The texts, voice mails and congratulations around campus rolled in following Navy’s upset of Notre Dame last weekend. But any lingering bliss had to be put aside soon after the team finished reviewing the tape.
Awaiting the Midshipmen (7-3) on Saturday is a unique challenge from Delaware (6-3). As the overall depth of talent in college football has improved, Football Championship Subdivision schools have made an impact in recent years - most notably Appalachian State’s stunner of Michigan in 2007. Having dropped two of their three meetings to the Blue Hens this decade, Navy has been witness to this trend.
“We know that they are a very good team. And if we don’t get out of this euphoria, they’ll knock it out of us real quick,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Delaware has become a common landing spot for Football Bowl Subdivision transfers. That was on display in the teams’ last meeting in 2007, when Pittsburgh transfer Joe Flacco threw for 434 yards and four touchdowns as Delaware won a 59-52 shootout in Annapolis.
Flacco may be starting for the Baltimore Ravens now, but after a down season last year, Delaware has a restocked roster featuring transfers from nine FBS schools. The Blue Hens are back in the FCS rankings, and a victory Saturday would enhance the Blue Hens’ playoff hopes.
“It is exactly like playing a good D-I program,” Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “They are loaded with talent at the running back position, the receiver position and on the offensive line. And obviously at quarterback, they have another guy step in that has tremendous potential to play on Sunday.”
That would be Pat Devlin, a highly touted recruit who began his career at Penn State. But after being stuck behind Daryll Clark for two years, Devlin packed his bags. With a slew of talented wideouts at his disposal, Devlin has thrown for 2,063 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“He’s shown a tremendous amount of poise and accuracy delivering the football,” Green said. “He can read coverages and make the throws, and if you pressure him, he can run. He’s got the same type of qualities that you need to be playing on Sunday.”
So despite their being in a lower division, Niumatalolo said the Blue Hens present the same physical challenges to his team that the typical FBS school does, and Navy’s approach will have to remain the same.
“We know who we are. It’s not like we’ve got a bunch of five-star guys,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got very good football players, but it’s not like we have guys that had 22 offers [coming out of high school].”
The Mids again will lean on their defense, a unit that has shown the ability to make big plays at critical moments this season. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw for 452 yards last week - on a whopping 51 attempts - but the Navy defense was dominant in the red zone to keep the explosive Fighting Irish offense in check.
Any letdown against the Blue Hens could result in a setback.
“This group has shown maturity this year, with the leadership that we’ve had, in their approach to every game,” Green said. “This week has got to be our best effort all year at being dialed in one play at a time with small details because this team is very good.”
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