Archives for posts with tag: Navy

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So much for learning!  Like an elementary school’s morning recess, the September bye interrupts whatever momentum the early season had.  Blame the calendar;  usually there are 13 weekends between Labor Day and Thanksgiving which translates to just one week off for most schools.  This year there are 14 weekends which means a bonus bye. Be thankful:  back in the day when 11-game schedules were the norm and before Conference Championship Games, byes would be scattered across the landscape like breadcrumbs.  Now, instead of weeks off, the openings are simply filled filled in with games against FCS and non-Power 5 schools.

Navy has an extra weekend off to begin with, thanks to the Army game taking place in December while counting towards their 12-game regular season total, so this year head coach Ken Niumatalo’s team is already idle for the second time.  “Sometimes you like it later in the season when you’re kind of banged up, but that’s our schedule,” Niumatalolo said. “We knew the schedule a long time ago. We’ve practiced for it and planned for it.”  What’s helpful for the Midshipmen is they get a few extra days to prepare for a Thursday night showdown with a 3-0 Memphis team that’s already beaten Ole Miss.  I like the bye leading the Thursday night game;  it allows the players to properly recover and the team to properly prepare (my major beef with the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package).

While Navy at 2-0 still has a lot to learn about itself, Maryland’s 2-1 start let the light shine on not only how great this team can be (outscoring Howard and Syracuse 141-20) but also how they’re far from perfect (coming up empty on eight plays inside the Temple 10-yard line in the fourth quarter).  After a spring and summer of installing new systems on both sides of the ball, a break might be just what the Terps need mentally and physically. “You add the four weeks of training camp and three weeks of the season, that’s seven straight weeks of wall to wall football: pounding and the contact and things we do,” head coach Mike Locksley said.”Usually every three to four weeks you like to give your players a day off to be able to recover and re-set themselves.  This couldn’t have come at a better time.”  The break also separates the school’s non-conference and Big Ten portions cleanly, and after going 13-31 over its first five seasons in the league the Terps could use a little extra time.  “When you self-scout you give yourself an opportunity to see what other people see,” Locksley said. “You want to refine those things and maybe adjust some things so you don’t have a bunch of tendencies.”  We’ll see how beneficial the Terps’ time-out was when they host No. 13 Penn State next Friday night.

Virginia Tech is also 2-1 entering its bye week, but as no two 2-1 starts are exactly alike the Hokies appear to have a lot more to fix during the hiatus.  So far they’ve followed up a discouraging ACC loss with a pair of unimpressive wins against inferior competition.  No offense to FCS contender Furman or Old Dominion, but neither school should be able to come into Lane Stadium and be a threat in the fourth quarter.  Two keys for head coach Justin Fuente: 1- find a way to temper the turnovers (their nine giveaways is fourth most in FBS) and 2- get better on the ground (Hokies rank 11th in the ACC on offense and 10th in stopping the run).  Help is on the way in the form of ex-Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who comes on board as a special assistant.  At least they face Duke (Hokies are 3-0 against the Blue Devils under Fuente) and Miami (the Hurricanes are 0-2 against FBS teams this fall) next Friday evening.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange find themselves 1-2 with their bye two weeks away;  thank goodness they face the likes of Western Michigan and Holy Cross to wrap up the month.  I’m by no means putting both games in the win column at this time, as the Broncos are averaging over 30 points per game and put 42 on the board last year against SU while the Crusaders were picked to finish second in the Patriot League.  Back to back noon games hopefully resets the season before ACC play resumes.

No. 21 Virginia (3-0) vs. Old Dominion (1-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN2).  The Cavaliers season of possibilities has the team off to its best start since 2005.  That team featured the dual-threat quarterback Marques Hagans, who completed over 60% of his passes while using his wheels to haunt opposing defenses.  Hagans has nothing on Bryce Perkins, who in 16 games has already moved past Hagans in career touchdown passes and career yards rushing.   The Monarchs come off of their bye knowing they had plenty of opportunities to upset Virginia Tech for the second straight season, while realizing they have a lot to clean up on both sides of the ball.  Quarterback Stone Smartt is averaging less than ten yards per completion and the ODU defense has troubles getting off of the field on third down.

Kippy and Buffy have no issues setting up their third tailgate of the season, and how better to enjoy a showdown of Commonwealth schools than by opening a bottle of Chrysallis Vineyards Viognier (the state grape of Virginia).  “Full-bodied and fragrant with heady tropical and citrus fruits”.  During the season of possibilities that has UVa dreaming of a potential Citrus or-dare I say-Orange Bowl, they’re going all-in on a citrus fruit finish.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers maul the Monarchs, 44-14.

 

Howard slips to Delaware State, James Madison beats Chattanooga, William & Mary falls to East Carolina, Towson tops Villanova, Morgan State loses to Army.

Last Week: 7-2. Overall: 21-6.

 

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Somebody from the NCAA needs to find out exactly what is in the water of Lake Thunderbird in Norman, Oklahoma.  Because once again the most feared passing attack in the nation wears the crimson and cream of the Oklahoma Sooners.  And once again it’s a transfer quarterback piloting the attack; yes, OU is getting it done this fall once more with somebody else’s discard.  Baker Mayfield (a former Texas Tech walk-on) won the Heisman two years ago while Kyler Murray (an ex-Texas A&M backup) took home the trophy last fall.  Enter Jalen Hurts, who was a part of Alabama’s College Football Playoff Champion in 2017 and threw for 48 touchdowns during his Crimson Tide career.  Hurts is even better at OU:  Saturday’s 48-14 win over UCLA saw Hurt throw for 289 yards while running for 150 more.  When Lincoln Riley took over two years ago for a retiring Bob Stoops, many were curious about the direction of a program that had won 10 Big 12 titles in 17 seasons under Bob Stoops.  Riley’s delivered with a winner (27-4 overall mark in his two-plus seasons) that’s been fun to watch. The Sooners show no signs of slowing down, and wouldn’t it be something for Hurts to face his former team in the College Football Playoff?

