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Navy football searching for consistency as it heads to East Carolina

Fans will not be allowed to attend Navy's Oct. 10 game against Temple at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. Md.

STARS AND STRIPES

By KAREEM COPELAND | The Washington Post | Published: October 16, 2020

Ken Niumatalolo was uninterested in talking career milestones this week. The Navy coach reached 100 wins on Saturday but didn't want to wax poetic about what the accomplishment meant or spend much time reminiscing. There are bigger things to worry about at the moment and the time for reflection will have to wait.

"It's not time to sit back and reflect on this," Niumatalolo said. "Maybe when I'm in Hawaii driving a bus in however many years I can sit back and reflect.

"In this profession, if you start reflecting on stuff, you'll have a lot of time to reflect because you'll get fired."

The focus for this week, with a trip to East Carolina on Saturday, is finding some kind of consistency after the Midshipmen (2-2, 2-0 AAC) put together their best 60 minutes of football in a 31-29 victory over Temple. This came seven days after getting blown out 40-7 by rival Air Force.

Navy piled up a season-high 251 rushing yards as the offense looked like the punishing triple option that is the trademark of the program. There was a physicality that was missing in previous games, particularly from an offensive line that opened gaping holes in the defense. The fullbacks finally got going as Nelson Smith posted a career-high 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns while Jamale Carothers added 53 yards and a score.

"It was just a gut check," Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. "Got embarrassed. Our pride hurt. Got hit in the mouth and we had to answer. Like anything else, when you get embarrassed and get your butt kicked you want another chance at going out there and making up for it. Rectifying things.

"Coach Niumatalolo got after those guys in a team meeting about being a physical football team. A physical O-line, that's where it all starts at. They took it personally."

As odd as this pandemic-affected season has been and as ugly as losses to Air Force and BYU by a combined 85 points were, the Midshipmen sit atop the American Athletic Conference with a 2-0 record in league play.

No other AAC team has played two conference games without a loss.

Navy travels to face an East Carolina (1-2, 1-1) team on Saturday that seems to be dealing with some kind of covid-19 issue within the roster.

Coach Mike Houston spoke Wednesday about "some issues" and added there wasn't a "clear picture" of how many have tested positive or the contract-tracing details. Houston declined to address questions about the status of specific players.

"We're all dealing with a lot of stuff," Houston said. "It's not been easy to deal with and it's a situation we take very seriously in the way we handle it and our protocols.

"We are dealing with some issues right now. We'll continue to work through them as the week goes on. . . . It's a situation that's still very fluid. . . . I'm excited about the group that we have on the field. We have had to make some adjustments. Those adjustments have been made and will continue to be made."

Houston added, "We won't have a true picture until the end of the week of what our roster is going to look like."

The AAC requires testing three times per week, including Friday for those playing on Saturday. A conference game between Cincinnati and Tulsa scheduled for Saturday has already been rescheduled for Dec. 5 due to positive cases in the Bearcats program.

So the Midshipmen continue their weekly tradition of preparing for a team without fully knowing who they'll face. BYU, Air Force and Temple all played their season opener against Navy, so there was no current tape to scout leading up to the game.

Navy has continued to focus on itself during preparations and this week the goal is sustainability. The Midshipmen played horrific football against BYU and in the first half against Tulane before rallying from 24 points down in the second half. The gains from that second half were nowhere to be seen against Air Force, but those regressions disappeared against Temple despite being down five defensive starters.

A measure of consistency is the next step forward for the 2020 Midshipmen.

"Hopefully, we've got some consistency with the quarterback (Dalen Morris) now," Niumatalolo said. "That will definitely help us from that standpoint. Our guys have been working hard. Some of our young linemen that haven't played as much are getting comfortable.

"Just having those guys in there. A quarterback that has played two games. . . . Hopefully some of the experience will help us to continue to get better."

(c) 2020, The Washington Post.