Penn State will face a service academy for the first time in 33 years. It'll be the first meeting with Navy since 1974, a 7-6 victory for the Midshipmen. None of the big three military academies have played Penn State more than Navy, going all the way back to 1894 (a 6-6 tie), though only two games prior to 1955 were hosted in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Navy was the powerhouse. Penn State was the farm college used to fill Navy's schedule with a decent, but beatable opponent.
Things are a bit different now, as both teams prepare for what should be a charged atmosphere in Beaver Stadium on Sept. 15. The game received a somewhat surprising 3:30 p.m. kickoff time, meaning at least a million (or more) eyes will be on the Nittany Lions vs the Midshipmen.
That's all great, but what about the state of Navy football this summer? Funny you should ask, because that's why we're here! In today's snapshot, you'll get a quick breakdown of the Navy program as it inches toward the season opener on Sept. 1 (vs Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland), and a brief background on where it's come from in recent seasons.
Join me below the fold for more on Navy football 2012...The Past Few Seasons in Annapolis...
Following Paul Johnson's departure for the Georgia Tech job, Ken Niumatalolo led his Midshipmen to a 27-13 record in three seasons. It wasn't much of a change, as Johnson's teams went to eight straight bowl games starting in 2003. Before Johnson, however, Navy football wasn't much of a threat nationally as it was in its glory days around World War II. It enjoyed a nice resurgence of sorts under head coach George Welsh (PSU asst. coach; UVA HC after Navy), but couldn't jump back to the elite status it once enjoyed.
This past season, Navy suffered through its first losing campaign (5-7) in almost a decade (2-10 in '02). Much of it had to do with a drop off in talent, combined with a very strong schedule that included Notre Dame, Rutgers, South Carolina and SMU. Navy did have the benefit of an experienced offensive line last season, but inexperience was all over the depth chart, with just 10 returning starters.
Navy returns about 13 starters this year, with at least seven of them on the defense. The biggest benefit will be on that side of the ball, where three of four linebackers hold their starting roles from last year, and all four in the secondary are back. Bill Connelly at SBNation.com broke down the Navy defense like this:
For Navy, the underdog defense of choice is a good, old-fashioned 3-4. When the Midshipmen were racking up 19 wins in 2009-10, they were doing so with a batch of tackling-machine linebackers, an efficient run defense and picture perfect safety play. Last year, they had almost none of that.
The Navy defense could very well carry the team for a while this season, but that doesn't mean the offense won't play a part in what should be a decent-to-good record. Trey Miller returns as starting quarterback after taking over mid-season for an injured Kriss Proctor. Miller is a much better passer than Proctor, while still very capable at running the flexbone. Since Navy returns both wide receivers and both slot backs, Miller might have a surprisingly balanced stat sheet this fall. Of course, to get a better feel for the Navy offense, we turn to Chris Brown of Smart Football:
Navy and Air Force in particular have taken the base "flexbone" set, which has a back lined up behind the quarterback — the "B" back — and to each side a split wide receiver and a wing player, each an "A" back. Most plays start with one of the A backs going in motion and the triple-option sequence begins: The quarterback can hand it off on a dive up the middle, take it around end himself, or begin to take it and pitch it to one of the A backs. The beauty of the option is not just the reads, but the advantage reading players gives the offense. By reading certain defenders instead of blocking them, the offensive line and any other blocker can double-team and generally wreak havoc on the rest of the defense, thus creating lots of space and running room.
The schedule sets up for a rough start, but doable finish. Kicking off the season 3,100 miles from home, the Midshipmen will face Notre Dame in the Emerald Isle Classic. Upon returning home, Navy must prepare for the always difficult road trip to Beaver Stadium. However, only a trip to East Carolina should give the Midshipmen a tough game. That's not to say Navy is a lock for 9-3 this season, but it's a good baseline to predict the 2012 Navy football campaign.
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