ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Navy will seek to secure a bowl berth and send its seniors out in style on Saturday when it hosts South Alabama, a team that’s a lot better than its record indicates.
The up-and-down Midshipmen are also seeking to win consecutive games for only the second time this season.
Navy (5-4) has won 10 straight on Senior Day, and continuing that streak would clinch a non-losing season and 10th postseason appearance since 2003. Navy has a contract to appear in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl and can start selling tickets as soon as it reaches six victories.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo didn’t attempt to downplay the importance of Saturday’s game.
“Some coaches don’t talk about it. It’s like taboo,” Niumatalolo said. “Why hide it? That’s one of our goals. We have a chance to become bowl eligible this weekend. Our seniors can go undefeated at home. There are goals we’re trying to reach.”
South Alabama, from the Sun Belt Conference, has lost three games by one point and another by two. It’s been a hard-luck season for head coach Joey Jones and his troops, whose most lopsided defeat was by a touchdown to Tennessee of the Southeastern Conference.
“I’ve never been through a season like this when a team has done so many things right and not come out in the win column,” Jones said. “We have really cut down on our mistakes as compared to last season. We’re not committing as many turnovers and penalties. We’ve had some heartbreaking losses, but we’re really playing good football. We just have to learn how to close out these close games.”
Here are five things to look for during Saturday’s first meeting between the schools.
NO DEFENSE: Quarterback Ross Metheny directs a South Alabama offense that is averaging almost 30 points and 437 total yards. It will be another challenge for a Navy defense that has struggled this season. Four opponents have scored 34 points or more against the Midshipmen, who rank 99th out of 123 FBS schools in rushing defense (199.7 allowed per game).
DOUBLE-BARREL ATTACK: South Alabama will return to its two-quarterback system against Navy. Metheny started and went the distance in the two previous games against Texas State and Arkansas State. Backup Brandon Bridge, who saw action for several series in the opening six games of the season, never left the sideline. “Brandon is going to play this week. We are going to make sure that happens,” Jones said.
FULLBACK SHORTAGE: Navy will be thin at fullback, a key position in its triple-option offense. Noah Copeland, who rushed for 153 yards against Toledo, will miss a third straight game with a leg injury. Chris Swain, who has started seven games, is questionable with a hamstring injury. Quinton Singleton, who was third string through seven games, will make a second straight start. Singleton has rushed for 170 yards in the last two games.
UNBEATEN AT HOME: This marks the first time all season the Midshipmen have played back-to-back home games and the team is 4-0 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The 22-man senior class will celebrate accomplishments that include a 27-20 record, two bowl games appearances and a pair of Commander-in-Chief’s Trophies. Navy has gone unbeaten at home since the 2004 squad went 6-0.
MOVING ON UP: A Navy victory would be the 46th for Niumatalolo and move him into sole possession of third place on the Academy’s career list behind George Welsh (55-46-1, 1973-81) and Eddie Erdelatz (50-26-8, 1950-58). Niumatalolo is currently tied with predecessor Paul Johnson (now at Georgia Tech) and is poised to record the most wins by a Navy head coach in his first six seasons.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)