Secondary needs to tighten up
Inexperience showed in win over Connecticut
Growing pains are somewhat expected when a football team is relying on young players. Navy’s youthful secondary suffered some Saturday when it allowed Connecticut to gain 264 passing yards.
Opposing quarterback Bryant Shirreffs connected on 23 of 26 passes. Noel Thomas caught almost half of those passes, totaling 11 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown.
Navy started a sophomore at strong safety, a freshman at one cornerback spot and a junior who was a wide receiver at this time last year at the other. Senior free safety Daiquan Thomasson is the veteran of the unit, but he did not become a starter until four games into last season.
“A lot of it’s just learning how to play and learning our standard,” defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson said of the inexperienced group.
Connecticut did well with nickeland-dime plays, particularly a short crossing route that produced the bulk of yardage for Thomas. Saturday, 7 p.m. TV: Comcast SportsNet Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 6
“We weren’t covering it the correct way. They ran it six times and caught four of them for pretty decent yardage. A couple we played right, and they went for 2 yards,” Pehrson said. “We just need to get guys in the right spots against certain looks. We made some mistakes with not being where we should be.”
Secondary coach Dan O’Brien said it boils down to reading and reacting in a split-second, an ability that comes with experience.
“We’ve just got to do a better job with our eyes, seeing the shallow crossers and driving on it. We’ve just go to be more aggressive in coverage and get guys on the ground,” O’Brien said.
It appeared that defensive backs were caught out of position on several pass plays Saturday. Safety Khaylan Williams was beaten by a double move, allowing Hergy Mayala to make a 41-yard catch.
“We had one breakdown, for sure. We got our eyes in a bad spot and got beat on a bubble-and-go,” Pehrson said of that play. “We just have to be disciplined and do our job every time.”
Cornerback Tyris Wooten was beaten by Thomas on a short slant route, giving up too much cushion, then failing to close quickly enough to make the tackle as the speedy wideout went 34 yards for a touchdown.
While they were not happy with the breakdowns Saturday, Pehrson and O’Brien believe in the overall talent the Midshipmen have in the secondary. Safety Alohi Gilman recorded a team-high 10 tackles and recovered two fumbles in his starting debut. Wooten is new to cornerback but has all the skills to play the position. Williams, who played extensively off the bench as a plebe, is a good-looking athlete.
“I think there are seven guys that can all play. We just need to get them experience. They need to get in there and play and learn,” Pehrson said. “There was a gigantic jump from the first week to the second in terms of knowing where to go and playing with some confidence. We played much better than the first week. We didn’t miss as many tackles, we were around the ball better.” Freshman safety Alohi Gilman, left, celebrates a touchdown on a fumble recovery, one of two fumbles Gilman recovered.