ANNAPOLIS —- In the middle of Navy’s Tuesday practice session, coach Ken Niumatalolo loudly castigated a defensive player for selfishness.
It was an unusual boiling point for the typically even-keeled coach. He followed up with a team meeting after practice to convey his concerns as the Midshipmen (2-2) prepare to face Southern Mississippi (4-1) on Saturday.
“I just want to get our minds right —- just make sure they’re all on the same page,” Niumatalolo said. “All of the arrows have to be pointed in one direction this week. This is a very good team and none of us can be selfish. It’s not about me, it’s not about you. It’s about us. That was our message.”
Navy is coming off a draining 35-34 overtime loss to Air Force. The Mids rallied from a 28-10 deficit to force overtime, only to have an extra point blocked in the extra session.
It also is part of a difficult stretch that actually began with a Sept. 17 loss at South Carolina. After this week, Navy plays Rutgers, East Carolina, Notre Dame, Troy and Southern Methodist without a bye week wedged into the stretch. Only one of those teams (East Carolina) has a losing record.
“Yeah, that was a tough game last week, but we have the toughest stretch that I can ever remember here at the academy in the next few games,” Niumatalolo said. “This is going to be a brutal, brutal stretch, and we’d all better be going this way or —- forget the Air Force game, we’re going to get blown out the rest of our games. That was our message. We’d better get rank and file and start facing the right direction.”
Niumatalolo declined to offer many specifics of the meeting or any particular incident that prompted his frustration. Yet even if some of his players have put the Air Force loss in the past, it wasn’t difficult to infer some minds were still lingering on the setback.
Regardless, the Mids are well aware eight games plus a possible bowl remain on the schedule.
“We have to bounce back regardless if we’re 0-4 or 4-0,” quarterback Kriss Proctor said. “We just have to look this week and understand the importance of this week and try to go get a W.”
That, in many ways, was what Niumatalolo hoped to convey. And if the message was lost, Niumatalolo offered a blunt assessment of the significance of Saturday’s game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“This is a huge game for our season,” Niumatalolo said. “A huge game. A huge, huge game for our season. You thought last week was important? This game is huge for our season. I’m not playing around. This is the real deal.”
—- Patrick Stevens