Despite the first three-game losing streak of his three-plus years as head coach and a second straight week in which his defense yielded long plays at critical junctures, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo had no panic in his voice as he addressed the media following a 63-35 loss to Southern Miss Saturday in Annapolis.
Niumatalolo instead conceded sometimes the opponent simply has better athletes, and a single mistake can snowball into days such as this, when the Midshipmen had to take chances they otherwise wouldn’t in order to try to rally.
After falling behind 28-0 midway through the second quarter, Navy drew no closer than 21 the rest of the game despite the running game finally getting on track in the second half. The Midshipmen amassed 569 yards of offense, but much of that was cosmetic, when the Golden Eagles had the outcome all but secured.
“We had a bad start, and we couldn’t covert in the red zone,” said Niumatalolo, referring to chances from the 7- and 1-yard lines in the first quarter. “They executed and played very well. They coached better than we did, and they played better than we did. We’re not going to hang our head. We have to find a way to come back.”
Navy was able to do just that last week when it fell behind Air Force, 21-3, early in the second quarter but managed to force overtime in a 35-34 loss. But the Midshipmen were able lean heavily on fullback Alexander Teich in that game. They didn’t have that option today.
Teich was held out against the Golden Eagles for violating team rules, and his absence was especially conspicuous on Navy’s second drive when it got to the 1. From there quarterback Kriss Proctor ran for no gain on second down, slotback Bo Snelson got nothing on third, and Proctor was stuffed inside on fourth.
“Anytime you lose one of your star players, it affects the team,” said Proctor, who ran for a game-high 123 yards and completed 5 of 10 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. “But this was a team loss, not a one-player loss.”
Niumatalolo presented that united front too following Navy’s worst loss since a 65-19 defeat to North Carolina State in 2002. That was the first year of the triple option, and since that offense has catapulted the Midshipmen to levels of success unmatched in program history.
Now Navy has two of its next three games on the road, including at Notre Dame in three weeks. By then the Midshipmen’s season could be in full implosion if they are unable to resolve those defensive lapses and slow starts that have forced them to play catchup, a position from which Navy generally is at a considerable disadvantage given its methodical offense.
“There is no alternative for us,” Niumatalolo said. “We have to look in the mirror and find a way to get better. I have great faith in these guys. I wouldn’t want to coach any other players. I wouldn’t want to coach alongside any other coaches.”