Alma Mater Update- what did you expect after the 43-point loss at Maryland?  The 41-6 defeat at home to top ranked and defending national champ Clemson was another teaching moment where one realizes that the Orange have a ways to go. Thank goodness Western Michigan and Holy Cross are on the horizon.

No. 21 Maryland (2-1) got to 17 hard way: two safeties, two field goals, a touchdown and an extra point.  Unfortunately they couldn’t score on eight plays from inside the Temple 10-yard line in the fourth quarter (they also failed to convert on a fourth and goal in the first half) and missed a field goal in a 20-17 loss to the Owls.  Coach Mike Locksley compared the 2-0 start to driving cross-country and “reaching Phoenix without a flat”. Let’s just say the car is going into the shop during the upcoming bye week after multiple issues on the way to Tucson.

Terrapin Triumphs: Anthony McFarland rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown.  Antoine Brooks notched 13 tackles to pace a defense that held the Owls to 3-14 on third down while tallying three takeaways.  After punting issues the first two weeks, the Terps averaged 42.8 yards on nine attempts in week three.

Terrapin Troubles: Josh Jackson completed 15 of 38 passes with an interception while posting his worst game rating as a collegian.  The Terps converted just 5-21 on third down.  The defense that had been stout over the first two weeks failed to register a sack while allowing over five yards per carry to Temple’s tailback tandem.  A missed field goal and extra point plus a failed fake field goal cost the team crucial points in a one-possession game.  Nine penalties for 88 yards didn’t help either.

Next: Friday, September 27 against No. 13 Penn State.

 

Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-1 ACC) slept in Saturday morning like most college kids, and took a while to wake up in the afternoon against Furman. After trailing 14-3 at the half, the Hokies bounced back to take a quick lead in the third quarter and hold on to beat the Paladins 24-17.  Disaster was averted for the second straight week, but glass in Blacksburg looks decidedly half-empty with the tougher part of the schedule yet to come.

Hokie Highlights: Keshawn King rushed for 119 yards while Tre Turner ran for 68 yards and a touchdown while also catching a TD pass.  Emmanuel Belmar made seven tackles and paced the pass rush with 1.5 sacks.  After a rough first half, the defense held Furman to 59 yards on 20 plays to begin the second-while turning two takeaways into 10 points.

Hokie Humblings:  Ryan Willis may have completed 17 of 21 passes, but averaged six yards per completion.  Against an FCS school.  Two more turnovers for the team that has coughed up nine this year, and both led to Furman touchdowns.

Next: Friday, September 27 vs. Duke.

 

Navy (2-0,  1-0 AAC) wasted little time pulling away from East Carolina, scoring the first four times they had the ball en route to a 42-10 rout of the Pirates.  Coach Ken Niumatalolo said that this was the one of the best games in all phases he’s seen his team play since taking over in Annapolis.  While ECU might not be the best barometer of how good this Mids team will be, so far it definitely appears to be a major upgrade over last year’s edition.

Midshipman Medals: Malcolm Perry rushes for 156 yards and four touchdowns, while throwing for 151 yards and two more scores.  CJ Williams catches 3 passes for 117 yards and 2 scores.  Elan Nash notched 9 tackles while the defense generated eight 3 & outs, holding the Pirates to 2-13 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues: outside of the offensive backups gaining 33 yards on 13 plays from scrimmage during mop-up time, there was a fumbled punt in the fourth quarter.  The skies don’t get much sunnier in Annapolis.

Next: Thursday September 26 at Memphis.

 

No. 25 Virginia (3-0, 2-0 ACC) continues its autumn of possibilities by rallying in the second half to beat Florida State 31-24.  The Cavaliers scored the last three times they had the football and needed a last-second stand in the red zone to hold off the Seminoles.  Kippy and Buffy will be calling in sick Monday.

Cavalier Congrats: Wayne Taulapapa rushes for 3 touchdowns while Bryce Perkins throws for 295 yards and a TD toss to Joe Reed, who had 8 catches for 83 yards on the night.  Jordan Mack made 13 tackles and a sack while leading a defense that held the Seminoles to a season-low point total.

Cavalier Concerns: nine penalties, including multiple infractions that kept Florida State’s final drive alive.  The running game still needs to find itself after Perkins and Taulapapa combined to average less than three yards per carry.  Perkins also threw a pair of interceptions.

Next:  Saturday at noon against Old Dominion.

 

 

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The problem with the mid-September schedule is that while the networks are looking for compelling matchups on a weekly basis, most schools nowadays try to build bowl eligibility insurance by bringing at least one FCS school or lower-tier FBS program to campus (and in a few cases sometimes one of each).  This means early-season matchups between ranked foes are few and far between.  Or in the case of this week, try none.  As in zero.  Blame more than the schedule-stuffers, with teams from Iowa State (Cyclones were taken to triple-overtime by Northern Iowa in week one) to Syracuse (coughed up 650 yards and 63 points at Maryland in week two) failing to live up to the preseason hype.

