Banged-up Mids pre­par­ing for a marathon re­main­der of sea­son

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner

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.


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