Navy doesn't want to play flag football against W. Kentucky

After his football team opened the 2011 season with a 40-17 win over Delaware last Saturday in Annapolis, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was beaming.

Niumatalolo could not have been more proud of a quarterback, senior Kriss Proctor, who rushed for 176 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in taking over after the graduation of Ricky Dobbs.The fourth-year coach also praised his defense, with nine new starters, for making a team that reached the championship game of the Football Championship Subdivision last season look ordinary.

And he joked about letting senior place-kicker Jon Teague try a wind-aided 54-yard field goal right before halftime, which Teague made with 1 or 2 yards to spare to set a school record.

But the number that stood out the most to Niumatalolo and his Midshipmen was a zero. Navy did not incur a single penalty. As things turned out on the sport's opening weekend, only Illinois could claim the same achievement among Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Navy also had only one turnover, when Proctor was intercepted in the third quarter.

"You've got to do that for us to have a chance," Niumatalolo said after the game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. "We can't turn the ball over; we can't beat ourselves. That's always been our MO. It's hard enough to beat other teams, much less if you're beating yourselves."

Said inside linebacker Matt Warrick: "I think for us, we have to play like a perfect game penalty-wise to give us a chance. It was huge for us to keep the momentum on our side."

That Navy didn't have any penalties for only the second time since the 2002 game against Army — the Midshipmen also did it last season in their victory over Notre Dame — was a bit surprising. It was the first game since last year's starting quarterback graduated. It was also the first start for as many as 10 players.

But given what the Midshipmen have done during their first three years under Niumatalolo, it should not be a shock. After finishing second in the country in having the fewest penalties a game and fewest penalty yards in 2008, the Midshipmen were first in both categories in 2009. A year ago, Navy finished No. 1 in the country in 2010 in fewest penalty yards per game and second in number of penalties assessed.

Navy (1-0) will be seeking similar perfection tonight at 6 when the Midshipmen play at Western Kentucky (0-1).

Niumatalolo had been on his players at practice leading up to the Delaware game because of their lack of focus and intensity, but against the Blue Hens the Midshipmen seemed to click from the moment Proctor broke off a 75-yard touchdown run on his team's second play from scrimmage.

Asked Wednesday about the fact that no penalties were committed in the opener, Niumatalolo couldn't point to a single factor.

"Some of it is luck, some of our guys played well," he said. "You try your best as a coaching staff to make sure your guys are dialed in, make sure they do their assignments. You never know what's going to happen in a game. Fortunately we've been OK in that field the last couple of years. But that definitely helped us, because that's a good football team. I was pleased that we played that well from a penalty standpoint."

Conversely, the Blue Hens were penalized five times for 45 yards, including a 15-yard personal foul for hitting Proctor after he had gone out of bounds. It came on third-and-8 from the Navy 47 with the Midshipmen leading 19-7 in the third quarter. It helped Navy sustain a drive that ended with a 27-yard touchdown run by Proctor.

In a 14-3 loss to Kentucky, Western Kentucky was penalized 12 times for 120 yards.

Defensive line coach Dale Pehrson's unit was playing with two new starters in sophomores Jamel Dobbs and Alex Doolittle, who was in because senior Jared Marks had been suspended for a game for violating team rules. They were aggressive in following the lead of senior Jabaree Tuani but never jumped offside.

"We're a little bit of a bend-don't-break defense and you can't give things away if you're going to play that kind of defense," Pehrson said. "It's really critical. Not only the yardage, but there's a mentality of 'What have we done?' [by committing a penalty]. It sort of snowballs. To not have a penalty, to keep the focus, it's critical. It's hard to get 5 yards, and it's hard keeping them from getting 5 yards."

Said junior inside linebacker Matt Brewer, who in his first start and basically his first snaps on defense led the Midshipmen with seven tackles: "You want to play with discipline and not make mistakes. To see that hard work pay off and translating into a game gives us the confidence that we can do this."

Tonight's game NAVY (1-0) @ WESTERN KENTUCKY (0-1)

Time: 6 p.m.

Online: ESPN3

Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM

Series: Navy leads 1-0

Last meeting: Navy won, 38-22, on Sept. 26, 2009, in Annapolis

Navy offense vs. Western Kentucky defense: Kriss Proctor tore through the Delaware defense for 176 yards and three touchdowns, and also had his first career passing touchdown on a neatly executed stop-action. The Hilltoppers held Kentucky to 93 yards on 33 carries and intercepted the Wildcats three times while holding them to 97 yards in the air on seven-of-18 passing. Given that the school is located only 15 miles from The Hermitage, it's appropriate that the defense is led by Andrew Jackson, who had a team-high 12 tackles.

Navy defense vs. Western Kentucky offense: The Midshipmen had one interception, by senior safety Kwesi Mitchell, and forced two fumbles, both by junior linebacker Matt Brewer, against Delaware. A week after Andrew Pierce rushed for 119 yards on 20 carries for Delaware, the defense will have a similar challenge in containing Bobby Rainey, who has a streak of six straight games with at least 100 yards dating to last season.

Don Markus

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