The Orange will face a top-ranked Clemson team that’s more than angry after almost being upset by SU last year in prime time on ABC.  I’m not saying things could get ugly, but Syracuse has allowed 60+ points to the likes of Wake Forest and Pitt in recent years.  This is Clemson.  FOX presents what used to be a great inter-sectional showdown in Oklahoma-UCLA.  While the Sooners have lived up to their No. 5 ranking, the Bruins have lost to the likes of Cincinnati and San Diego State.  Both with Chip Kelly coaching on the sidelines.  Meanwhile Lincoln Riley appears to be the quarterback whisperer as Jalen Hurts is on fire.  Gus Johnson is probably happy he drew Ohio State-Indiana instead.  At least ESPN will be showing an evening battle of unbeatens in No. 9 Florida facing Kentucky– hold on, the Wildcats are playing in the week’s ready for prime time matchup?  I’m not saying this is the week to go apple-picking or antiquing, but you guys can build major relationship cred without missing much.

 

Alma Mater Update- guess what?  The Orange may not be a Top 25 team this year.  Last Saturday’s loss at Maryland exposed multiple issues-and if there’s one team you don’t want to know about your glaring weaknesses, it’s Clemson.  As in top-ranked and defending National Champion Clemson.  As in the Tigers SU beat two years ago in the Dome and almost upset last year in Death Valley.  The bigger bummer is my Cuse buddy “Dome Doug” will be making the trip to the game so I won’t be able to watch at the “Orange Room”, the ultimate fan-cave.  Last year I drank all of his son’s root beer as I was loading up for an evening shift.  By the way, Barq’s goes great with blown double-digit second half lead.

 

No. 21 Maryland (2-0) vs. Temple (1-0), noon (CBS Sports Network). 

The Terps are ranked for the first time since joining the Big Ten and have smashed their first two foes to smithereens.  But a Terrapin’s memory is a long one, and the image of a Top 25 team going to Tallahassee in 2013 and getting torched by Florida State 63-0 remains in the back of one’s mind.  So does the school’s recent rough history with the Owls, like last year’s 35-14 loss at home.  Anthony Russo burned the Terrapin secondary for touchdown passes of 36 and 47 yards last fall and threw for 409 yards in the Owls’ Labor Day weekend win over Bucknell.  The key to Maryland’s early start has been third down dominance:  the offense ranks eighth (61%) in FBS at moving the chains while the defense (25%) is 14th best in the nation.  Coach Mike Locksley compares the season to driving cross-country, and that starting 2-0 feels like “arriving in Phoenix without a flat”.  I’m tempted to dive all-in on Glen Campbell references for the season, but his biggest hits were 40-50 years ago.  Also, the second verse in “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” refers to Albuquerque- where Locksley went 2-26 as New Mexico’s head coach.

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins reach Galveston (Oh Galveston!) without further car trouble, 34-19.

 

Virginia Tech (1-1) vs. Furman (1-1), noon (ACC Network). 

Could the Hokies be in trouble?  Their two-touchdown win over Old Dominion didn’t necessarily make one think that this fall’s edition was that much better than the team that needed to schedule a provisional game to make postseason play.  They currently rank last in FBS in turnover margin and have had issues running the ball (3.4 yards per carry after accounting for sacks).  Enter a Furman team that’s ranked 16th in FCS and is averaging 44 points per game.  Darren Grainger threw for 311 yards last week against Georgia State, but the freshman will learn rather quickly that the former Turner Field has nothing on Lane Stadium.  Or so Hokie Nation hopes as they try not to choke on their smoked turkey legs.

Presto’s Picks: Hokies have their hands full but hold on, 36-27.

 

Navy (1-0) vs. East Carolina (1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network). 

After a week off, the Mids begin American Athletic Conference play looking to end a disturbing trend:  the Midshipmen went 14-3 during their first two AAC campaigns but went 6-10 in conference play the last two autumns.  Their foe can sympathize:  ECU went 4-20 in league play from 2016-18.  Enter former James Madison Coach Mike Houston, and a Pirates team that looked just as awesome in their rout of Gardner-Webb as they looked awful in their blowout loss at NC State.  If that’s comparing apples to oranges, the Mids’ week one win over Holy Cross is a pomegranate.  The game’s in Annapolis, where the current senior class is 13-3 in regular season games.  Did I mention East Carolina is 1-16 on the road since the 2016 season started?

Presto’s Pick:  Midshipmen get it done, 31-20.

 

No. 25 Virginia (2-0, 1-0 ACC) vs. Florida State (1-1), 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network). 

What’s this?  The Cavaliers are ranked and are favored against the Seminoles?  It’s been a long year the last two weeks in Tallahassee, as FSU needed a missed extra point in overtime to prevail over (gulp) Louisiana-Monroe.  The defense coughs up 40 points and 520 yards per game doesn’t even look that good.  UVa’s pass defense (under 50% completion rate and 157.5 yards per game) will be tested by James Blackman (73% and 304.5) while Cam Akers presents the perfect counter-punch (193 yards rushing last week) on the ground.  These schools actually compete for the “Jefferson-Eppes Trophy”; it’s not the Civil ConFLiCT but just about as relevant over the years as UVa is 3-15 against FSU.

