Navy travels to Tulsa looking to take command of West Division
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: September 26, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Navy will look continue its hot start in the American Athletic Conference and extend its lead in the West Division when it travels to Tulsa on Saturday.
Navy improved to 2-0 in the American by beating Cincinnati, 42-32, on Saturday. It was the second straight hard-fought win for the Midshipmen, who slipped past Tulane, 23-21, on Sept. 9. No other school in the West Division has played a conference contest to date.
This will be the first AAC road game for Navy, which is off to a 3-0 start for the third straight season and received six votes in the Amway Coaches Poll this week.
“Tulsa is a really, really good football team led by really good coaches,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “This is going to be a tough game. Going on the road makes it even tougher.”
Tulsa is coming off a heartbreaking 16-13 loss to New Mexico in which the game-winning field goal was kicked as time expired. Jason Sanders booted a 53-yarder through the uprights to drop the Golden Hurricane to 1-3.
“Another tough game. That’s two weeks in a row that we had a last-second field goal beat us. So our guys are hungry for a win,” Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery said.
Just one week before, Tulsa was beaten by Toledo on a field goal with no time remaining. The Golden Hurricane blew a 21-point lead and wound up losing to the Rockets, 54-51, when Jameson Vest made a 33-yarder.
Tulsa struggled defensively through three games, getting routed 59-24 by Oklahoma State in the opener then winning a 66-42 shootout against Louisiana-Lafayette the following week. In that respect, this past Saturday brought progress as the Golden Hurricane limited the Lobos to 16 points on 446 yards.
“I thought our defense played really well and competed hard last week. I thought they stepped up and did an outstanding job,” Montgomery said of the effort against New Mexico. “We’ve played some pretty good offenses up to this point. I think our defense has played well at times. We’ve just given up too many explosive plays.”
Tulsa averaged 47 points and 549 total yards through three games, but the offense faltered against New Mexico. The Golden Hurricane only gained 286 yards and managed just a touchdown and two field goals in the latest loss.
“Any time you’re 1-3 you’ve got things you’ve got to fix. There are a ton of plays during the game that could have made that outcome different,” Montgomery said. “When you have an opportunity to make plays, you need to make them. It could be the first quarter, it could be the fourth quarter. We have to find a way to make more plays that will push us over the edge.”
It was somewhat fortuitous scheduling as New Mexico is one of the few Football Bowl Subdivision schools in the country that also employs an option offense. That means the Tulsa defense will have two straight weeks of preparing for similar attacks.
“We don’t have a ton of control over how our schedule falls so that was kind of the luck of the draw if you will,” Montgomery said of playing option opponents on consecutive Saturdays. “Navy’s option is very different than New Mexico’s. There are some basic things I hope we’ll be able to carry over. Obviously, you need to be disciplined in what you do and you have to take care of all three threats. Those basic fundamentals are really the only carryover you get because Navy is extremely different from New Mexico in terms of how they do it.”
Navy is averaging 35.7 points and 491.3 total yards per game with most of the damage coming on the ground. The Midshipmen rank second nationally in rushing average with 393 yards, less than a yard behind Georgia Tech.
“We have Navy coming to town and that is always a tough matchup. Ken and his staff have been together a long time and they are really, really good at what they do,” Montgomery said. “Nobody has stopped them offensively. They are a fine-tuned machine so we know we have our hands full.”
Niumatalolo is happy to be undefeated considering Navy still has not played up to its full potential. The Midshipmen have five turnovers (three fumbles, two interceptions) through three games. The 10th-year head coach also mentioned missed tackles and blown assignments as areas that must be addressed.
“Even though we’re 3-0, we feel like we can improve a ton and have a lot to work on – both coaches and players,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s hard enough to win games. We don’t want to lose games by beating ourselves. So we have to take better care of the ball and we have to make sure we’re doing our jobs from an assignment standpoint.”