Athlon Team Previews: Navy Midshipmen
2009 Record: 10-4
Head Coach: Ken Niumatalolo
Ricky Dobbs :: Mark Goldman/Icon SMI
Maryland (Baltimore, MD)
at Louisiana Tech
at Air Force
at Wake Forest
Notre Dame (East Rutherford, NJ)
at East Carolina
Army (Philadelphia, PA)
at Notre Dame
vs. Army (Philadelphia)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Ricky Dobbs, QB: His 27 rushing touchdowns last season ranked second in the country and first among quarterbacks.
Vince Murray, FB: He hit his stride in the middle of last season with a four-game stretch of rushing for 115+ yards.
Wyatt Middleton, S: The four-year starter will be Navy's leader on defense.
Ross Pospisil, LB: He totaled 213 tackles over the last two seasons in the leading the Mids' defense.
Ram Vela, LB: His tenacity and leadership will be missed in a depleted linebacking unit.
Curtis Bass, OL: One of Navy's strongest players was a two-year starter at guard.
8: Navy is seeking its eighth straight winning season, its eighth straight bowl berth and its eighth straight Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.
Navy returns seven starters on offense, including its top three playmakers, from a unit that averaged 28 points and 356 yards per game in 2009. Opponents have always struggled to stop the Mids' triple-option offense, and that task will get even harder now that coach Ken Niumatalolo has decided to implement a no-huddle scheme.
Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper came up with the idea after watching quarterback Ricky Dobbs struggle to make checks at the line of scrimmage all season. Going no-huddle puts that responsibility on Jasper, who surveys the defense from the press box, then relays the checks to the sideline.
Dobbs enjoyed a tremendous junior campaign, rushing for 1,203 yards and passing for another 1,031 yards. The 6-foot-1, 198-pounder is an extremely powerful runner, evidenced by the fact that he set an NCAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 27. Most observers believe Dobbs is poised for a monstrous senior season and is a potential Heisman Trophy candidate.
Navy also returns fullback Vince Murray and slotback Marcus Curry, top performers at the other skill positions in the triple-option. Murray rushed for 971 yards and six touchdowns despite not starting until the sixth game of the season. Curry accounted for 872 yards from scrimmage (585 rushing, 287 receiving) and eight touchdowns.
Jeff Battipaglia and Matt Molloy, third-year starters whom Niumatalolo has called the best tackle tandem of the triple-option era, will anchor a line that should be solid.
Navy graduated six starters from a defense that statistically rated as its best in more than a decade. The Midshipmen ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 19.4 points per game.
Linebacker is the greatest area of concern for the Midshipmen, whose 3-4 alignment requires those players to make plenty of tackles. All four starters and a key backup have graduated, including 2008 and 2009 leading tackler Ross Pospisil. Tyler Simmons served as backup at both inside linebacker spots last season and was the team's third-leading tackler (68). Simmons, the biggest backer in recent program history, combines superb speed and agility with great toughness and a nasty streak.
Navy returns two other big-time performers on defense -- left end Jabaree Tuani and safety Wyatt Middleton. Tuani is a force up front, using his combination of speed and power to record 14.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons. Middleton is all over the field and has accumulated 236 career tackles.
This is an area of strength for Navy. Placekicker Joe Buckley went 44-of-44 on extra points and 10-of-13 on field goals in 2009, while punter Kyle Delahooke boasts a career average of 42.4 yards, good for second in program history.
Athletic director Chet Gladchuk has already signed a contract for Navy to appear in the Poinsettia Bowl this year, and all the pieces are in place to ensure a late December trip to San Diego. Only four of 12 opponents on the schedule posted winning records in 2009, and the presence of the multi-talented Dobbs almost guarantees that the triple option will roll up yardage and points.
A key game comes in early October in Colorado Springs against service academy rival Air Force, which will be seeking to snap a seven-game losing streak to Navy and reclaim the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.