Kippy and Buffy know their history, and that “Eppes” refers to Thomas Jefferson’s grandson Francis Eppes IV, a two-time Mayor of Tallahassee and Trustee at the seminary that would eventually become Florida State.  Nothing says history like tailgating with a bottle of 2013 Jefferson Vineyards Meritage“an oak driven wine with wonderful aromatics. The bright palate shows berry and black pepper flavors, finishing with lingering notes of coffee.”  Coffee is for closers- and in the season of possibilities could that be the Cavaliers?

Presto’s Picks:  Cavs come through, 27-22.

 

Georgetown tops Catholic, Howard falls to Hampton, Towson tumbles to Maine, Richmond loses to Elon, James Madison mauls Morgan State.

Last Week: 8-1. Overall: 14-4.

 

 

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Week one of the College Football season (don’t even bring up Week Zero, which I feel should be spelled “Weak Zero” for reasons previously stated here) is still in full swing with games on the slate Sunday and Monday.  And with no preseason like the NFL, the college game can take you by surprise opening weekend.  Like in Tallahassee, where Florida State’s road back from a rare losing season took a serious speed-bump when the Seminoles blew an 18-point lead in a loss to Boise State.  Or perhaps Knoxville, where singing “Rocky Top” couldn’t rally Tennessee past Georgia State.  Or even Charlotte, where on a neutral field Mack Brown woke up the glory of decades gone by to begin his second term as head coach with a come from behind win over South Carolina (for the record, the Gamecocks refer to themselves as “USC” or “Carolina”-when everyone knows that Southern Cal is the real USC and North Carolina is the real Carolina). Or perhaps Arlington, Texas, where No. 16 Auburn scored with 19 seconds left to send No. 11 Oregon and the Pac 12 to second-tier status in the Power Five world (I almost want to refer to it as the Power Four Plus One).  Who’s ready to do this whole thing again next week?

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange are 1-0 after a 24-0 win at Liberty where the Flames’ new coach Hugh Freeze coached from a hospital bed while dealing with a Staph Infection.  New quarterback Tommy DeVito completed under 50% of his passes and tossed a pair of interceptions, putting him closer to Billy Scharr than Todd Philcox on the “New QB” spectrum.  But the defense notched eight sacks and held the Flames to 3 for 16 on third down.  SU comes to College Park in week two.  Break out the wings.

 

Maryland (1-0) jumped out to a 28-0 first quarter lead en route to a 79-0 rout of Howard. One knows that the MEAC is hardly the Big Ten East, but as opposed to previous opening day squeakers (7-6 over William & Mary, anyone?) it’s nice to make a statement as opposed to a question mark Labor Day weekend.

Terrapin Triumphs: Josh Jackson threw for 245 yards and four touchdowns while Dontay Demus caught 3 passes for 100 yards and two scores.  The defense dominated the day, holding the Bison to 2 for 17 on third down and 68 total yards.  Special Teams blocked one punt for a safety and returned another for a touchdown.

Terrapin Troubles: even though they scored 56 points in the first half the offense still went 3 for 7 on third down.  The Maryland fans also either had issues with traffic or their alarm clocks as there were wide swaths of empty seats.  I know it was Labor Day Weekend, but you could have easily left for the Eastern Shore at 3:15 p.m.

Next: Saturday at noon against Syracuse.

 

Navy (1-0) punted just once in their 45-7 rout of Holy Cross; the tone was set when the Midshipmen took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards on nine plays to take the lead for good.scored the routed Holy Cross 45-7 as the Midshipmen.  Caveat:  they put 51 points on the board last fall against Patriot League foe Lehigh and won just once thereafter.

Midshipman Medals: Malcolm Perry completed 6 of 9 passes for 103 yards while directing an option offense that ran for 428 yards.  Diego Fagot notched seven tackles to lead the defense that held the Crusaders to 2.4 yards per carry and 3 for 12 on third down.

Midshipman Miscues: a pair of fumbles (one lost) will definitely get some attention in the film room, while the team’s only punt return went for minus-seven yards.  Hey–you find blemishes in a 38 point win.

Next: September 14 against East Carolina.

 

Virginia Tech (0-1) took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter at Boston College before turning the ball over five times over an eight possession span that saw the Eagles take a two-touchdown lead.  The 35-28 loss was the Hokies first season-opening defeat to an unranked team in 11 years and sets them back in the Coastal Division race before September even begins.

Hokie Highlights: Ryan Willis throws for 344 yards and four touchdowns, while Hezekiah Grimsley notches four receptions for 98 yards and a score. Rayshard Ashby tallied 13 tackles and a sack.  Oscar Bradburn averaged 45.5 yards per punt.

Hokie Humblings: Five turnovers!  BC had short fields for two of their three touchdowns in the second quarter while a red zone interception took at least three points off of the board right before halftime.

Next: Saturday at noon Old Dominion comes to Blacksburg.

 

Virginia (1-0) hadn’t beaten Pitt since 2014, but Saturday night at Heinz Field the Cavaliers came through against the defending division champs with a 30-14 victory. Did the mojo from Men’s Basketball and Lacrosse find its way onto the gridiron?

Cavalier Congrats: UVa won the physical battle, outgaining the Panthers by 51 yards on the ground. Bryce Perkins threw a pair of touchdown passes.  The defense held Pitt to 91 second half yards on 37 plays, twice intercepting the Panthers after intermission.  Joey Blount provided the pass rush heat with a pair of sacks.

