Inside Hilltopper Sports will be visiting with WKU's upcoming opponent's beat writer each week to give our reader's more insight on the game. This week, IHS caught up with Washington Post beat writer Camille Powell for her thoughts on the Midshipmen.
What are some things to look for on offense and defense?
The thing that makes Navy unique is the offense that it runs, the triple option. They haven't been running the option part of it all that well lately. The Pittsburgh game, they really kinda struggled with that. They're sort of young with their skill positions, at quarterback, fullback and slot back. It was pretty obvious in that game, they were missing reads, poor blocking. Defensively, this is a team that's really sorta grown up. A couple of years ago, they were young and they gave up s ton of points and yards. They got better last year and this year, outside of the habit of giving up long touchdown drives on their opening possession and then clamping down after that. They've got experienced senior linebackers and some playmakers there, they've got a good secondary. Their safety, Wyatt Middleton, plays rover and can also play a little bit of outside linebacker. He's probably their best defensive player, big, strong, fast.
What's the biggest key to the option?
Execution. The one thing Navy always talks about is that they're not necessarily going to be able to kind of outrun or outmuscle people. They really have to play hard and they have to be really sharp and they can't make mental mistakes. The thing about the option is that it's hard for teams that don't see it often to replicate in practice, because teams don't do it as fast and precisely as Navy. The Pittsburgh game is a good example of how important execution is and how all the little pieces need to be going well. The times that the quarterback made the right read, the blocking was off, or when the blocking was there, the quarterback made the pitch too late.
Who's the biggest key to the option?
Ricky Dobbs, the quarterback, he's a junior. He came out and played a little bit last year and just showed this knack for just making plays. There's been times when even if he doesn't make the right reads, he's athletic enough and strong enough that he can sorta make plays. He's got a great arm, really charismatic personality and big-time leader. The players really sorta feed off of him. He has this knack. They're sorta known for making comebacks with him. He did it against Temple last year and almost did it against Notre Dame and Ohio State. The coaches talk about, with this offense, the quarterback is sorta like a great point guard. The option in many ways is like learning the pick and roll. It's a very basic play, but there's a lot of things you can do off of it. It comes down to timing and making the right read. The fullback is the other key part and is another backbone of the offense. They have a sophomore, Alexander Teich, who didn't play much last year but has been the guy this year and is a little faster than previous Navy fullbacks. They've been struggling at getting the blocking right on these runs up the middle.
The line, they have some good experience, some juniors and seniors that have started in the past. Navy doesn't have big, physical linemen because that's not what they want for this offense. They need to be able to move, be mobile and quicker. It's still a little bit of a work in progress. The first three teams that Navy played in Ohio State, Louisiana Tech and Pittsburgh, each of those teams had one or two guys that were just big and strong and fast and just had their way. This group is still figuring out how to work together, but they still have some experience.
Can Navy throw the ball if need be?
They're more effective when they pick their spots to throw as opposed to, the second half of the Pitt game, they just kinda abandoned the run and decided to throw the ball. One of the things that I've seen in these smaller linemen is that they're not used to pass protecting and they're not very good at pass protecting. Against Pitt, they also gave up six sacks. Coach Ken Niumatololo was like, look, this isn't is. We need to be able to run the ption. Receiver-wise, they don't have big receivers and they're not that experienced as well. Their slotbacks, in some ways they're more effective throwing to those guys and letting them make plays. Dobbs has a big arm and he's comfortable throwing the ball.
Ross Pospisil is just sort of a tireless worker, just runs everything down, can make some plays. Last year, he forced some fumbles and had a couple of interceptions. Their two safeties are really good, Wyatt Middleton and Emmett Merchant, both athletic.
How good is the supporting cast behind Pospisil?
I think their defense has been really good this year. When you talk about Navy, everyone focuses on the offense, because they've put up big numbers in the past. The defense has really been the strength of their team. Their four starting linebackers are all seniors and they have combined like over 70 starts or a ridiculous number. They're all really experienced. They talk about their assignments and they have to execute. On defense, they can pretty much put an experienced, veteran guy at every position.
At 1-2, what's the overall confidence of team right now?
They're 1-2, there's a real big sense of urgency, but their two losses were at Ohio State and Pittsburgh, teams that are top 30. They definitely feel like this is the biggest game of the year right now. It is really important for them to come back and play well. They felt like they haven't put together an entire game of playing Navy football. There's definitely sort of a sense of urgency and the Pitt game was just, the offense was disappointing and they've had to hear about that all week and I think they'll be kinda chippy. This year is also the 50th anniversary of the stadium and they're wearing throwback uniforms and they'll be some pomp going on.
WKU has struggled, but how is Navy treating their opponent?
One of the things about Navy, the coach was like, we can't overlook anybody. We're 1-2, they're 0-3 and we're in the same sorta position. Navy is always gonna be at a sort of physical disadvantage when they step on the field. So they can't afford to take anyone lightly. They have to give maximum effort, they have to give attention and focus. This team is pretty good at doing that and refocusing after losses.
What's a realistic finish for Navy?
When you looked at their schedule this year, it was a little bit tougher than they had in the past. They need to get to seven wins to go to the Texas Bowl. I thought at the beginning of the season that they were gonna get seven, eight or even nine wins, at least some sort of upset. The following week, against AirForce could be the bell-weather game. I would be surprised if Navy did not get to seven wins to go to their bowl game.
InsideHillltopperSports.com would like to thank Washington Post beat writer Camille Powell for taking time to help us dissect Navy a little better. After the Navy game, catch InsideHilltopperSports.com's extensive post-game, with a full game wrap and audio from coach David Elson