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Navy QB Trey Miller's shaky play gives voice to doubters

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Not many college quarterbacks have faced the kind of immediate competition as Trey Miller has in his first three games as a starter at Navy.

The first two were against Notre Dame, as a sophomore last season when Miller replaced an injured Kriss Proctor for a 56-14 road loss in South Bend, Ind., and again this year as the No. 1 quarterback for a 50-10 season-opening loss to the Fighting Irish on Sept. 1 in Dublin.

Miller's third start came in last Saturday's 34-7 defeat at Penn State. Struggling for much of the first half, Miller was benched in favor of freshman Keenan Reynolds early in the third quarter after fumbling twice and throwing a red-zone interception, giving Miller five of his team's eight turnovers this season.

"There's no excuse for that [playing tough competition]; I've just got to play better," Miller said this week as Navy, 0-2 for the first time since 2005, prepared to meet Virginia Military Institute (1-2) on Saturday in Annapolis.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said his team's four turnovers and seven penalties, including a couple for false starts and delays of game, against Penn State were not all Miller's fault. Niumatalolo also made it clear that Miller, if healthy, is still his starting quarterback.

"You don't lose 50-10 and 34-7 because of one guy," Niumatalolo said after what he called a "bad practice" for the Midshipmen on Wednesday. "You take into account who we were playing, but he's definitely got to improve."

Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said during the preseason that he was working with Miller on becoming more vocal on the field than off, particularly in the huddle. Playing in two loud and hostile settings — three if you count Aviva Stadium in Ireland, where the crowd was also pro-Notre Dame — has not made things easy. Miller also suffered an ankle injury against the Fighting Irish.

"If you don't have the presence out on the field, that voice, you'd better let your play do the talking for you, and right now he's doing neither one," Jasper said of Miller this week. "It's up to me, I've got to get that out of him, that voice, that leadership — it's inside of the kid, without a doubt."

But if Miller and Navy's trademark rushing offense continue to struggle, Niumatalolo will likely have to consider making a change. The Midshipmen are ranked a pedestrian 41st in the country after not being out of the top six since Paul Johnson brought the triple option to Navy in 2002, including being No. 1 five times between 2003 and 2008.

Reynolds, a true freshman who chose Navy over Air Force, is considered a clear No. 2 option.

Asked whether he feels his starting job is in jeopardy, Miller, who has completed 20 of 32 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown said: "I've got to practice hard and perform better in the games. Coach [Niumatalolo] said that Keenan is right there. I've just got to keep playing."

Said Niumatalolo, "Right now we're going to stick with Trey. We feel he gives us the best chance to win."

With Reynolds continuing to show that he has been a quick study in grasping Navy's triple-option offense — he led the Midshipmen to their only scoring drive against the Nittany Lions — Niumatalolo and Jasper might have to consider going with the freshman from outside Nashville, Tenn.

"I don't think it's a matter of grasping the offense. He still struggles in certain areas, but it's just his poise, and his maturity — he's way ahead of most guys his age," Jasper said of Reynolds, who could become the first true freshman quarterback to start for Navy since the triple option was implemented in 2002.

Reynolds said he is more comfortable now than he was when he first arrived at the academy this summer or even in the season opener, when he briefly replaced Miller after the starter was fallen on awkwardly by a Notre Dame player.

"I felt last week against Penn State, once I got into a rhythm and got comfortable, it was just football," said Reynolds, who finished 4-for-5 passing for 44 yards rand rushed eight times for 32 yards. "It was the same way in the summer. It's not worrying about mistakes; it's doing what I've been taught by the coaches."

Reynolds is not thinking about starting — yet.

"As far as that's concerned, it's whatever's best for the team. Whoever gives the team the best chance to win is the person who needs to play," Reynolds said. "Whether or not I'm that person, I've still got to come out to keep working to become the best person."

Miller is not thinking about anything but helping the Midshipmen get their first victory of the 2012 season. Going from playing perennial powers —albeit ones with tarnished reputations — to the only Football Championship Subdivision team on Navy's schedule is of little concern to the quiet quarterback who grew up outside Atlanta.

"We can't take anything lightly; we're 0-2 ourselves. They're going to come to play — this is like a big challenge for them," Miller said. "They're an academy school just like us. We're Division I, they're Division I-AA. They're going to come fired up to play and we have to be on our game."

don.markus@baltsun.com

VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE (1-2) @ NAVY (0-2)

When: Today, 3:30 p.m.

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM

Series: Navy leads 8-0

Last meeting: Navy won, 37-10, on Aug. 30, 2003, in Annapolis

Navy offense vs. VMI defense: With the Keydets being Navy's only Football Championship Subdivision opponent this season, the Midshipmen won't be nearly as overmatched on the offensive line as they were against Notre Dame and Penn State. It should give junior quarterback Trey Miller, who has struggled mightily with the exception of one or two series in each of the first two games, more time to make the right reads in the triple option. In the past, Navy has been able to get its slotbacks into space for big plays, particularly against FCS teams. That should again be the case today for senior slotback Gee Gee Greene, who is averaging 9.4 yards a carry and scored Navy's only touchdown against the Nittany Lions.

Navy defense vs. VMI offense: The Midshipmen have been mauled on the ground by Notre Dame and passed over by Penn State; they've given up more than 415 yards and 42 points a game. Navy already has seven players with double-digit tackles, led by senior linebacker Brye French and sophomore cornerback Parrish Gaines with 13 each, though Gaines had 12 of them against the Fighting Irish and was burned for two of Allen Robinson's three touchdown catches last week. Freshman cornerback Quincy Adams had an impressive debut start against Penn State in place of injured Jonathan Wev (concussion). Adams had five tackles and broke up two passes, coming close to an interception. With the Midshipmen still having problems stopping opposing passers (118th in pass-efficiency defense), look for VMI quarterback Eric Kordenbrock to come out slinging.

Don Markus

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