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No safety net this season for Navy with Mitchell

The play — a 54-yard touchdown pass from Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees to wide receiver Michael Floyd — helped turn a one-touchdown deficit for Navy into a 56-14 loss. Floyd, a talented junior who many expect to be a high pick in the NFL draft, burned Parrish Gaines, a freshman cornerback making his first college start.

But the Navy player who took the heat, and ultimately the responsibility, for the second-quarter play last Saturday in South Bend, Ind., was senior safety Kwesi Mitchell. He started feeling it the moment he returned to the sideline at Notre Dame Stadium — and will likely still be thinking about it going into Saturday's Senior Day game against Troy at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Though Mitchell is supposed to have short-term memory isses when it comes to plays such as that, it's hard when there has seemingly been one every week during his team's six-game losing streak.

A 52-yard touchdown pass from Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson to Ty MacArthur on the opening possession. A 77-yard pass from Southern Mississippi's Austin Davis to Ryan Ballentine on third-and-7 from the 4-yard line in the first quarter of a 63-35 Golden Eagles rout. East Carolina's Dominique Davis completing the first 26 passes he threw. And, finally, Rees to Floyd.

Not all of them were Mitchell's fault, but as the lone senior in what has become a young secondary — true freshman Chris Ferguson now also starts at safety — Mitchell knows that defensive coordinator Buddy Green and secondary coach Keith Jones expect him not to make mental mistakes such as the one that happened against the Fighting Irish.

"Coach Green says every week, the win starts in this room [with the defense]," Mitchell said after practice Wednesday night in Annapolis. "No matter what happens underneath, we have to be that line of defense that doesn't break, doesn't fold. We haven't been doing that, and it shows."

The longest losing streak in nine years and being a key player in one of the worst pass defenses in the country have been especially difficult for Mitchell, who in his first three years at Navy (2-6) had never been part of a team that had won fewer than eight games and had, for the most part, been part of a solid defense.

"This has been tough to swallow, especially it being my senior season," said Mitchell, who also played on a high school team in Hoover, Ala., that won two state championships in three years and was featured on the reality show "Two-A-Days." "Every senior wants to go out at your best, no matter what program. … I wish I had performed better up to this point."

Mitchell, who played safety in high school, was moved to that position last spring after the graduation of Wyatt Middleton. Mitchell had one start there last season and 12 at cornerback. Mitchell was initially teamed with converted sophomore wide receiver Shawn Lynch, who was demoted after the losses to South Carolina, Air Force and Southern Mississippi.

"We expect a lot more out of them. He's the only senior back there, and maybe he puts a lot of pressure on himself," Jones said. "We just want him to play. Just play."

That is what Mitchell did early in the season, when he had interceptions in two of the team's first three games, against Delaware and against then-No. 10 South Carolina. Calling the mistake Mitchell made against Notre Dame "a mental bust," Jones is still not clear about what happened.

"As far as why he did it, you'll have to ask him," Jones said. "He made a mistake. I know he knows why, it just happened that way."

Green had called a cover-2 defense on the play that resulted in Notre Dame's longest pass from scrimmage this season. Mitchell was supposed to be at the back end, behind Gaines, with the idea of batting away or even intercepting if the pass went deep to Floyd.

Instead, Mitchell followed one of Notre Dame's tight ends and was some 15 to 20 yards away from where he was supposed to be.

"I just wasn't reading my keys. That's what Coach Green harps on. I just didn't do my job," Mitchell said. "I didn't look to Floyd. If I had seen him, I think I would have been in a perfect position. As a senior defensive back, I shouldn't be making those mistakes. That was definitely a turning point in the game. I was just as mad at myself as Coach Green and Coach Jones were disappointed in me."

It has been typical of Mitchell's performance this season's — and Navy's.

"It's not just being focused on that one play," he said. "Some plays I might look good, but another play, if you lose just a little bit of focus, it's like Michael Floyd."

Like Navy's season and Mitchell's senior year, gone in a flash.

Saturday's game Troy (2-5) @ Navy (2-6)

Time: 3:30 p.m.

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM

Series: First meeting

Line: Navy by 61/2

Navy offense vs. Troy defense: Although Midshipmen coach Ken Niumatalolo hasn't announced whether senior Kriss Proctor will return after missing the second half of the East Carolina game and the loss to Notre Dame with a dislocated left (throwing) elbow, it seems doubtful given that Proctor could barely throw in practice this week. If Proctor can't play, sophomore Trey Miller will make his second straight start. After nearly leading the Midshipmen to a comeback win against East Carolina by throwing two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, Miller was a bit overwhelmed after a good start against Notre Dame. Troy's defense — ranked 114th out of 120 overall by giving up more than 469 yards a game — could be a perfect antidote for what's ailing the Mids.

Navy defense vs. Troy offense: During the current losing streak, as well as in the recent past, the Midshipmen have struggled against the spread offense. Sophomore quarterback Corey Robinson has thrown for more than 300 yards three times this season but has struggled the past two weeks in losses to Florida International and Louisiana Monroe. Robinson spreads the ball around. Led by Eric Thomas' 35 catches, nine different receivers have caught at least 10 passes. Troy doesn't have much of a running game (100 yards a game for 109th), so Navy can probably go back to its 3-4 defense after trying a 4-3 last week with little success at Notre Dame.

Don Markus

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