Cavalier Concerns:  the passing game averaged less than ten yards per completion and the team was fortunate to lose neither of its two fumbles.  In Kippy & Buffy news, my winesnob pal tells me the 2013 Joseph Phelps Insignia they tailgated with should have been kept on the shelf for another year or two.

Next: Friday night at 8 p.m. against William & Mary.

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In the highly volatile league that is the American Athletic Conference, Navy is a beacon of stability. Coach Ken Niumatalolo isn’t just the longest-tenured coach at his respective school, five other AAC schools are on their third coach since the Midshipmen joined the league.  And it’s not just coaches who are coming and going:  UConn has announced it will leave the conference to rejoin the reconfigured Big East.  But just because the coach and the team aren’t going anywhere, it doesn’t mean there aren’t changes on the Annapolis campus.

As Navy enters year five in the league it wants to turn around a disturbing trend:  after going 14-2 in regular season play with a division title in its first two seasons the Mids went 6-10 over the last two years.  Throw in what is now a three-game losing streak to Army and a 10-loss campaign, the school’s worst since Paul Johnson’s first year in 2002, and Niumatalolo knew it was a time to re-examine his entire program from the top on down.  “Well first of all I had to look at myself-you know before I started pointing any fingers I had to look at myself.  What did I need to improve,” said Niumatalolo.  “Then structurally, our staff. And then our players. Schematically. I’m excited about some of the changes.”

The initial change was off the field-and in the dining hall.  For the first time, Navy football has a nutritionist working with the players in the program.  There’s also a focus on improving the facilities moving forward.  But while those changes will be behind the curtain, the most noticeable difference will be in the air this fall on a weekly basis in Annapolis.

Yes–you heard correctly.  Navy plans to throw the football more this season.  Last year the team attempted less than ten passes per game, sixth fewest in FBS.  Now that they’re facing the same schools every year in conference play, the coach has to mix things up.  “We’re still running and aggressive, but if you’re trying to bring people up we’re going to throw the football.” Coach Ken Niumatalolo said, “People are closer to the line of scrimmage…and we can’t block everybody. So we’re going to have to throw the football and back people up.”  The vibe is contagious.  “It’s been something that coach has spoken on and he’s extremely excited about,” said senior center Ford Higgins. “He’s brought in coach Billy Ray-who’s a passing mind that might not have been in the locker room before.”  “Billy Ray” Stutzmann comes to the Academy as an Offensive Assistant after working with the wide receivers at Hawai’i last fall, helping the Rainbow Warriors passing game rank ninth in the nation in passing.

For the second straight year Malcolm Perry will be the starting quarterback, but in a way 2019 will feel like his debut.  In his career, the senior has thrown just 27 passes as last year the Mids subbed Garrett Lewis and Zach Abey in passing situations while moving Perry to A-back (Navy’s option offense features one fullback and a pair of halfback-types split to each side but ahead of the fullback).  Coach Niumatalolo said that he made a mistake not going all-in on Perry as his quarterback last fall.  Even with the limited passing experience the senior learned quite a bit that will help him this year.  “My biggest focus this offseason was my decision making,” said Perry. “And that goes for the option game, the passing game. That’s all in my hands now.”  Not to mention his feet.  Tge senior’s rushed for over 1000 yards in consecutive seasons, and don’t forget that last fall Perry led the team in rushing, passing and receiving yardage in the win over Memphis.  Junior fullback Nelson Smith averaged over five yards a carry last fall while A-backs C.J. Williams and Tazh Maloy showed sparks last fall.  The need for development at wide receiver is apparent, as the two leading returning receivers from 2018 are…C.J. Williams and Malcolm Perry.

Defensively there will be more of an overhaul from 2018 as the Midshipmen began last fall by coughing up 59 points at Hawai’i and finished near the bottom of the AAC against the pass while ranking dead last in sacks.  Enter Defensive Coordinator Brian Newberry, who directed a Kennesaw State defense to a number two ranking in FCS last season.  The Owls led the Big South in rushing defense (102.1 yards per game), pass defensive efficiency (117.0) and red zone defense (76.9 percent), while standing second in sacks (31).  “We want controlled chaos, right?  That’s what we talk about-toughness and elite effort,” senior linebacker Paul Carothers said. “Just to get after people-if we know what we’re doing and we understand our job and do it with elite effort, it’s gonna be hard to stop.”  Leading the pass rush will be a pair of linebackers: senior Nizaire Cromartie and sophomore Diego Fagot.  “It’s going to be a team that attacks but there’s also structure to it,” said Niumatalolo.  “it’s not reckless where you’re playing zero coverage and blitzing seven every down.”  The defensive line boasts plenty of experience, but in order for the multiple looks shown by the back eight to work they’ll need to produce better than last year’s pass rush.

Last year’s team was the most-traveled in FBS, venturing 26,496 miles for its six road games and two neutral tilts. And not all neutral games are created equally, as the Midshipmen faced Army in Philadelphia while heading to San Diego for their game against Notre Dame).  It’s a good thing that as they try to turn around the program, this fall’s slate is front-loaded with home dates: five of their first seven games will be at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, including their annual affair with Air Force.  “I think that’s big. As a team that’s young, just getting them on our field in front of our crowd early on,” Perry said. “I think that’s gonna help us rolling on into the season.”  A new twist on a longtime era begins August 31st in Annapolis against Holy Cross.

 

Dream Scenario- the Mids take advantage of the early schedule and find the offensive balance plus defensive upgrade they need. Perry develops into a dual threat and Navy beats both Air Force and Army while contending for an AAC West crown.  After a hiatus, they’re back bowling.

