By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 9, 2009
Navy sophomore defensive end Jabaree Tuani ranks ninth on the team in tackles with 15 and has yet to pick up his first tackle for a loss, but the contributions he makes to the Navy defense go beyond just statistics.
"How do you put in the stat sheet that he made the line bubble back and the quarterback couldn't step up? Or the run had to bounce?" Midshipmen Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "He's such a force; he's such a strong kid. You can see the line when Jabaree is in there, because he makes everything bubble."
Tuani was named one of the defensive MVPs in Saturday's 16-13 win over Air Force after recording seven tackles and forcing a fumble. His play on one series in the third quarter -- in which the Falcons started on the Navy 37 but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal -- was typical of his performance. Tuani was in on three tackles on that drive, including two third-down stops that prevented Air Force from picking up first downs.
Tuani had a standout freshman season playing alongside talented nose guard Nate Frazier, who was often double-teamed. But Frazier was dismissed from the academy in August, and Tuani was forced to raise his level of play. Tuani also said that he was going to try to bring some of the same energy and emotion to the field that Frazier did. Tuani has done that; after making his first career interception on a nice shoestring grab against Louisiana Tech, Tuani practically danced off the field.
"I kind of like that, get some emotion going," Niumatalolo said. "He's a quiet kid verbally, but he'll express himself through his dances. We don't mind, as long as he's making some plays. He can dance all he wants."Avoiding a Letdown
One of the challenges facing the Navy coaching staff last week was making sure that the Midshipmen didn't get too emotional and hyped up in the days leading up to their game against rival Air Force. This week, the challenge is making sure they're focused and ready to take on an 0-5 Rice team. Since 2002, Navy is 3-4 in the game following Air Force; in 2002 the Midshipmen suffered a 17-10 loss to Rice one week after a 48-7 loss to Air Force.
"I still see some residual effect from the [Air Force] game. It was such a big game last week that we've got to forget about that and move on," Niumatalolo said. "A lot of our guys have moved on, but there are still some guys that are thinking about either going home to Texas or whatever the case may be. We've got to make sure we've got our minds right and ready to go."
Niumatalolo has reminded the players of Navy's trip to Tulane in 2004; the Midshipmen were 7-1 at the time and facing a Green Wave team that had won only two games. Tulane proceeded to whip the Midshipmen, 42-10, piling up 538 yards of total offense.
"We went up there and it wasn't one of Tulane's better teams and they got after us. We didn't show up," Niumatalolo said. "We just got to make sure [to remind players that Rice] is a team that has played some good people. They're searching for their identity. Nobody wants to be 0-5 and they're going to come out with a vengeance."
Unlike Air Force -- which beat up on division I-AA Nicholls State, New Mexico and San Diego State en route to opening up with a 3-1 record -- Rice has faced power-conference teams Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt. The Owls' first five opponents have a combined record of 14-10. Still, the Owls have been outscored by a 203-85 margin in those games.Injury Rundown
As of Wednesday evening, senior right guard Andy Lark was Navy's only player to be ruled out of Saturday's game at Rice; sophomore Brady DeMell will start in Lark's place for the second time this season.
Sophomore fullback Alexander Teich was wearing an air cast instead of a protective boot on his sprained left ankle on Wednesday, but he was on the sideline for much of practice.
"Alex has been getting a ton of treatment and he's progressing, but he's still questionable at this point," Niumatalolo said.