Thursday, September 04, 2008

Cardinal Preview: Navy


Our second weekend of college football gets started with a bang on Friday, as the WorldWide Leader makes a trip to Muncie for the Cardinals and Midshipmen. The Friday night kickoff is good for exposure for both teams, as this game wouldn't likely be televised were it held on a Saturday.

It is ESPN's first trip to Funcie, and Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman will be in the booth. Not a stellar crew, not a terrible one. Ball State's players, fans, and supporters have been begging to be taken seriously on a national level. Winning a game against a notable opponent on national television will go a long way to that goal.

It's challenging to make a prediction on this game, as it's unknown how either team will fare against a quality opponent. Navy opened their 2008 campaign against Towson, Ball State against Northeastern. Because the level of their opponents' talent is virtually the same, as well as non-existent, there really isn't much quality info to be gained, except what we already know.... Navy sure does run the ball well, and Nate Davis is a good passer. Not helpful.

Last year's game in Annapolis was wrought with excitement and dramatics, as Ball State pushed the Middies to overtime on a blocked field goal by former Marine Brandon Crawford. The record for the series stands at 2-0 in favor of the Cardinals, and this is the first trip by Navy to Ball State, as well as their first game in the Hoosier state when not playing Notre Dame since 1986 (Ed. note: Thanks commenter!).

The Basics
Ball State University
Location: Muncie, IN
Record: (1-0) (0-0)
Last Week: W, Northeastern, 48-14

The United States Naval Academy
Location: Annapolis, MD
Record: (1-0)
Conference: Independent
Last Week: W, Towson, 41-13

The Offense: I have said it before, I will say it again... there is no team in the country who runs the triple option better than the Navy Midshipmen. It's their bread and butter, what they made famous, and there is nothing harder to prepare for. Few teams run it, fewer teams run it well. It's a high-risk, high-reward sort of style, as a misstep or a botched pitch can very easily lead to fumbles or tackles for loss. The reward was evident against Towson last Saturday, as the Middies racked up 558 yards of rushing offense, including 348 yards by Shun White to go with his 3 TDs.

The good news for the Cardinals is starting Navy QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada is out for this game with a hamstring injury, leaving Jarod Bryant under center. Bryant is smaller, a converted wide-out in the spring who is now back under center, who will be making only his third career start at QB. Against Towson, the senior looked strong on the ground, rushing for 75 yards and a TD. He threw a TD pass also, one of only 4 passes he attempted. Again though, everything in moderation as these stats were accumulated against basically a high-school level team.

For the Cardinals, it's a similar story. Good showing last week against Northeastern, but everything for the Cardinals rests on Nate Davis and to a lesser extent, his large target of Dante Love. What often flies under the radar for the Cardinals is their ground attack, as many forget about MiQuale Lewis, who recorded his first career 100-yard game last year against Navy. Expect the Cardinals to throw it often, early, and all over the field, as they should be able to have a field day with this Navy defense, which gave up 330 yards through the air to Towson.
Advantage: In the battle of air versus ground, give me the air.

The Defense: To be truthful, neither of these teams are exceptional on the defensive side of the ball. This game might very well come down to which defense plays just good enough to win. With the offensive side of the ball so heavily loaded for both sides, neither defense needs a herculean effort. Of most concern to me is the favorable height advantage Navy enjoys over Dante Love. At 5-10, Love will be at a disadvantage regardless of the cornerback he lines up against, as Rashawn King and Kevin Edwards are 6-0 and 6-2 respectively. That means Davis has to be accurate, on time, and mistake-free. Which he is capable of being. I would laud this Navy defense as the clear-cut favorite were it not for the gashing that they received last week from Towson.

On the defensive side of the ball for the Cardinals, their scheme and personnel gives them hope against the triple option. By playing a 3-4, with linebackers who are quick, but small, the Cardinals should maximize their lateral movement and be able to defend better. With many returners who faced this offense last year, the Cardinals will give up yardage but should be able to at least salvage a serviceable defensive attack, and a marked improvement on last year's 524 yards allowed.
Advantage: Push

The Special Teams: Last year's game basically came down to a special teams play, as Ball State blocked a Navy field goal to force overtime. The Cardinals struggled with special teams play against Notheastern, incurring two penalties on kickoffs. Punter Chris Miller gives the Cards a weapon should they be forced to punt. Navy's placekicker Matt Harmon has a strong leg, but has consistently bounced back and forth as the starter. This is his first season as a full-time starter.
Advantage: Push

Coaching: Ball State's Brady Hoke is making large things happen in Muncie. While his record isn't stellar, at 23-37, it is clear to most that Hoke is turning the corner in Muncie. He gets maximum effort from his teams, and they play up to their level of competition as evidenced by their performance against Nebraska and Michigan.

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo is entering his third game as Navy's head man, but the transition will be easy, as he has been an assistant on the staff since 1995, save for a three-year stint at UNLV from 1999 - 2001. Niumatalolo has promise, but is unproven, a microcosm of his team.

Intangibles: It's a home game for Ball State, a large crowd is probable, and ESPN is in attendance. This is being looked at as a potential coming out party for Ball State. Factoring in the experience and confidence this team gained last year after a victory at Navy will help the mental game for Ball State. Believing they can win is a large first step to making it happen, and this is something Ball State teams in years past never could get. Something to watch for is the weather, as Tropical Storm Gustav's remnants make their way through central Indiana. Most recent forecasts have the rain coming early on Friday, and out of the way for kickoff.
Advantage: Push

Famous Alumni:
Ball State: David Letterman, Papa John, Jason Whitlock, Bonzi Wells, Garfield the cat's creator, yours truly
Navy: Alan Shepard, President Jimmy Carter, Ross Perot, Roger Staubach, David Robinson, John McCain, Montel Williams
Advantage: By a wide wide wide margin...

Overall: The game itself will be a fun game to watch, that I can promise you. You'll see one of the best QBs in the game in Nate Davis, and a team that runs the option like poetry in motion. The Ball State offense will score, and will score plenty and often. The key to this game rests in the defense's hands. A stout effort and it's an easy win. Should Navy make progress against BSU like they did against Towson, it will be a long night for the Cardinals at Scheumann Stadium.
Prediction: Ball State 44 Navy 35


midwatchcowboy said...

Nice preview, and I generally agree with your assessments except for the final score of course.

Couple of corrections:
I was in Bloomington when a bad Navy team lost to IU in 1986.

Bryant has always been the backup QB. He not only came in against you last year, fumbling in OT. But he gave us a dramatic 10pt come from behind win vs. Duke and a solid start dismantling Northern Illinois. But when it appeared he would never beat out Kaipo for the job, the coaches decided to shift him to slot back. Bryant, a former Mr. Football in Alabama, practiced as slot back during the spring, and until Kaipo got injured this summer would have given us a terrific backfield. Kaipo at QB, Bryant and White (348 yds) at slot back and Kettani (leading rusher 2007) at FB.

Navy D adjusted very well in the second half vs. Towson (~100yds passing, 0 pts). Granted, not the same caliber as you guys.

I think the game will come down to whether the Navy D can take away the run game this year. Last year you ran all over us, which made things much easier for Nate. We never came close to hurrying him.

Good game.

Brewdog said...

Well I am for sure going to watch if there's going to be 79 points!

Nick Kline said...

I think your alumni thing is a slight against Bonzi Wells... Arguably one of the best players in NBA Live history! Brother could hit the longball like crazy! Chicks did the longball.