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Navy hopes to avoid letdown vs. Central Michigan

The emotions and energy Navy puts into its annual game against Air Force typically takes a lot out of the Midshipmen for their next game.

A year ago, after a controversial overtime loss to the Falcons in Annapolis, Navy was throttled the next week at home by Southern Mississippi, losing by 28 points.

Beating its bitter rival, as Navy did last week in Colorado Springs, can also cause what Niumatalolo calls "being on Cloud 9" to linger. It happened in Niumatalolo's first season as head coach five years ago when the Midshipmen lost at home to Pittsburgh two weeks after a six-point win at Falcon Stadium.

Which is why Niumatalolo is hoping there is no letdown Friday night when Navy (2-3) plays at Central Michigan (2-3). It is also why Niumatalolo has made sure at practice this week that his players had come down from their Rocky Mountain high after a 28-21 win that helped revive the season.

On Monday, Niumatalolo stopped drills a couple times and, in his trademark high-pitched bark, told the Midshipmen to run harder. When a few of them didn't, he made them do bear crawls across the practice field to make sure they got the message.

"There is definitely a different air about us [after the Air Force game]," Niumatalolo said Wednesday. "We were down after losing those games [to San Jose State, Penn State and Notre Dame by a combined 96-17]. Just like our losses we have to move on, your wins you have to move on. There's nothing we can do about Air Force. That game is history. It would be a travesty for us to play really well against our rival and come back this week and lay an egg."

Said senior slotback Bo Snelson: "We're obviously feeling excited because that's the first step to one of our first goals [of winning the Commander in Chief's Trophy], but like coach always says that success is harder to handle than adversity because adversity, by its nature, brings teams together and causes people to rely on each other while success starts to pump some individuals up and creates a false sense of security. We're 2-3, so there's nothing for us to talk about yet."

While the atmosphere at Central Michigan will likely not be the same as it was at Air Force, the challenge for the Midshipmen will still be there. The Chippewas beat Iowa earlier in the season but have since struggled to stop anyone.

Navy will be going into the game with Keenan Reynolds at quarterback, the first plebe to start at quarterback in 21 seasons. Reynolds came off the bench with nine minutes left to replace an injured Trey Miller and led the Midshipmen to score the final 15 points last week.

Reynolds has drawn comparisons to former Navy star Ricky Dobbs, who after leading the Midshipmen to two victories coming off the bench as a sophomore in 2008 made his first start at Northern Illinois. Navy won, 16-0.

While he is trying not to make a big deal about being the first freshman to start at Navy since Jim Kubiak started five games in 1991, Reynolds knows much of the focus will be on him. The game is being televised nationally on ESPN2.

"I'm excited, but like I said Monday, the preparation doesn't stop, it still keeps going, you've got to stay focused and keep working off the field and looking at the defense [on film], learning the game plan and staying sound on the things I needed to take care of," Reynolds said after practice Wednesday.

Said Niumatalolo: "I remember Steve Mariucci saying this about Tom Brady and I think it's very appropriate for a quarterback. They tested his 40, his vertical, his bench press, but they didn't check out his heart and his brain. That's Keenan. He grasps things, he's got a high football IQ, he's a heckuva football player."


Time: Friday, 8 p.m.

Site: Kelly/Shorts Stadium, Mount Pleasant, Mich.

TV: ESPN2, 1090 AM, 1430 AM

Series: Navy leads 2-0

Last meeting: Navy won, 38-37, on Nov. 13, 2010 in Annapolis

Line: Central Michigan favored by 2 points

Navy offense vs. Central Michigan defense: The Midshipmen had their best performance of the season last week against Air Force, rushing for 285 yards on 54 attempts and completing all six of their passes for another 74 yards. Most importantly, Navy didn't turn the ball over and also made both of its field-goal attempts. Playing against a team ranked 114th (of 120) in Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing defense, look for the Midshipmen to pound the ball with fullback Noah Copeland, who rebounded from having only 20 yards against San Jose State with a solid 84-yard performance that also included a key two-point conversion to tie the game at 21 with six minutes left. Freshman Keenan Reynolds takes over at quarterback for an injured Trey Miller. Reynolds is a bit faster than Miller and also has better mechanics throwing the ball. With junior Matt Aiken getting back up to speed — he had one catch last week after missing six weeks with a knee injury — the passing game could open up as well. Freshman placekicker Nick Sloan is one of nine kickers in the country with at least five field goals who have yet to miss.

Navy defense vs. Central Michigan offense: The Midshipmen were helped by three Air Force fumbles last week, but they have to do a better job tackling. Navy's pass defense has also looked shaky at times, and the Chippewas rank a respectable 45th in the country with more than 257 yards a game. Navy has started to resemble the bend-don't-break teams of the recent past and rank 19th in red zone defense. The Midshipmen shut out the Falcons in that regard last week. Junior Wave Ryder has taken over at safety after Chris Ferguson dislocated his elbow against the Falcons. Junior linebacker Cody Peterson has also displaced senior Brye French. While French still leads the Midshipmen in tackles with 36, Peterson had a career-high 10 last week. Freshman cornerback Quincy Adams continues to make big plays, as evidenced by his first fumble recovery against Air Force that followed his first career interception two weeks earlier.

[Don Markus]

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