Winning streak silences doubts about Niumatalolo

The Baltimore Sun

The rumblings were palpable in Annapolis. When Navy started 1-2 under first-year coach Ken Niumatalolo and faced the prospect of playing the toughest three-game stretch of its season, there was legitimate concern that the Midshipmen were in for a long year.

Many pointed to the transition in the coaching staff after Paul Johnson left in December for Georgia Tech, others to the fact that quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada was in and mostly out of the lineup with a hamstring injury.

Some even wondered whether Niumatalolo was too nice a guy to be a head coach.

The rumblings have ceased.

A three-game winning streak, including back-to-back road victories against then-No. 16 Wake Forest and Saturday against Air Force, have given the Midshipmen (4-2) a huge amount of momentum going into a three-game homestand that begins a week from Saturday against No. 24 Pittsburgh.

Here's a look at how the 2008 season has gone for the Midshipmen:

Best win: : While the 24-17 victory in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Sept. 27 gave Navy national recognition, Saturday's 33-27 win at in Colorado Springs all but gave the Midshipmen their sixth straight Commander in Chief's Trophy, barring Army beating both Air Force and Navy.

Worst loss: : It's hard to call a 10-point defeat Sept. 13 in Durham, N.C., to a much-improved Duke team a disaster, but it's the only candidate because Navy's other loss was to still-unbeaten Ball State, which this week is nationally ranked for the first time in school history.

Biggest surprise: : The overall play of the defense. After being near the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision in several categories last season as well as the first three weeks of this season, the defense has forced 10 turnovers the past three weeks, including six against Wake Forest.

Biggest disappointment: : The inability of the offense to maintain any consistency. The absence of Kaheaku-Enhada for more than half of the first six games has turned slotback Shun White from the nation's leading rusher into an afterthought, as evidenced by his three carries for 5 yards against the Falcons.

Most valuable player, offense:: It's not even close. Without senior fullback Eric Kettani, who rushed for career highs in wins over Rutgers and Wake Forest, Navy's record would likely be 2-4. Kettani didn't have big numbers at Air Force, but he made two significant plays to secure the win.

Most valuable player, defense: : Junior linebacker Ross Pospisil's late interception sealed the win over Rutgers, his early interception set the tone against Wake Forest and his fumble recovery against Air Force helped give the Midshipmen the lead early in the second half. Honorable mention goes to sophomore safety Wyatt Middleton, who had an interception at Wake Forest and forced a fumble at Air Force.

Best play: : It depends on which is Navy's best win. If it's Wake Forest, then it's Kettani's 57-yard run from deep in Demon Deacons territory that set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Jarod Bryant to put the game away. If it's Air Force, then it's Blake Carter blocking a punt that Bobby Doyle fell on in the end zone to put the Midshipmen up by 13 in the fourth quarter.

Second-half outlook: : Much depends on Kaheaku-Enhada's return to health. But considering that Navy has only one true road game remaining (Nov. 25 at Northern Illinois), and four of the six games are against teams with losing records, Niumatalolo has a chance to be the most successful first-year coach in modern Navy history. Rumblings, what rumblings?


Oct. 18, 3:30 p.m.

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