- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

By now, the Navy football team is used to playing against BCS teams and the challenges associated with that. But every once in a while, the bigger, stronger opponents just pose too many problems.

That was the case in last year’s 42-21 loss to Pittsburgh, easily the most lopsided defeat Navy suffered all season. The chance to avenge that loss Saturday at Heinz Field is something the Midshipmen (1-1) have been itching for ever since.

“They gave it to us last year,” safety Wyatt Middleton said. “One thing that’s stuck in my mind is how we lost so badly and their offense did great against us. It’s almost like we have to prove ourselves, go out there and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Tailback LeSean McCoy and linebacker Scott McKillop spearheaded the Panthers’ dominant effort last year. McCoy, the Philadelphia Eagles’ second-round draft pick, ran free all afternoon, finishing with 156 yards and three touchdowns. McKillop, now with the San Francisco 49ers, led a sound defense with nine tackles and consistently shed blocks to disrupt the option. The Mids could manage only 194 yards on the ground.

But while both standouts have moved on to the NFL, Navy still has plenty to worry about against a team that put up 92 points in its first two games.

“It’s the same Pittsburgh - big, fast and strong,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got our hands full.”

Chief among Navy’s concerns is running back Dion Lewis. The 5-foot-8, 195-pound freshman is averaging 7.2 yards a carry for the Panthers (2-0) and has amassed 327 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in the first two games. He also has proved to be a threat in the passing game out of the backfield.

“He is unbelievable,” Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green said. “I didn’t think I would put the film on and see another guy that looks as fast, as quick and as talented [as McCoy]. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and take it to the house. It’s going to take big-time effort to stop him.”

That’s the type of challenge the Mids are up to. Navy’s defense was statistically one of the most improved in the country last year, and it improved incrementally as the year wore on. Each time they play a BCS opponent, it forces the undersized Mids to focus on fundamentals.

“To me, Pittsburgh is one of those schools that will always have a good running back,” Middleton said. “LeSean McCoy started as a freshman, and they are doing the same thing with this guy. He looks elusive on film. That’s why I kinda like playing against teams like this. It really makes us focus on tackling the right way.”

Pittsburgh’s other matchup problem is tight end Dorin Dickerson, who already has four touchdown catches. The 6-2 senior is in his second season at tight end after switching from linebacker, and the Panthers are taking full advantage of his athleticism. He lines up at various spots on the field, and he has quickly become quarterback Bill Stull’s favorite target.

Simply put, Navy has another wave of NFL-caliber talent to deal with this week.

“Whatever way we can get them on the ground, that’s how I’m going to approach it,” Middleton said.

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