ANNAPOLIS | After giving up a combined 76 points in losses to Ball State and Duke, the Navy defense was desperate for a strong performance last week against Rutgers.
It wasn’t a dominant effort; Rutgers amassed 206 rushing yards. But the beleaguered unit limited the Scarlet Knights to 21 points and forced two key turnovers, an effort good enough for the Midshipmen (2-2) to escape with a 23-21 win.
“A win against a team like Rutgers with their overall talent really gives us a confidence boost,” safety Jeff Deliz said. “After those two rough losses we had, we needed something to build on, and we can definitely build on that.”
Defensive coordinator Buddy Green doesn’t expect to shut opponents out but is looking for improvement each week. Navy’s gradual growth on defense will be critical for it to reach a sixth straight bowl game. The Mids took positive strides against Rutgers, yielding fewer big plays and easy scores.
But there is still room to grow. Rutgers averaged 6.2 yards a carry, and quarterback Mike Teel completed 65 percent of his passes.
“Effortwise and being where we were supposed to be, that was probably our best [performance],” Deliz said. “But we still have a long way to go. They completed some stuff on us that we’ve been working on, so we’ve got to get better.”
The Mids face a tougher task Saturday, when they must find a way to slow quarterback Riley Skinner and No. 16 Wake Forest. Skinner, a redshirt junior, drives the Demon Deacons’ spread offense with his accuracy. He has completed 70.4 percent of his attempts this year and hasn’t thrown an interception.
“He is as smooth as any quarterback I’ve seen. He can beat you with his arm, beat you with his legs,” Green said. “He does a great job of finding his receivers and knows where to go with the ball. He doesn’t make mistakes or do anything to put the offense in a bad position.”
The two turnovers Navy forced last week came at opportune times. With the clock winding down in the first half, safety Wyatt Middleton stripped receiver Tiquan Underwood at the Navy 4-yard line. And linebacker Ross Pospisil sealed the Mids’ win in the fourth quarter with his second career interception.
The Mids likely will need to force turnovers again to keep pace with Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons led the country with eight defensive touchdowns in 2007 and are pouncing on opponents’ mistakes again this year. They forced seven turnovers in their win over Florida State last week and are No. 1 in the country in turnover margin at plus-3.33 a game.
Green said the Mids will have to “play better than we’ve ever played before” to overcome the strength of Wake Forest. Skinner doesn’t provide defenses much opportunity for interceptions, so Navy will rely on its discipline to succeed against Wake Forest.
“We’ve got to tackle, that’s for sure, and everyone has to do their job,” Deliz said. “If there’s one breakdown, if you’re chasing the wrong guy and you’re out of your zone, we’ll get beat. Everyone’s got to do their job, and we’ll be all right.”