ANNAPOLIS —- It was a tumultuous August for Navy’s kicking game. With as many as six kickers listed at once atop the depth chart, figuring out whether there would be any consistency on field goals was an obvious question for the Midshipmen.
However, freshman Nick Sloan has capably handled his placekicking duties, making all three of his field goals (none longer than 35 yards) and connected on seven extra point tries.
He’s not the only part of Navy’s special teams thriving.
The Mids are ranked 37th in net punting, 39th in punt return average and 43rd in kickoff returns. Those might not be dominant units, but they’ve proven plenty capable to date.
Punter Pablo Beltran would rank eighth nationally with his 45.9-yard average if he had enough attempts to qualify. Navy has allowed only one of its eight punts to be returned.
And even more impressive: A kickoff return coverage unit ranked ninth in the country. Five of Colin Amerau‘s 12 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks.
“I think the one silver lining for our team this year has been our special teams,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We’ve been solid on special teams. We haven’t been so great offensively and defensively the first two games, but I think special teams [have been good] —- punt team, punt return, kickoff, kickoff return. Colin’s kicked the ball well. Nick Sloan’s kicked the ball well.”
Indeed, it is difficult to quibble with any part of Navy’s special teams to date. It has not missed a kick, not had a punt blocked and permitted an opponent to start a possession in Navy territory after a punt just once (Notre Dame took over at the Mids 49 once in the opener). Opponents have not started a drive beyond their 31 after a Navy kickoff.
That’s a good trend for Navy (1-2) as it delves deeper into its schedule, starting with a tricky test against San Jose State (3-1) on Saturday at home.
“Especially for a game like this that’s going to be a tough game, hopefully we can do well on special teams and that part of it continues to be solid,” Niumatalolo said.
As for other tidbits from Wednesday …
* Reserve defensive end Collin Sturdivant, who had a career-high four tackles last week (including his first tackle for loss), is nursing a back injury and is unlikely to play Saturday.
“It doesn’t look good,” Niumatalolo said of the senior. “It’s very doubtful.”
Wide receiver Matt Aiken (knee) got some reps in Wednesday, but is not expected to play Saturday. Aiken has not played this season while recovering from a preseason injury.
* Navy practiced inside Halsey Field House for the second straight Wednesday, and it appears the Mids will use their latest indoor facility for practice in weeks before home games.
Turf similar to what is used in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium is the surface the academy set up in Halsey.
“I like the focus when we’re in here,” Niumatalolo said. “That’s what we need to do. We need to dial in and cut down our mistakes.”
—- Patrick Stevens