Mids focus on Flashes

After big win over Air Force, Navy wary of trap against 1-4 Kent State

October 15, 2005|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

A Navy secondary that has been completely revamped gets an immediate test today at home against a team that fills the air with footballs.

With cornerback Jeremy McGown out with a broken arm, Navy's starting secondary from a year ago has been overhauled. And up next today is Kent State, which usually struggles early and then is forced to open its passing game.

The Golden Flashes haven't scored in the first half since Sept. 10, but they average 288.2 passing yards per game. Quarterback Michael Machen, who at 6 feet 6 "is bigger than anybody we have," said Navy coach Paul Johnson, will play after missing the last game with a strained left knee.

"It's a challenge to us," said Navy's Keenan Little, who has moved from safety to corner and has an interception in each of the last two games. "We love to see a team that passes the ball come in here. I start to smile. We're expecting a great workout."

Little is not concerned about the relative inexperience of Dell Robinson and Rashawn King, who made their starting debuts in the secondary last week in the last-second win over Air Force. "It could be a good thing," Little said. "[Defensive coordinator Buddy] Green expects everyone who gets on the field to know what they're doing. It gives younger guys a chance to step up."

Fresh from one of the most dramatic comeback victories in school history, Navy must guard today against a potential pitfall.

The coaching staff has been reinforcing to the Midshipmen (2-2) all week the idea that the headiness of the win over Air Force must be left behind them when they meet Kent State (1-4) with an opportunity to climb above .500 for the first time this season.

"You can't fall into the trap," Johnson said. "I tell them straight up what it is. You're coming off an emotional game with one of your chief rivals and everybody is patting you on the back and all of a sudden you forget you have to play on Saturday. This team coming in is going to be excited to play, so you'd better be ready."

Navy has been a slow starter as well. It has not scored first in any of its four games, so something has to give in this one.

Kent State was idle last Saturday, so it has enjoyed nearly two weeks to prepare for Navy's triple-option offense and heal its own wounds. The Golden Flashes are in the same position as Air Force was a week ago - on a three-game losing streak and playing a third straight road game.

They also have the motivation supplied by an 0-4 lifetime record against Navy.

As usual, discipline will be the key for the opposing defense when facing the Midshipmen, who are 10th in the country in rushing at 249.8 yards a game and average more than 400 yards in total offense because of a more productive passing attack.

Senior linebackers Jon Sessler, fifth nationally in tackles per game, and Justin Parrish, No. 1 in school history in sacks, lead a Golden Flash defense that has not allowed a fourth-down conversion in seven tries and has forced 13 turnovers, including eight interceptions.

"They aren't the biggest team we've played, but they have a lot of guys who can run," Johnson said. "They have some good athletes."

The key is how disciplined the Golden Flashes are in going against the options the triple-option attack presents and whether their offense can get going earlier than usual.

"It's very important to go up early on Navy and not look back," Kent State coach Doug Martin said. "You take away some of the run plays. You have to have the fast start."

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Today's game

Kent State (1-4) @Navy (2-2)

Site -- Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

Time -- 1:30 p.m.

Radio -- 1090 AM, 1430 AM

Last week -- Navy defeated Air Force, 27-24; Kent State was idle

Series record -- Navy leads 4-0

Line -- Navy by 13

Outlook -- The Midshipmen put their two-game winning streak on the line against a team that has dropped the previous four meetings by an average score of 45-21 and is on a three-game losing slide. Navy's biggest enemy might be overconfidence after its dramatic victory over Air Force. The Golden Flashes have been averaging a skimpy 43.4 yards per game on the ground, depending instead on the passing arms of Michael Machen (94 of 182, 1,049 yards, 6 TDs) and Jon Brown (46 of 68, 363 yards, 2 TDs). But opponents have intercepted them 12 times, and Kent State's defense has been extremely vulnerable, permitting 453 yards a game. LB Jon Sessler, fifth nationally in tackles, leads the defensive unit. Navy LB Rob Caldwell took over the national tackles lead with 21 stops last week and is averaging 15.5. Kent State has had two weeks to prepare for Navy's triple-option attack, which showcases QB Lamar Owens (300 rushing yards, 548 passing), FB Matt Hall (211 on the ground) and a host of capable slotbacks. Top receiver Jason Tomlinson has 11 catches for a 20.5 average.

Kent Baker

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