2012 Navy Preview - Getting Tough
Navy RB Gee Gee Greene
Navy RB Gee Gee Greene
Posted Jul 29, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Navy Midshipmen

Navy Midshipmen

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Ken Niumatalolo
5th year: 32-21
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 17, Def. 19, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 36
Ten Best Navy Players
1. LB Matt Warrick, Sr.
2. QB Trey Miller, Jr.
3. LB Brye French, Sr.
4. RB Gee Gee Greene, Sr.
5. S Tra'ves Bush, Sr.
6. CB David Sperry, Sr.
7. OG Josh Cabral, Sr.
8. RB Josh Howell, Sr.
9. DE Wes Henderson, Sr.
10. OT Graham Vickers, Jr.
2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 Notre Dame (in Dublin, Ireland)
Sept. 15 at Penn State
Sept. 22 VMI
Sept. 29 San Jose State
Oct. 6 at Air Force
Oct. 13 at Central Michigan
Oct. 20 Indiana
Oct. 27 at East Carolina
Nov. 3 Florida Atlantic
Nov. 10 at Troy
Nov. 17 Texas State
Dec. 8 Army (in Phil.)
Playtime at Navy is apparently over.

After seeing a run of eight straight bowl appearances snapped with a 5-7 season, head coach Ken Niumatalolo put the call out to his team to get tougher, nastier and more physical. It's not like Navy rested on its success, but it didn't exactly play up to its new expectations.

The problem with Niumatalolo's gripe is that his team actually was tough on the field. The ground game averaged over 312 yards per game after averaging 285 per outing the year before, and while the defense took a step back overall, it's not like it fell off the map.

The problem came in close games, and while the idea might be to get physical in all phases, the 2012 Midshipmen have to mostly toughen up with things start to get tight.

Navy has made a living off of winning its share of close games, but last year it lost by three in a plucky performance against South Carolina and lost by one the following week against Air Force. There were back-to-back close losses soon after with a one point defeat to Rutgers and a three-point loss to East Carolina. The big kick in the gut was a 27-24 loss to San Jose State to ensure a losing season. In all, of the seven losses five of them came by a grand total of 11 points, with the blowouts a 63-35 home clunker to Southern Miss and a 56-14 hiccup to Notre Dame.

But that's Navy football. There might have been six games that could have gone either way, but the team always seemed able to pull enough of those out of the fire to get by. This year, Niumatalolo won't allow his team to struggle so much to close again, but first he needs to get through some question marks on both sides of the ball.

Trey Miller is the next in line to take over the starting quarterback job, but can he add more of a passing game? Only Army finished with a worse air attack.

Can the defense start to get into the backfield? Generating sacks and big plays behind the line has been a problem for the last few seasons, but in 2011 it appeared to be more of a problem than ever with the pass defense breaking down too much partly because of the lack of pressure.

Can the return game find more pop? Can the passing game just pretend like it's going to hit on a few more passes now and then? Can Navy find the toughness that Niumatalolo is looking for?

Last year was probably an aberration, and Niumatalolo is doing everything he can to prepare a team that makes it that way.

What to watch for on offense: The play of the line. When Niumatalolo is looking for a tougher team overall, the one area that has to get nastier is an O line that did its job last season but only returns two starters. There was some major shuffling going on this offseason to come up with the right starting combination, and while experience is a concern there's more than enough size to start pushing people around more and plenty of promise. From out of nowhere, former tackle Bradyn Heap is being thrown to the wolves at center, bringing size and good quickness, while fellow sophomore Jake Zuzek will be under the microscope at right guard.

What to watch for on defense: The inside linebackers. Matt Warrick and Brye French should be tackling machines who make up for the concerns with a thin front three. The linebackers are the stars of the Navy defense, and now with French taking his athleticism and quickness from the outside in, he should be the perfect running mate for the tough and hard-hitting Warrick. The run defense finished 92nd in the nation allowing 187 yards per game – over 20 yards per outing more than in 2011. Warrick and French should be able to change that.

The team will be far better if … the passing game is more efficient. That's a problem since Ricky Dobbs was done two seasons ago. It's not like Navy winged it all over the yards, but Dobbs helped Navy finish ninth in the nation in passing efficiency in 2010, adding a dangerous downfield element to the mix. Last season with Dobbs gone and Kriss Proctor under center, Navy finished 65th in the country in passing efficiency and 119th in yards. Navy didn't throw a touchdown pass over its final three games.

The schedule: There's no excuse to not go back to a bowl with a turnaround season. Navy managed to lose a few games last year it shouldn't have against Ball State and San Jose State, so it's not a lock that games against Central Michigan on the road and Troy in Alabama are locks, but the team should be far better, far tighter in close games and ready to win the games it's supposed to win. Starting out Ireland against Notre Dame will be fun, but unlike the Irish, the Midshipmen get a week off to follow. Can they pull off the upset over Penn State in Happy Valley? It could be a must to avoid a rocky start, but things ease up in a hurry with several winnable games against teams from non-BCS conferences including layups against Florida Atlantic and Texas State before getting three weeks to prepare for Army.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Trey Miller – at least it needs to be. Running back Gee Greene is the home run hitter who averaged over seven yards per carry, and several untested runners appear ready to do a lot more, but it's Miller who should put up big yards as a bullish-tough runner who won't have any problems running through the middle when needed. With elite quickness, he fits the Navy mold. But can he throw? He'll never bomb away, but he can be effective.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Matt Warrick. The former running back brings the same sort of athleticism to the position that turned into the shining star of the defense after he settled into his home. Bringing French inside will help the run defense and should take the heat and pressure off of Warrick, but the veteran is almost certain to be back to his 103-tackle form again. A great athlete with a better motor, he's able to always be around the ball and has the utmost respect and leeway from the coaching staff.

Key player to a successful season: Sophomore FB Noah Copeland. The Navy offense breaks things open with the big dashes on the outside, but the big runs are set up by the thumps that come from the inside. Alexander Teich has been the steady force pounding away game after game, and now it's up to Copeland. The sophomore might not be that big at only 5-10 and 205 pounds, but he's quick and should be able to provide a burst up the middle.

The season will be a success if … Navy flirts with a ten-win season. Beating Notre Dame in Ireland is asking a lot and trying to get by Penn State and its phenomenal linebacking corps – even in the team's weakened condition – will be a task. But there's no one else on the slate the Midshipmen can't beat, and that includes Air Force and Indiana. They might be able to beat the Nittany Lions, too. It might take a bowl win to do it – they're tied into the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl – but there's no reason to not expect at least a bowl appearance while shooting for the second ten-win season since 2004.

Key game: Oct. 6 at Air Force. Navy owned the Falcons from 2003 to 2009, but the tables have been turned over the last two seasons with a tough 14-6 loss in 2010 and a rough 35-34 loss last season. Depending on how the first two games against Notre Dame and Penn State go, and after likely righting the ship against VMI and San Jose State, the Air Force game could be the crossroads. The schedule eases up late, but a win in Colorado Springs should guarantee a winning season.

2011 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Opponents 56 for 498 yards – Navy 28 for 240 yards
- Third Down Conversions: Opponents 76-of-148 (51%) – Navy 81-of-171 (47%)
- 1st Quarter Scoring: Opponents 59 – Navy 53
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 124 – Navy 118

- 2012 Navy Preview | 2012 Navy Offense
- 2012 Navy Defense | 2012 Navy Depth Chart