Nightmare Situation- Perry proves to be better suited for A-Back and foes familiar with the option gang up even more in the box.  The defense learns all of the pre-snap shenanigans don’t mean much once the ball is snapped.  Another losing season in Annapolis is punctuated by going 0-2 against Air Force and Army, meaning the senior class went winless in the big rivalry game.

 

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Even with Maryland no longer in the ACC, there’s still a little residual disgust in and around the district towards a private school located in Durham, NC.  And with all of the people who have moved to the Washington area who brought their Yankees and Cowboys fandom with them, there’s a healthy Duke contingent in the area.  Beltway basketball fans, prepare of two months of dread–because the Blue Devils are likely en route to Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s sixth National Championship, turning this into the Duke Decade (they beat Butler in 2010 and edged Wisconsin in 2015).

Duke may not currently be #1 in the nation;  Tennessee has held the top spot since the Blue Devils’ loss to Syracuse and as the Volunteers haven’t lost since, let’s just say pollsters can act in a glacial manner when it comes to moving teams up and down.  But the team to beat and as well as the one everyone is talking about is Coach K’s collection of NBA-in-waiting freshmen Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Tre Jones.  They remind me of the 1998-99 Duke team (Elton Brand) that went unbeaten in the ACC and finished 37-2, dropping an early-season game to Cincinnati (during an era when Bob Huggins had the Bearcats in the top ten annually) and the National Championship game to UConn (Rip Hamilton was just a little too much).  Every time that Duke team took the floor you weren’t thinking they would win–you were wondering if it would be a blowout.

This year’s team is 7-1 against ranked foes;  last Saturday they went to Charlottesville and out-executed a #3 Virginia team that out-executes everyone–with Williamson’s skying- blocked shot the highlight burned into our minds.  The Blue Devils then turned around and rallied from 23 down in the second half at #16 Louisville.  While they still have #8 North Carolina twice on their schedule and visit #22 Virginia Tech, those who dislike Duke (and there are a few out there) are feeling some discomfort.  Especially with this year’s Final Four in Minneapolis–the site of their 2001 championship where the Blue Devils rallied from 22 down to beat Maryland in the semifinals.

Alma Mater Update- one rough road loss for the Orange at NC State that felt similar to their home defeat to Florida State the week before.  Another rally from an early deficit…and then running out of gas in the second half before another double digit defeat.  The 8-4 start in ACC play is nice, but after taking this weekend off SU plays #16 Louisville, #2 Duke and #8 North Carolina over a seven day period.  Gulp…

Saturday’s Games:

#24 Maryland (19-6, 9-4 Big Ten) at #6 Michigan (22-3, 11-3), 12 p.m., FOX.  The Terps head to Ann Arbor after their most impressive win of the season:  they rallied from 11 down in the first half to beat #12 Purdue 70-56, holding the Boilermakers to 17% shooting after intermission.  The Wolverines?  Steaming from a loss at Penn State (previously 1-11 in league play)…much like Dr. David Banner, you don’t want to make coach John Beilein’s team angry.  But Michigan can be beaten on the boards (the Nittany Lions outrebounded them by ten) and no team is better on the glass in the Big Ten this winter than Maryland.

George Washington (7-17, 3-8 Atlantic  10) at Duquesne (16-9, 7-5), 12 p.m., NBCSN.  Both teams have been sliding down the standings over the last few weeks: while the Colonials have lost six of seven the Dukes have dropped four of six, losing all four games by six points or less.  GW’s descent began January 20th when they fell at home 91-85 in overtime to Duquesne;  Michael Hughes led the Dukes with a season-high 21 points while Colonials big man Javier Langarica had 19 that day.  Their two paths have diverged since:  Hughes is hitting 64% of his shots this month while Langarica has made just 13-of-33 attempts since that afternoon.

#4 Virginia (21-2, 9-2 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (13-11, 3-8), 2 p.m., ACC Network.  The Cavaliers bounced back in fine fashion from their home loss to #2 Duke by beating #8 North Carolina two days later in Chapel Hill to improve to 6-2 against top 25 teams (the two losses coming to the Blue Devils).  The Fighting Irish’ 0-5 mark against ranked foes this season includes January 26th’s 82-55 loss to UVa in South Bend.  How sharp were the Cavaliers?  They committed just a pair of turnovers.  Irish junior forward John Mooney is averaging a double-double but isn’t getting a ton of help:  ND ranks 14th in the ACC in field goal percentage and 13th in rebounding margin.

Navy (8-16, 5-8 Patriot League) vs. Army (12-14, 7-6), 2:30 p.m., CBSSN.  The Midshipmen are 4-2 in Annapolis during conference play thus far while the Black Knights have lost four of five.  But they did beat the Mids in West Point last month by 11 as Navy’s offensive issues (10th in the Patriot League in scoring and shooting) emerged when they were held to 18% from three-point range.  Tommy Funk had 22 points that day for Army; after a drought where he was held to single-digit scoring in four of six games the junior appears to have regained his swagger by netting 17 in Wednesday’s win over Boston University.

