at FB, Owens will have a heavier burden in executing the triple option. 


DEFENSE

Navy lost eight 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.  An inevitable consequence for an academy.  The ball control offense undoubtedly helps the defense by keeping the opposing offense off the field, allowing the defense to rest.  Navy's 2004 defensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 151 rushing yards per game (#63 of 117 in Division 1A)
  • 200 passing yards per game (#35 in Division 1A)
  • 352 total yards per game (#44 in Division 1A)
  • 20 points per game (#26 in Division 1A)

Navy lost three starters off its secondary –  three-year starter and leading tackler FS Josh Smith (119 tackles, 9 TFLs, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, and 3 FR) and three-year starter CB Vaughn Kelley (59 tackles, one INT, and one FF) departed.  Starting CB Jr Hunter Reddick (52 tackles and 3 INTs) was lost to academics.  Backup CB Lord Cole (7 tackles and one FF) also departed.  Former starting SS Jr Jeremy McGown (91 tackles), who displaced the original starter at SS last year, was switched to CB.  Former starting CB Jr Keenan Little (12 tackles), who was displaced by Reddick, will replace McGown at SS.  Former backup safety Jr DuJuan Price (16 tackles and 3 INTs), who played both FS and SS, will start at FS.  So CB Greg Thrasher, who played in one game, will start opposite McGown.  Fr CB Rashawn King, So SS Jeff Deliz, So FS Greg Sudderth, and Fr CB Ketric Buffin will constitute a completely inexperienced second unit.  With three experienced players and a one-year starter, the secondary is nonetheless the most experienced on the Navy defense.  That's scary. 

Navy lost three of its four starting LBs –  three-year starting ILB and third leading tackler Lane Jackson (102 tackles, 2 TFLs, one INT, and one FR), two-year starter and second leading tackler ILB Bobby McClarin (107 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, one sack, and one FF), and starting OLB Reggie Sealey (49 tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 sacks, and one INT).  Seldom-used Backup ILB T.J. Costello (one tackle) also departed.  Two-year starter Jr OLB David Mahoney (85 tackles, 12 TFLs, 5 sacks, one INT, and one FF) is the sole returning starter.  Former backups Jr OLB Tyler Tidwell (11 tackles, 2 TFLs, and one sack) and Jr ILB Rob Caldwell (15 tackles and 1.5 TFLs) will replace Sealey and Jackson, respectively.  Former third-team ILB Sr Jacob Biles (7 tackles) has vaulted into the starting lineup.  Seldom used-backup backup OLB Sr Jason Monts is the only experienced backup.  Jr ILB Joe Cylc, who will backup both Caldwell and Biles, and So OLB Matt Wimsatt will complete the second team.  The LB corps is very green but returns its biggest playmaker in Mahoney. 

The DLine lost four players off its two deep.  Starting NG Babatunde Akingbemi (58 tackles, 7 TFLs, 3 sacks, and one FR) and starting DE Jeff Vanak (44 tackles and 6 TFLs) departed.  Backup NG Pierre Moss (10 tackles) and seldom-used DE Adam Horne (one tackle) also departed.  Two-year starter Sr DE Jeremy Chase (46 tackles, 11 TFLs, one sack, and one FR) is the sole returning starter.  Seldom-used former backup DE Jr John Chan (two tackles) will replace Vanak in the starting lineup.  Jr NG Larry Cylc, whose experience consists of three plays, will replace Akinbemi in the starting lineup.  Jr DE Andrew Tattersall (2 tackles and one TFL), Jr NG Rick Amos, and Jr DE Tye Adams (4 tackles and one sack) will comprise the second team.  The DLine is more inexperienced than the badly depleted LB unit.  Navy will have trouble defending the run.  


SPECIAL TEAMS

Navy lost PK Geoff Blumenfeld (5 of 12 FGAs and 38 of 42 XPAs).  So PK Joey Bullen will replace Blumenfeld.  Sr P Eric Shuey (37 yards per punt) returns.  As does Jr PR Jason Tomlinson (7 yards per return).  Jr KOR Jeremy McGown (21 yards per return) ans So KOR Reggie Campbell (18 yards per return) also return.  The special teams are a weakness, reflecting the lack of athleticism on the Middie team.  The kicking game is weak and the return game is unimpressive. 


SCHEDULE

Navy has an 11 game schedule with five home games and two neutral site games against Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland and against Army at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.  Navy is an independent (i.e., no conference affiliation).  The Middies again have manageable schedule with Division I-A lightweights, non-BCS conference teams, and BCS programs.  But few real heavyweights.  Navy plays only one 2004 bowl team – Notre Dame (Insight).  The road schedule includes winnable games are at Rice, Duke, and Rutgers.  The home games will be more challenging, with Stanford, Air Force, and Tulane.  The neutral field game against Maryland will be tough.  And the Army-Navy game is always tough regardless of the records of the competing teams.  The schedule offers Navy a chance at a third consecutive bowl game. 

 

September 3

Maryland

September 10

Stanford

September 24

@ Rice

October 1

@ Duke

October 8

Air Force

October 15

Kent State

October 29

@ Rutgers

November 6

Tulane

November 12

@ Notre Dame

November 19

Temple

December 3

Army (in Philadelphia)

 

PREDICTION

I predict that the Midshipmen will finish 5-6.  The Middies will struggle offensively with so many new starters.  And the defense, already suspect, will compound the offensive problems.  Navy will open the season with losses to Maryland and Stanford.  The Middies will win three of four against Rice, Duke, and Kent State.  A three game losing streak to Rutgers, Tulane, and Notre Dame will ensue.  Navy will finish the season with wins over Temple and Army. 


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