Ken Niumatalolo was a redshirt freshman quarterback at the University of Hawaii in 1983 when he crossed paths with June Jones, then in his first year coaching quarterbacks after his five-year NFL career had ended.
The relationship was brief, as Jones left after that season on a well-traveled road that led to head coaching stints in the NFL and a return to Hawaii as its head coach in 1999. But the impression Jones made on Niumatalolo was lasting.
"I don't remember much from my freshman year back in '83, but I do remember he's a very smart man," Niumatalolo said of Jones. "He knows his stuff. He's a very good football coach. You've just got to look at his record. He's done some great things."
They will meet again today in Annapolis when Niumatalolo, in his first season as Navy's head coach, will face Jones, in his first season as coach at Southern Methodist.
Along with resurrecting a Hawaii program that had lost 18 straight games before he returned, ultimately taking the unbeaten Warriors to last season's Sugar Bowl, Jones is known for a prolific run-and-shoot offense that he learned from its innovator, Mouse Davis, at Portland State.
Jones is still using principles of the offense with the Mustangs, who have lost seven of their first eight games. Despite the results, including 18 interceptions by freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, the most in the nation, the offense is making strides, according to Jones.
"When you start an 18-year-old true freshman to play Division I football, you're going to live through mistakes that he's made. He's gotten better and better every week," Jones said of Mitchell, who has also thrown 21 touchdowns for 2,277 yards while completing 180 of 302 passes.
Although he isn't yet comparing Mitchell to his two most recent Hawaii quarterbacks, Heisman Trophy candidates Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan, Jones sees some similarities between what he found at SMU and Hawaii.
"We're in a position where we're trying to build a foundation; we're going there to try our best to try to get a win," Jones said. "At this point when you're as young as we are - we have 71 freshmen or redshirt freshmen on our 100-man list - we're just trying to teach them the principles of how to win."
Playing the Midshipmen will certainly present a challenge, particularly for a defense ranked next to last in yardage allowed among 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
"I don't think anybody who plays Navy plays anything similar," Jones said. "The key to why Kenny and [former coach] Paul Johnson are successful, the pieces always change, but their production stays pretty high because they know what to do on game day. When they see how you're defending them, they know what to go to."
The Midshipmen will likely not have to make that many adjustments defensively. They know the Mustangs will pass a lot more than they will run, even when they are trying to protect a lead. Last week, SMU led the entire game before giving up two touchdowns in the last 2:34 to lose to Houston, 44-38.
"They struggled at the beginning of the year and they've gotten better every game," Navy linebacker Clint Sovie said. "They're going to come in here ready to roll. They're just waiting for that breakout game; hopefully, this week isn't it."
Niumatalolo is trying to prevent that from happening. After Navy (4-3) sustained its worst loss of the season, a 42-21 spanking from Pittsburgh last week, Niumatalolo is not concerned about his team coming into Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium overconfident.
"We are a team that if we are playing Severna Park, we got to be ready to go," Niumatalolo said. "Every week we've got to strap it on. We cannot forget who we are, and that's been part of our success in the past. Hopefully that doesn't happen."
Notes: : Senior Jarod Bryant will start again at quarterback for the Midshipmen. Though Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada did participate in individual drills at practice this week, it appears as if he will continue to sit out because of a hamstring injury and try to return for the last three games, against Notre Dame (Nov. 15), Northern Illinois (Nov. 25) and Army (Dec. 6).
Matchup: Southern Methodist (1-7)
at Navy (4-3)
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
TV: CBS College Sports Network
Radio: 1090 AM
Line: Navy by 12
Series: SMU leads 7-5.
Last meeting: Navy won, 38-7, on Aug. 31, 2002, at SMU.
Navy offense vs. SMU defense: The Midshipmen have struggled offensively since Jarod Bryant took over for an injured Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada at quarterback. In 2 1/2 games since Kaheaku-Enhada reinjured his hamstring, the offense has only two drives longer than 60 yards that produced touchdowns, and both included long runs to set up the scores. Bryant has lost four of eight fumbles this season and has fumbled four times in the past two games. The Mustangs could prove to be the perfect antidote for Navy's recent troubles, giving up just more than 500 yards a game, ranking 118th of 119 among Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
Navy defense vs. SMU offense: The Midshipmen have been hurt by teams with balanced attacks, and the Mustangs are far from balanced. Freshman QB Bo Levi Mitchell has thrown for 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, the most in the nation. His two main targets are Emmanuel Sanders (59 catches for 823 yards and eight TDs) and Aldrick Robinson (46 catches for 909 yards and 10 TDs). The Mustangs rank next to last in rushing with a little more than 50 yards a game. The Midshipmen have as many interceptions (10) as they did a year ago, including one that Rashawn King returned 91 yards last week against Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Navy 35, SMU 17