American (13-11, 7-6 Patriot League) vs. Colgate (16-10, 8-5), 4 p.m.  The difference between third and fourth place in the conference is a 73-69 win by the Raiders January 6th in Hamilton, NY.  Sophomore guard Jordan Burns tallied 18 points with 6 rebounds and 10 assists that afternoon;  an ankle injury sidelined him for five games and he’s just getting back into rhythm–scoring 9 points on 2-of-13 shooting over the Raiders’ last two games.  AU is coming off a heartbreaking 86-84 loss at Bender Arena to Loyola (MD) where they were outscored 17-6 over the final three minutes of regulation and the Greyhounds’ winning points came thanks to free throws with one second left.

Howard (12-13, 6-4 MEAC) vs. North Carolina A&T (13-11, 8-2), 4 p.m.  Two straight wins move the Bison into the upper half of the league as R.J. Cole is fresh off of a season-high 32 points at Bethune-Cookman.  While Cole leads the league in scoring (and is 30th in Division I) with 21.2 points per game, junior Charles Williams isn’t far behind at 18.8.  The Aggies are focused more on quality than on quantity, ranking seventh in scoring while leading the MEAC in field goal percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.  And they don’t have a player averaging even ten points per game.

VCU (18-6, 9-2 Atlantic 10) at Dayton (16-8, 8-3), 4 p.m., NBCSN.  Immovable object meets unstoppable force as the Rams allow the fewest points per game in the A-10 while the Flyers lead the league in scoring.  Defense prevailed in the January matchup as VCU won 76-71 as they held Dayton to one basket over the final four minutes of regulation.  Marcus Evans scored 17 points that night, including the Rams’ last seven points.  Flyers leading scorer Josh Cunningham scored 13–but is shooting 64% against VCU during his career.  Coach Mike Rhoades’ Rams are coming off of an 81-60 rout of Richmond that snapped a two game losing streak to the Spiders.

#12 Virginia Tech (19-5, 8-4 ACC) at Pitt (12-13, 2-10), 4:30 p.m., ACC Network.  The Hokies are one win shy of a fourth consecutive 20-win season, their longest such streak since the early 80’s against Charles Moir.  Coach Buzz Williams also knows they are less than a week removed from stubbing their toe at Clemson, and even though the Panthers have dropped eight straight let the record show their two conference wins have come against teams currently in the top 20 (Louisville and Florida State).  Tech remains the best three-point shooting team in the conference (42% from outside the arc) and is coming off a win over Georgia Tech where they notched 20 assists on 25 field goals.

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (15-10, 9-3 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (10-14, 6-5).  If you’re desiring a compelling conference race as the regular season winds down, look no further than the A-10:  one game separates first from fourth place and a half game is the difference between sixth and ninth.  The Patriots needed late-game heroics at home to put away La Salle (a 14-7 finishing kick) and UMass (down four with a minute left in regulation).  The Bonnies have won four of six, losing only to A-10 co-leaders VCU and Davidson.  Mason took the January meeting after outscoring St. Bonaventure 26-9 over the game’s final ten minutes.  Justin Kier notched 15 points and 14 rebounds in the win, one of his seven double doubles this season.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP:

Maryland may have the upcoming weekend off game-wise but they can’t escape what is beginning to settle in the world of college hoops: the dog days of the regular season where conference play is no longer new, yet the postseason feels a year away.  Under coach Mark Turgeon the Terps have been known for February fades: in his eight years at the helm, only the 2014-15 team posted a better record in the second half of conference play than the first (that wasn’t always the case as his last three teams at Texas A&M each had better marks in the second half of Big 12 play).  How does the coach plan to keep this team rested but not rusty?  “We’ll take a little more time off,” Turgeon said, “but when we get together we’ll practice hard.”  They could use a breather after a Big Ten schedule that gave them 10 games over a 31-day stretch between January 2nd and February 1st.  “We take care of our bodies–I think really do that on a high level,” sophomore forward Bruno Fernando said, “Even on our days off we’re coming in here trying to do recovery as much as we can.”

Things get lighter this month:  after Wednesday’s win at Nebraska, seven games remain over the final five weekends of the regular season.  “This is where teams fold or where teams get better,” said sophomore guard Darryl Morsell, “we don’t want to be the team that folds this year.”  Last year’s team lost seven of eight road games after the new year;  this year’s edition is 5-1 on the road since conference play resumed.  And they’ll have six days off before #15 Purdue comes to College Park next Tuesday.  “It gives us more time to watch film, which is what we really need,” Turgeon said, “and I think down the stretch we’ll probably do a little more with film than we will on the floor.”  After finishing the first half of Big Ten play 7-3, the Terps have won two of three.  They’ll have more time off, but after the Boilermakers come to Xfinity Center the Terps visit #7 Michigan and #20 Iowa.  One rough/ruff road, indeed.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange began Tuesday’s game with #22 Florida State by getting outscored 36-14, rallied to within one point of the Seminoles, and then was outscored 34-17 the rest of the way.  Suffice it to say this is one streaky team…and the Louisville-Duke-UNC gauntlet is a couple of weeks away.  Hopefully coach Jim Boeheim won’t be tossing his jacket Saturday when Boston College comes to the Carrier Dome.  Bring on the bubble once more…

 

Saturday’s Games:

Georgetown (15-8, 5-5 Big East) vs. Butler (13-10, 4-6), 12 p.m.,

The Hoyas are coming off of their first sweep of Providence since the conference realigned thanks to dominating the glass (a 50-33 rebounding advantage).  Road court advantage has held lately in this series:  the Hoyas have won three in a row at Hinkle Fieldhouse (where the rims remain ten feet above the court) while the Bulldogs have won three straight in DC.  Coach Patrick Ewing’s team shot 55% from three-point range in the two team’s meeting January 2nd–and that was a game they played minus Mac McClung.  Kamar Baldwin was the only Butler starter to score in double figures that night, and the junior lit up the Hoyas for 31 points the last time he came to Capital One Arena.  For the record, two years ago these two teams went to overtime in Washington–and last year’s game went to double-OT.  We politely ask that if you’re attending the game not to make an early dinner reservation.

