Play Western: Sept. 26, at Navy
‘08 Record: 8-5
Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
Returning starters: four offense, seven defense
The Buzz: For Week Four, Western learns all about slot backs, the triple-option, and eerily similar systems between Navy’s former coach, Paul Johnson, and the second-year guy, Ken Niumatalolo.
While the Midshipmen aren’t known for having a strong home field advantage, belonging to a power conference or holding a top-25 ranking, Navy is on the rise, flaunting six straight bowl appearances.
Outlook: The Midshipmen lost two quarterbacks to graduation and are left with a proven winner in junior Ricky Dobbs, who led Navy to a 16-0 win over Northern Illinois in his only start last season. But gaining through the air is not what the Academy is known for.
For four straight seasons, the Midshipmen have led the NCAA in rushing yards, and with a circus of backs (Navy lists six slot backs and three fullbacks on the depth chart), ball carriers will be flying at the Western defense in droves behind an offensive line that had to replace only two starters.
The rotation of slot backs looks to be in constant flux following senior Shaun White’s graduation. In fact, the No. 1 back has changed almost every time the team’s depth has been updated through the off-season between six potential candidates. Navy will also have to replace its top fullback and wide receiver entering this season.
How Western can win: Stop the run and put up some points. It’s that simple.
Well, maybe. With Dobbs under center, Niumatalolo says Navy will pass the ball more this season, adding some tricks to an already confusing offensive scheme. Last season’s leading passer was Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who passed for 305 yards on only 35 attempts all season.
It won’t be hard for Navy to out-do those numbers, but the Midshipmen averaged 298.3 yards rushing last season, more than double what Western earned per game. Should they match last season’s rushing average in Annapolis, you can be assured that the Toppers won’t be sticking to the game plan.