ANNAPOLIS — At the first instant he could Saturday evening, Navy slotback Bo Snelson raced back to the locker room after a 34-7 defeat at Penn State.
The Midshipmen had a pair of lopsided losses to show for their first two games. Snelson wanted to be the first to remind his teammates as they returned to the dressing room there was still plenty of season remaining.
"I just let them know it's done with," Snelson said. "It's over. There's nothing we can do but look forward. There's no use crying over what we can't change."
There's no use repeating it, either, which becomes the Mids' priority with perhaps their two most difficult opponents behind them.
Navy knew all along its opening stretch, first against Notre Dame in Ireland (a 50-10 defeat) and then the trip to Penn State, was arduous. Like it or not, no one was going to be stunned if the Mids lost their first two games.
But the way it happened, with four turnovers in both games and seven penalties in the latest setback, was particularly glaring.
"If we don't line up correctly, if we don't run the right defense or run the right blitz or run the right play, we have zero chance," coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Just doing things right gives you an opportunity. Yes, we're crushed that we lost, but I'm even more disappointed we played like crap the last two weeks."
For the most part, that wasn't a problem in high-profile games in recent years. Navy beat Notre Dame three times in four tries between 2007 and 2010. It pushed Ohio State in the 2009 season opener, lost by a field goal to Maryland the next year and led South Carolina on the road entering the fourth quarter in 2011.
That's a stark contrast to dropping consecutive games by at least 27 points for the first time since early in the 2000 season.
"If we had played close and we had been competitive throughout the game, kind of like South Carolina last year, you can live with it," Snelson said. "We came out, we banged, they saw what we're about, we proved we could play ball with these guys. But it wasn't really like that this year. We showed up and they spanked us and sent us home. Now we're trying to figure out what it is we have to do to get things right."
Much of it starts with the Mids, who figure to spend much of their time on self-improvement entering Saturday's home opener against VMI (1-2).
After all, Navy might not see as much talent over its final 10 games, only one of which comes against a bowl team from last fall. Its miscues, though, could prove just as costly in any remaining game if not corrected.
"Notre Dame, they're a tremendous team," linebacker Brye French said. "They're probably the best team since I've been here we've ever played. Against Penn State, not taking anything away from Penn State, we did a bunch of stuff that's not characteristic with how we play football. It was a little bit of both, but in the Penn State game, we shot ourselves in the foot."
When Snelson arrived for practice Monday, he found a note from sophomore safety Shakir Robinson affixed to every locker. The message: "It's time to go to work, who's with me?"
It was a welcome signal to Snelson that younger teammates aren't bailing. So, too, was Niumatalolo's message about the last Navy team to start 0-2. The 2005 Mids rebounded to go 8-4, beating both Air Force and Army while also collecting a bowl victory.
"We still have a long season to go," Niumatalolo said. "Two tough games we lost, but we still have all of our goals intact. We just have to keep pressing forward, clean up some of our mistakes. Our focus, more so than on the basics, is on us. ... We just have to get better. We have no alternative. We have to get better."
NOTE: Junior wide receiver Matt Aiken (knee) wore a green noncontact jersey during Monday's practice, but remains questionable for this week. Aiken missed the first two games. "We just started to work back in [Monday] so we'll see," Niumatalolo said. "It's going to be a day to day thing."
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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