Banged-up Mids preparing for a marathon remainder of season
Coach Ken Niumatalolo wasn’t too upset when Navy’s football game at East Carolina, originally scheduled for Oct. 15, was postponed because of flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew. That’s because the Midshipmen were pretty banged up at the time.
As it turns out, the Navy injury report was as long as it has been all season when the makeup game at East Carolina was played Saturday. That’s not surprising, considering the Mids have not had an off week since that unexpected bye in mid-October.
There is no break in sight for Navy, which is facing the prospect of going nine straight weeks without any time off. Earning a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game eliminates another scheduled bye Dec. 3.
“We’ve known that for a while, so we’ve structured our practices accordingly,” Niumatalolo said of the extended run of games. “We’ve changed some things up and tried to be smart with our practices because we knew it was going to be a long stretch. We’ve been planning for this all winter.”
Because of the AAC championship game, Navy is in the situation of playing the weekend before meeting Army West Point for the first time since 1941. The Mids have scheduled a bye before the regular-season showdown since 1942.
Niumatalolo was asked after Saturday’s game about playing Army without the extra week to prepare. The ninth-year coach said his staff put a plan in place for just such a possibility when Navy joined the American Athletic Conference in 2015.
“We’ve been preparing for this for a long time. Our goal was to be in the championship game, so we’ve had a plan all along,” Niumatalolo said. “We’re ready.”
Navy was without three of four starting linebackers against East Carolina. Niumatalolo said after practice Tuesday that he expects two of them — inside linebacker Hudson Sullivan and outside linebacker D.J. Palmore — to be available for Saturday’s game against Southern Methodist in Dallas.
Josiah Powell, who plays the outside linebacker position known as “striker,” will sit out a second straight game. Junior Justin Norton started in place of Powell at East Carolina and responded with a career- high eight tackles.
Norton, who played well in coverage and made six solo tackles, will get the call again Saturday.
Sophomore Khaylan Williams bumps up to the backup at striker while junior Kevin McCoy is No. 3.
Ted Colburn started at the outside linebacker spot known as “raider” Saturday and also performed well. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior, who has primarily been used for run defense, acquitted himself surprisingly well in pass coverage with two breakups.
Defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson said Colburn has earned increasing playing time as a result of last week’s outing.
“Teddy will play more than he has been because he proved last week that he could get the job done,” said Pehrson, mentioning that he might go with a 50-50 split between Palmore and Colburn.
Meanwhile, right cornerback Elijah Merchant will miss a third straight game with a Saturday, 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPNU Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM Line: Navy by 7 Coach Ken Niumatalolo says Navy is prepared for a lengthy run of games without a bye. head injury. Merchant has been in the concussion protocol since leaving the game against Notre Dame and remains out indefinitely.
Senior Daiquan Thomasson started at right corner against Tulsa, but Pehrson went with sophomore Jarid Ryan at East Carolina. Ryan, a Severn graduate, got burned by standout wide receiver Zay Jones for a 40-yard touchdown on the opening possession, but settled down and played well.
Ryan, a Glen Burnie native, will make his second career start at SMU.
“Jarid’s had some really good practices and has played well in games when he got in. He’s kind of earned the right to get a shot to start,” Pehrson said.
Senior Cameron Bryant, sophomore John Gillis and freshman Noruwa Obanor are battling for the backup cornerback spots behind Ryan and fellow starter Tyris Wooten. Pehrson said he feels confident using any of the aforementioned players.
“We’ll see howthey react under the lights. They’ve been practicing all along, so they should know what we’re doing,” he said.
Niumatalolo said fullback Chris High (ankle) and safety and special teams player Jerry Thompson (ankle) are questionable, while slotbacks Josh Brown (ankle) and Josh Walker (shoulder), along with wide receiver and punt returner Craig Scott, are out.
Navy issued a news release this week stating that starters and key contributors have missed a total of 56 games this season. That list includes offensive tackle Robert Lindsey, who was a projected starter before suffering an injury during offseason workouts.
Niumatalolo was asked if this has been a difficult season on the injury front.
“I think it’s just normal. There are some coaches who cry about who’s hurt. That’s football. Everybody in the country is injured,” Niumatalolo said. Spalding connection: Archbishop Spalding graduate Zach Abey is an early front-runner to start at quarterback for Navy next season. Abey became the backup following the season opener, when Tago Smith suffered a knee injury and Will Worth was elevated to starter.
Now Navy is trying to bring in another Spalding quarterback. The Mids have ramped up their recruitment of Evan Fochtman, who succeeded Abey under center for the Cavaliers. Fochtman is coming off a senior season in which he passed for 2,883 yards and 34 touchdowns and rushed for 1,747 yards and 20 scores.