By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: In the second year of the Ken Niumatalolo era, Navy racked up 10 wins, went to and won a bowl game, and again dominated the other academies.
The Midshipmen almost pulled off a massive road upset to start the season, but
they ultimately fell to sixth-ranked Ohio State in the closing minutes. After
disposing of Louisiana Tech the following week, Navy dropped another road
contest at Pittsburgh, 27-14 on September 19th. The Midshipmen went on to win
their next five contests, before becoming the sixth consecutive victim of a
resurgent Temple team. But once again Navy rebounded, knocking off 22nd-ranked
Notre Dame the very next week, 23-21.
The Mids won two of their final three contests to set up a meeting with
Missouri in the Texas Bowl, where they cruised to a 35-13 triumph.
OFFENSE: The catalyst to the Navy offense is once again quarterback Ricky
Dobbs, who rushed for 1,203 yards and set an NCAA record for a quarterback
with 27 rushing touchdowns. The previous record was held by former Heisman
Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Dobbs spent the offseason studying the nuances of the
triple-option so he can run the offense to perfection. One thing the
Midshipmen will show more of this season is the no-huddle, which they used to
their advantage against Missouri in the Texas Bowl.
"We are still working on stuff and we are still expanding some other wrinkles,
but after (the Texas Bowl) it will definitely be part of what we do,"
Slotback Marcus Curry, who totaled 872 yards and eight touchdowns last year,
was kicked off the team after testing positive for drug use over the winter.
That leaves Niumatalolo with a stable of slotbacks competing for playing time.
Senior tackles Jeff Battipaglia (6-4, 256) and Matt Molloy (6-3, 260) will
anchor the offensive line.
DEFENSE: At defensive tackle, senior Shane Bothel overtook incumbent senior
starter Chase Burge in the spring. Defensive end Jabaree Tuani notched 54
tackles and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore, numbers that were a bit off his freshman
The linebacking corps was decimated by graduation, and that's generally not
good news for any 3-4 defense. Senior middle linebacker Tyler Simmons is the
lone returnee with any experience, as his 68 tackles ranked third on the team.
The other two spots are entirely up for grabs.
It is quite the opposite scenario in the secondary, where the Midshipmen
return a wealth of players with experience. Senior rover Wyatt Middleton
doubles as defensive captain and consistent playmaker. Middleton, a starter
since his freshman year, notched 68 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble
recoveries a year ago.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior fullback Alexander Teich is slated to return kicks after
averaging 27.6 yards on five returns last season. After ranking 115th in the
nation in kick return average, Niumatalolo figures the unconventional move is
worth a shot. Senior Mario Washington averaged only 6.0 yards in 14 punt
returns, but so far nobody has supplanted him.
The competition at kicker lasted well into the 2009 season, but senior Joe
Buckley nailed down the job after making 9-of-10 FG attempts down the stretch,
including a game-winner in overtime against SMU. Navy also boasts one of the
nation's premier punters in Kyle Delahooke, who averaged 43.1 yards and pinned
19 kicks inside the 20-yard line.
OUTLOOK: Having played in seven consecutive bowl games and beaten Army eight
straight times, Navy has become the envy of the other academies, not to
mention plenty of other FBS programs. But how long can the Midshipmen keep it
up? With Dobbs returning on offense, they should be able to put up points. The
defense, however, is another story. The key will be the linebacker play, and
Navy will no doubt be tested early and often there. The Commander-In-Chief's
Trophy will likely stay in Annapolis, but matching last season's win total may
not be as probable.