Middies Can't Take Break With Blue Hens In TownPosted on October 23, 2007
By Kevin Heitz
How does a team recover from a 44-24 homecoming loss? Scheduling a Division I-AA is one solution. But if the Navy Midshipmen (4-3) think that the Fightin' Blue Hens of Delaware, a team that beat Navy in 2003, will be an easier matchup than last week's game against the defending ACC Champion Wake Forest Demon Deacons, they better not get their hopes up too much.
A six-time national champion, the Delaware football program basically holds residence in the Division I-AA polls every year. The Blue Hens (6-1, 4-1 Colonial Athletic Association) come to Annapolis ranked 13th in the Football Championship Subdivision coaches poll. It's their second trip to the Baltimore area this year as Delaware defeated Towson, 27-7, Sept. 22.
Navy's 100th-ranked defense needs to shore up if the Midshipmen want to stop Delaware's potent offense. Tackling has not been the strong point for the Mids, who are giving up an average of 35 points a game.
"We had 30 missed tackles against Pitt. It has been a problem," coach Paul Johnson said last week. "Our goal is to have more big plays on defense than the combined number of missed assignments and missed tackles and we haven't been close in any game this year."
He had been stressing improved tackling leading into the homecoming game, but Wake Forest was still able to run all over Navy, on offense and special teams.
"We work on [tackling] every day," Johnson said. "You have to bend your knees, keep your head up, grab cloth and run through the tackle. It's the same thing we tell them every day. You can't duck your head and try to cut people or try to knock them down with a shoulder block. We aren't as big as the other teams so we have to jump on and go for a ride. We can't be ankle biters."
Sure tackling will be important this week as the Midshipmen hope to shut down Delaware running back Omar Cuff, who rushed for 200 yards in the Blue Hens' victory of Northeastern. Cuff is a candidate for the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
The Blue Hens will also have their hands full on defense as the Midshipmen's potent option offense is averaging more than 440 yards of offense per game and Delaware coach K.C. Keeler used his team's bye week to prepare.
"I think it gives us a nice base having played against Rhode Island, but the reality is this is a different level of option: a lot more intricate, better athletes. … We had nice preparation versus Rhode Island, and I was really happy with Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday last week to give us a good base for what they’re going to do," Keeler said.
“It’s so difficult to simulate what they’re doing. We’re trying to think of every possible way to simulate what they do offensively. … Every team Navy’s played this year, they come out and get some real body blows on opposing defenses. We need to just take their body blows early, maintain, and then start going after them.”
Keeler is looking forward to the challenge of taking on a Division-I team.
"It's awesome for our fans, and I think it's awesome for our kids," he said. "It's a challenge. I mean, here's a team that's played in four straight bowl games, and we get a chance to step up and see if this team we have right now is capable of playing at that level.
"It's nothing I want to do more than once a year. In fact, I'd probably rather do it every other year, but our kids are going to be really excited to play."
Navy Opponent Preview
Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens
Date: Oct. 27, 2007
Time: 1 p.m.
Radio: Navy Radio Network
Delaware (6-1, 4-1 Colonial Athletic Association) comes to Navy-Marine Corps Stadium as the Appalachian State on the Midshipmen's schedule -- a scary Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA) team that could come into Football Bowl Subdivision stadiums and reek havoc this year. The Blue Hens should not be taken lightly. Delaware has boasted a solid program for years, with six national titles to show for it, the most recent in 2003.
Player to watch:
RB Omar Cuff
Senior running back Cuff has scored 20 touchdowns this season and averages more than 120 rushing yards per game. He is also averaging 33 receiving yards and has caught four touchdowns. He is one of the best players in the Championship Subdivision and should be able to find plenty of holes in the Navy's porous defense that has started 20 different players because of injuries and allowed 30 points or more in five games this season.
Honorable mention goes to place kicker John Striefsky, who has hit 32-32 on PATs this season and has made all nine field goal attempts.
Head coach K.C. Keeler, offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, defensive coordinator Nick Rapone
Prediction: Navy 31, Delaware 27
Issue 2.43: October 25, 2007