Running attack is point of emphasis this week
Without its vaunted running attack, where does that leave Navy?
The question is frightening to ponder for the Midshipmen, who have been dependent for a decade on their ability to churn out 5-yard gains at will, regardless of the opponent.
In a 50-10 opening game loss to Notre Dame, however, the Mids had only 149 yards rushing, their fewest in a game since 2010. More alarming were the performances by the first and second options in their triple-option attack. Fullback Noah Copeland (six carries, 29 yards) and quarterback Trey Miller (20 carries, 16 yards) were nonfactors.
|Navy at Penn State|
|When » Saturday, 3:30 p.m.|
|Where » Beaver Stadium,|
|State College, Pa.|
|TV » ABC|
When Navy (0-1) plays at Penn State (0-2) on Saturday, there's little doubt about its top priority.
"We have to establish the run early," Navy slotback John Howell said. "I mean, that's who we are."
With only one starter back on the offensive line and a new quarterback and fullback, there was concern about the running game headed into the season. But Navy has had amazing success in the past plugging new players into the lineup, a triumph of system over talent. But against Notre Dame, the system broke down.
Part of the problem was the Navy defense, which surrendered touchdowns on Notre Dame's first three possessions, making it difficult for the Mids to stick with their grind-it-out style. Also costly were a fourth-down stop by Notre Dame, an interception and two first-half fumbles by Miller, one returned for a touchdown by Notre Dame.
"If he'd have taken care of the ball last week, who knows what the score would have been," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "He's got to take care of the football."
Niumatalolo called the Notre Dame front seven the biggest and fastest group he had seen the Irish field in his 15 years in Annapolis. But against similar teams in the recent past, Navy has thrived on the ground, rushing for 274 yards at South Carolina last year, 367 yards against Notre Dame in 2010 and 385 yards against Missouri in 2009.
Weakened by the departure of 13 players -- including starting receiver Shawney Kersey, who left the team Wednesday -- Penn State presents a less daunting challenge than Notre Dame. The Nittany Lions' holdovers, however, still were recruited at a different level than those at Navy.
"On film they play hard, just like Notre Dame," offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. "They're big. They're physical. I'm sure their coach will have them ready."
In last week's 17-16 loss at Virginia in which Penn State missed four of five field goals, the biggest positive for the Nittany Lions was their work against the run. They held a team with a pair of All-American candidates at tackle and a stable of speedy backs to 32 yards on 25 rushes.
"We've gotta play responsibility football," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "You saw guys playing responsibility football against Virginia. They've gotta do that and up that another notch against the Naval Academy."
One advantage for Navy: It has had an extra week of preparation with a bye on the schedule last weekend. It gave Niumatalolo extra time to hammer home his theme.
"We're a running offense," guard Jake Zuzek said. "If we can't get the running game going, it's going to be very hard for us to win games."