NCF Nation: Matt Molloy

Navy has become the 'Cardiac Mids'

October, 21, 2010
If Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has sprouted a few gray hairs, or even ripped out a few, you could hardly blame him.

Navy (4-2) has taken on a life as the “Cardiac Mids” as it goes into its big game against Notre Dame (4-3) on Saturday, living on the line between barely winning and barely losing.

[+] EnlargeKen Niumatalolo
AP Photo/Rob CarrLast-minute finishes have become the norm for Navy and coach Ken Niumatalolo this season.
Five of Navy’s six games this year have been decided by eight points or less. In three of its four wins, the Midshipmen overcame halftime deficits. In its two losses, Navy was a few plays away from turning them into wins.

“We feel like we’re three plays away from being undefeated,” Niumatalolo said in a phone interview. “It seems like every week we go through this.”

He cites a failed rush on fourth-and-goal late in a 17-14 loss to Maryland as one of those plays. Navy had a blocked punt that Maryland converted into a touchdown, and a holding call that negated a run down to the 1 in a 14-6 loss to Air Force.

That was a particularly devastating loss, considering the ramifications. Navy had won seven straight against Air Force, and seven straight Commander-In-Chief Trophies. The loss gives Air Force a leg up in the competition for the trophy, but both teams still have to play Army.

Niumatalolo had no idea how his team would respond to the loss, and had no idea what he would say when he gathered the players for a team meeting the following Monday.

“I had some thoughts prepared, but the captains had already had a team meeting, and they told the team, ‘We have so much to play for. We’re not going to let that loss destroy the rest of our season,’ ” he said.

Navy has won two straight since that loss, though neither win came easily. In a 28-27 triumph against Wake Forest, Ricky Dobbs threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jones with 26 seconds remaining after trailing 17-14 at halftime.

Then last week, Navy dug itself a 14-0 hole at the break before rallying to beat SMU28-21.

“The drive and determination that we have offensively and defensively -- the never die, never quit mentality we have – is what makes the difference,” Dobbs said. “We know we have to finish strong.”

Of course, Navy would love to get out to quicker starts to begin games. Dobbs has taken responsibility for much of the offensive struggles this season because he has not been playing at the level he did in 2009. After setting an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback last season with 27, Dobbs only has five rushing touchdowns this season and is averaging a career-low 2.9 yards a carry.

There are several reasons for that. First, Dobbs says he pressed early because he felt the responsibility to lead this offense, and the pressure that comes along with the high expectations placed on his shoulders. Second, teams began keying in on him, forcing him to reluctantly pitch the ball out. Third, he tweaked his ankle in the opener and dealt with a groin injury, too.

Niumatalolo said he takes some blame for what has happened to Dobbs as well. Dobbs sat out spring practice because of knee surgery, and the team limited his contact during fall practice.

Ricky Dobbs
Mark Goldman/Icon SMINavy QB Ricky Dobbs is playing better after working through some injuries early in the season.
“We put a bubble around him so to speak,” Niumatalolo said. “We tried to simulate ball security as much as we could with guys trying to rip at it. You don’t want your quarterback to get hit, but when he got hit in the Maryland game, it was the first time he got hits since December. I feel like I could have done more things to help him coming back.”

Niumatalolo and Dobbs both say the quarterback is playing more like the Dobbs we saw last season because he has stopped pressing and is having more fun. Dobbs also says he feels as healthy as he did going into the season.

“I feel things are coming together. I just have to calm down and not overthink things, let the game come to me,” Dobbs said. “If f I’m having fun, then the sky’s the limit for this whole offense. They can feel my energy and my drive and they can fly off that, too.”

Navy also has done a good job overcoming injuries to many of its starters. Right tackle Matt Molloy (concussions), nose guard Shane Bothel (toe) and receiver Mike Schupp (knee) are out, while fullback Vince Murray (knee) is questionable and safety Emmett Merchant (concussion) is doubtful for the game. Kicker Joe Buckley (leg) is also out after getting hurt last week against SMU on the final extra-point attempt of the game.

Despite some big losses, Navy has had players step up. Alexander Teich, a former starter himself, replaced Murray and had the best game of his career against SMU, rushing for a career-high 95 yards and two touchdowns. His 4-yard touchdown run with 1:38 remaining won the game.

Navy will need big games from Dobbs and Teich to have a shot Saturday. But the way things have gone this season, make sure not to miss the fourth quarter.

That has proven to be must-see TV.

Lunchtime Links

October, 6, 2010
Troy beat Middle Tennessee 42-13 on Tuesday night. Who wants a little more mid-week football? UAB-UCF is on tap tonight.

Now on to some links:

Middle Tennessee defensive tackle Dwight Smith played with a heavy heart, after losing his mother and grandmother in the last week.

The Boise State defensive line is dominating.

Back-to-back shutouts for TCU would show some style.

SMU linebacker Ja'Gared Davis has become a big hit in the 3-4 defense.

Chase Blaine will make his first collegiate start Saturday for North Texas, but Riley Dodge is putting off surgery on his broken wrist and could be available as a backup.

New Mexico State could be without starting quarterback Matt Christian on Saturday because of a shoulder injury.

Is Temple-Northern Illinois a MAC title game preview?

Navy RT Matt Molloy is out for the season after sustaining another concussion last week against Air Force.

Marshall has struggled with the new spread offense.

Lunchtime Links

September, 16, 2010
Can you smell what the Rock is cookin' up for tomorrow in Hattiesburg?

Southern Miss expects to get three players back on offense for Friday night's game against Kansas.

Since the SWC broke up, Baylor has scuffled and TCU has blossomed. The two meet this Saturday.

Chaz Walker goes from walk-on to top tackler at Utah.

Just who is Houston backup quarterback Cotton Turner?

Members of Nevada's 1945 team recall a memorable loss to California.

Bowling Green is making changes to its offensive line.

Navy RT Matt Molloy is out indefinitely after sustaining the fifth concussion of his football career. He is deciding whether or not to risk playing again.

Army quarterback Trent Steelman will be able to play against North Texas after injuring his shoulder last week.

Tulsa running back Trey Watts, son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts, is succeeding for the Golden Hurricane.

There is no bye week for homework for the Hawaii football team, as it nears the end of a 13-day road trip.

UNLV continues to honor linebacker Bryce Saldi, who suffered a serious brain injury in a skateboarding accident last year.

Other conference links:


Big 12

Big East

Big Ten