#11 Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3 ACC) at Clemson (14-8, 4-5) 12 p.m., ESPN2.  The Hokies come a home loss to Louisville where they allowed more points in the first 13 minutes than they did in 40 minutes at NC State.  Seriously, the Wolfpack sent the game back to the 19th century by shooting 9-for-54 and resembling teams playing the cartoon Harlem Globetrotters. The Tigers’ win over Georgia Tech Wednesday was its first on the road in league play and their third straight–but before you start looking at first and second round NCAA sites, remember the Yellowjackets are 3-7 in league play and the other two wins in the streak have come against Pitt and Wake Forest (a combined 4-16 in the ACC).

American (12-10, 6-5 Patriot League) at Army (11-13, 6-5), 2 p.m.  Two of the league’s three 6-5 teams get to this point from opposite directions:  AU has won four of five while the Black Knights have dropped three straight.  Despite having the conference’s best rebounder in Matt Wilson (8.6 boards per game), Army ranks seventh in the league on the glass.  The Eagles received a nice boost from Patriot League Freshman of the Week Jacob Boonyasith last week, only to see the guard experience growing pains (2 points on 1-6 shooting in the loss at Navy) this week.

VCU (16-6, 7-2 Atlantic 10) at St. Bonaventure (9-13, 5-4), 2 p.m. CBSSN.  Double-digit wins over George Mason and George Washington put the Rams one game out of first place in the conference at the halfway mark;  unfortunately they won’t play league-leading Davidson again in the regular season (the Wildcats took the January matchup at Belk Arena).  The Bonnies have won three of four, but losing three players to graduation and three more to transfer have forced coach Mike Schmidt to lean on freshman Kyle Lofton big-time this winter (the guard’s 38 minutes per game leads the A-10).

Howard (10-13 4-4 MEAC) at Florida A&M (9-14, 6-2), 4 p.m.  The Bison take to the floor for the first time since blowing a 24-point lead to Norfolk State in an 80-78 loss that saw a postgame scuffle brew out of the handshake line.  Three players will be suspended: Princewill Anosike, Jalen Jones and Andre Toure-of which only Anosike averages over 15 minutes per game this season.  The Rattlers provide a metaphorical one-two punch in being the best three-point shooting team in the MEAC while also allowing the second-fewest points per game in the league.  They also beat Howard in DC by ten January 5th thanks in part to turning them over 20 times.

Navy (8-14, 5-6 Patriot League) at Lehigh (15-7, 8-3), 4:30 p.m.  Consecutive wins over Loyola (MD) and American take the Mids from flirting with last place to one game out of third in the conference.  The Mountain Hawks are coming off of a loss to Colgate where they turned the ball over 21 times.  Lehigh did take the January matchup in Annapolis as senior Lance Tejada hit five three-pointers en route to 22 points.  The Mids need to get Evan Wieck the ball more:  the junior leads the Patriot League in field goal percentage (.708) but takes under five shots per game.

#3 Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC) vs #2 Duke (20-2, 8-1), 6 p.m., ESPN.  The Cavaliers were done no favors when the league schedule their home game with the Blue Devils two days before a roadtrip to North Carolina.  The makeup call?  Seven days to prepare for Coach K’s crew.  The meeting in Durham saw the two teams combine to shoot 67% from inside the arc and 5-for-31 (16) from three-point range.  Can UVa find a way to contain Zion Williamson & RJ Barrett (the duo tallied 57 points on 21-of-35 shooting)?  And will point guard Ty Jerome’s back (he sat out the Miami win) be good enough for him to keep pace with the healthy Tre Jones (14 points and 5 assists per game since his return from injury)?

George Washington (7-15, 3-6 Atlantic 10) at Richmond (9-14, 3-7), 6 p.m.  Good news for those who enjoyed the A-10 Tournament at Capital One Arena last March- the league’s postseason tourney returns to DC in 2022.  Even with none of the local schools reaching the weekend it was a great five days, with just one blowout (naturally the late Friday 3-vs-6 Quarterfinal) and a thrilling Final (Davidson upsetting Rhode Island 58-57).  The January meeting between these two schools saw the Spiders win by 20.  While rebounding (Richmond held a 38-25 edge on the glass) was a major factor that day, the major mismatch between these schools is ball security:  GW ranks 12th in the league in turnover margin while the Spiders’ Jacob Gilyard leads the conference in steals.

Sunday’s Game:

George Mason (13-10, 7-3 Atlantic 10) vs La Salle (7-14, 5-4), 2 p.m.  The Explorers are attempting to be this year’s Richmond:  last winter the Spiders bounced back from a 2-10 non-conference mark to post a .500 record in league play and almost upset NCAA Tournament at large team St. Bonaventure in the Quarterfinals.  The Patriots are trying to avoid becoming this year’s VCU:  the Rams lost six of eight last February to finish without a winning record for the first time since they joined the A-10.  Mason’s coming off a disaster in Richmond where they turned the ball over 20 times and allowed 57% shooting.  La Salle has won four straight–but those victories have all come against the bottom four schools in the league.