Unlike most programs, the Navy football team did not open the season last weekend, but its players and coaches had plenty to evaluate after their opponent for Saturday’s season opener compiled 73 points in its first game Aug. 29.
Indiana could have scored more in dismantling Indiana State, too, but elected to kneel multiple times rather than pile on.
But as much as Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo and defensive coordinator Buddy Green have studied the Hoosiers on tape, neither was particularly surprised over the prolific output, especially considering Indiana ranked second in the Big Ten in total offense last year.
“I know it was a great game for them. They played well,” Niumatalolo said this week. “We’ve got to play almost perfect to have a chance. We recognize how good they are because we’ve seen them up close and personal.”
Niumatalolo was referring to last season’s thriller at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where the Midshipmen rallied from a nine-point deficit in the final 12 minutes 18 seconds to win, 31-30. It was Navy’s first victory over a Big Ten opponent since 1979 and its first home win against a member of that conference since 1926.
The defense contributed its most important stand of the game by forcing three plays and a punt with 4:48 to go, allowing quarterback Keenan Reynolds to take over and direct the winning drive.
After Reynolds completed the go-ahead touchdown to wide receiver Matt Aiken, Navy cornerback Parrish Gaines sealed the win with an interception of quarterback Cameron Coffman in the final minutes.
Coffman, a junior, was one of three Indiana quarterbacks to play in last week’s season opener, helping the Hoosiers amass 319 passing yards. Coach Kevin Wilson has been noncommittal this week about which quarterback among Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson would be the starter Saturday in Bloomington, Ind., and indicated all three could play.
Roberson started the season opener but had his day cut short because of bruised ribs. Sudfeld played most of the rest of the way, completing 12 of 17 passes for 219 yards and four touchdowns. Roberson, meanwhile, has been helping Indiana’s defense prepare for Navy’s triple-option attack by trying to mimic Reynolds during practice.
“I think they’re all capable of doing some really good things,” said Green, whose unit was tied for 19th in the country last year in red-zone defense. “I think every quarterback they have does some things extremely well by throwing the football and running the football. They don’t miss a beat. They can do anything they want to with any one of those quarterbacks.”
The Midshipmen, meanwhile, went through somewhat of a quarterback shuffle over most of the last two weeks with Reynolds resting a sore throwing arm. The sophomore attended practice but did not participate in contact drills during that time, so backup John Hendrick worked with the first team.
Reynolds threw extensively Wednesday for the first time since the start of his lengthy break as Navy continues to expand its triple-option attack to include more passing plays and spread formations, sometimes with four wide receivers. The following afternoon, Reynolds was scheduled to take part in the final practice of the week that was closed to reporters.
“With most guys that I’ve coached, I’d be super, super, super, super concerned,” Niumatalolo said. “This kid is different. Just mentally, he has a way of concentrating, and hopefully that asset, that trait helps us because normally at this point if a guy is taking this long, we’d be like: ‘Nah. We’ve got to move on to the next guy.’ ”