Assessment test

navy vs. towson

Mids will see how far defense has progressed

Tigers will learn whether offense measures up

August 30, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,don.markus@baltsun.com

The first meeting between Navy and Towson on a football field today in Annapolis presents an interesting contrast - a team that rarely stopped anybody last season against a team that often stopped itself.

That's the way Towson coach Gordy Combs sees the season-opening matchup at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the first time the Tigers will take on a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) team in their 40-year history.

"The interesting thing about the game is that their defense was beat up last year and our offense was beat up, and that's why both their defense and our offense had bad years," Combs said.

"I think both teams get a lot of people back. Their defense is going to play with a little chip on their shoulder, and our offense will play with a little chip on our shoulder."

The Midshipmen, who finished near the bottom of several defensive categories nationally last year despite an 8-5 record, will have linebacker Clint Sovie and rover Jeff Deliz return after missing most of last season with injuries.

But Navy will be without starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who will sit out the game with a hamstring injury suffered in the first preseason scrimmage Aug. 9. Senior Jarod Bryant will start in place of Kaheaku-Enhada.

"In football, in sports, you've got to play the ball where it lies," first-year Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "We're excited about Jarod. Obviously, we'd like Kaipo to be there, but he's not, so we're going to move forward."

Towson cornerback Drew Mack said the Tigers are preparing for Navy's triple option and not necessarily the quarterback running it.

Though Towson has played option teams before, Mack said: "I'm not sure anybody can match the Naval Academy offense. They run it the best. They run it to perfection, basically."

The Midshipmen, whose offense has led the nation in rushing for three straight years, have faced teams that run a spread offense, as Towson does, and have not fared well.

A year ago, Delaware won a 59-52 shootout at Navy behind four touchdowns passes and 434 passing yards from quarterback Joe Flacco, who's now with the Ravens. Two weeks later, the Midshipmen survived a wild 74-62 score-a-thon at North Texas.

Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green knows the play of his unit will be scrutinized from the start.

"Last year, we went through some tough times defensively," Green said. "We went through some rough games, we did some good things, but the bottom line is a lot of guys got a year under their belt. Hopefully we're a little better at certain positions. Now we're going to get a chance to see how much we've improved."

So will Towson's offense. With the offensive line and receivers hampered by injuries, starting quarterback Sean Schaefer was intercepted 19 times and sacked 39 times. The Tigers were minus-11 on turnovers and outscored 92-16. It led to a 3-8 season that ended with five straight defeats.

"We're not taking them lightly because they're I-AA. They're going to come here with a chip on their shoulder," Bryant said. "Now with scholarship limits and all kinds of things like that, the talent level is not much different anymore. Playing another team from Maryland, it's a big game for us."

It's a big game for the respective coaches, too.

"I'm so tired of all this stuff. I just want to get on the field," said Niumatalolo, who was chosen in December to succeed Paul Johnson.

"I think we're ready. Our kids are tired of hitting each other and want to hit somebody else. I'm sure Towson feels the same way."

Said Combs, starting his 17th season as Towson's head coach: "It's not a judgment game; it's a gauge game for our football program. A barometer to see how far we've progressed in 40 years."

Or, for that matter, since last season.

today's game

Matchup: Towson (0-0) at Navy (0-0)

Time: 3:30 p.m.

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

TV, radio: CBS College Sports, 1090 AM

Series: First meeting

Navy offense vs. Towson defense: The Midshipmen will be playing without starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada (hamstring), but senior Jarod Bryant is a more-than-capable backup. Bryant started one game last year against Northern Illinois and rushed for 139 yards and a touchdown. He is also a more consistent passing threat than Kaheaku-Enhada, and the Tigers surrendered more than 11 yards per catch a year ago. But look for the Midshipmen to pound the ball on the ground behind Eric Kettani (880 yards on 152 carries) because the Tigers gave up nearly 179 rushing yards a game last season.

Navy defense vs. Towson offense: Navy was one of the worst defensive teams in the country last season, finishing last in pass efficiency defense and near the bottom in several other categories. The Midshipmen will be facing a fourth-year starter in Towson senior quarterback Sean Schaefer, who will be helped by the return of wide receivers Tommy Breaux and Hakeem Moore to play alongside Marcus Lee. The Midshipmen had only nine sacks last year, so Schaefer should have time to throw. How much the return of linebacker Clint Sovie and rover Jeff Deliz from injuries last season helps a young Navy secondary could figure prominently in how the Midshipmen play this season.

Don Markus

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