Less than a half-hour after Saturday’s 34-17 season opening loss to Ohio State, Navy football Coach Ken Niumataolo addressed the importance of moving past that disappointment and bracing for the next game. The process began in earnest for Niumatololo well before dawn Monday morning, when there was mostly darkness and open road during the drive to his office at Ricketts Hall.
That afternoon in steamy conditions typical of late summer in the mid-Atlantic, players trotted onto the practice field to begin getting ready for Temple, which throttled Vanderbilt, 37-7, last Thursday in Nashville. Niumatalolo wasted no time trying to refocus his charges after they had invested eight months’ worth of mental and physical equity in a bid to upset the fifth-ranked Buckeyes.
“Can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” he hollered while players ran exhausting wind sprints.
“Nobody likes to lose,” Niumatalolo said following practice early this week in advance of Saturday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field. “We don’t like that feeling. We thought we worked hard, but it still wasn’t good enough. Our guys recognize it, but we’re playing against a team that got after Vanderbilt at their place. They’re going to be at home, so if we have any kind of residual hangover or mourning, so to speak, it’s going to be another long day.”
There haven’t been many for the Midshipmen since Keenan Reynolds took over as the starting quarterback two years ago. The only back-to-back losses under Reynolds were last season at Duke, 35-7, Oct. 12 and a week later at Toledo in double overtime, 45-44. The junior is 4-1 in games immediately following a loss.
In the most recent example, Reynolds ran for a career-high 226 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 victory over Hawaii last season the week after Navy pushed Notre Dame to the wire before losing, 38-34, in South Bend, Ind. Reynolds had just 42 rushing yards against the Buckeyes, but the Midshipmen rolled up 370 yards overall, including a career high 118 from senior slotback Ryan Williams-Jenkins.
While slotbacks frequently were able to take pitches outside to the second and third level of Ohio State’s defense, Navy’s fullbacks were not nearly as involved, amassing 76 yards on 14 carries. Last season Navy had three fullbacks finish among the team’s seven leading rushers.
“We’ve just got to finish,” said senior fullback and co-captain Noah Copeland, who had 22 yards on seven carries against Ohio State. “We’ll work on that all week, and we’ll take it with us to Temple on Saturday.”
The Midshipmen are preparing for a defense that limited the Commodores to 54 rushing yards in Week 1. Temple also forced seven turnovers, including three interceptions to match its total for all of last season, in beating a Southeastern Conference opponent for the first time since 1938.
For Navy, there was some concern among players and coaches regarding ball security in the immediate aftermath of the Ohio State loss. Niumatalolo had preached going into the game how the Midshipmen needed to play perfectly, meaning no turnovers, penalties or other self-inflicted errors.
Navy instead uncharacteristically fumbled twice. One it recovered, but Buckeyes linebacker Darron Lee scooped up another loose ball in the backfield and returned it 61 yards to give Ohio State a 13-7 lead with 13 minutes 8 seconds left in the third quarter.
Navy also committed three penalties for 20 yards. Last season the Midshipmen were tied for first in FBS in fewest turnovers (10) and averaged the fewest penalties (2.6) and penalty yards (21.7).
“Starting off 0-2 would definitely [stink], but like we’ve said, we’re putting last week behind us,” said senior defensive end Paul Quessenberry, who had a sack and two tackles for loss in the opener. “Right now we’re working on win number one. That’s our mind-set now.”