- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2012

ANNAPOLIS — Trey Miller’s first two games as Navy’s full-time starting quarterback left him with one clear area for improvement.

In no way can the Midshipmen thrive when they are committing eight turnovers in a two-game stretch. Nor can the offense function well when their quarterback is responsible for six of them.

“I’m really trying to figure out why it’s happening myself,” Miller said. “It doesn’t really matter why. We just have to fix it.”

Beyond just regrouping after consecutive blowout losses, the Mids’ biggest priority in their home opener against VMI (1-2) is avoiding the giveaways that plagued their first two games.

It is the first time Navy committed four turnovers in back-to-back games since 2002, a time when former coach Paul Johnson inherited a struggling program that predictably had rough days with the introduction of his precise triple-option offense.

The present-day numbers aren’t pleasant, either. Navy’s two losses aren’t entirely pinned on lost fumbles and interceptions since just 23 of the 84 points it allowed came off giveaways. But it took Navy six games last season to reach eight turnovers. Miller has four lost fumbles and two interceptions by himself.

And most glaring, Navy is last in major college football in average turnover margin per game (-3.50). Only Arkansas (minus-9) has a worse overall margin than Navy (minus-7).

“That’s been our calling card,” coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “Right now, we’re 120 in turnovers. We’ve never been 120 in turnover margin.”

Miller, by dint of his importance in making the option offense work, is the most scrutinized element in Navy’s early woes. He entered the season with one career start and played reasonably well in an opening loss to Notre Dame considering he limped through about half the game with a left ankle injury.

The ankle remained taped during the loss to Penn State and during practice this week. His turnovers were more noticeable Saturday since they came before the Nittany Lions opened a large lead.

“The picks were decision-making,” Miller said. “Other than that, I just have to hold onto the football. I don’t think it’s any bad luck about it.”

Nonetheless, Navy is struggling with facets of its offense that typically are taken for granted.

The center-quarterback exchange was harrowing last week as sophomore Tanner Fleming made his first career start, and fullback Noah Copeland acknowledged the track he took and subsequent cutback led to his lost fumble in the fourth quarter.

“Those are things that are really, really bizarre and seem really out of place and dysfunctional for us,” senior slotback Bo Snelson said.

While Miller said offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper’s primary message this week is to take better care of the ball, it isn’t necessarily something harped on in a larger setting.

After all, there’s little question about the first thing the Mids need to fix if they are to shrug off their first 0-2 start in seven years and still enjoy a successful season.

“We’re an option team and we can’t have turnovers,” Copeland said. “That’s just obvious. It’s not really talked about. We just have to make sure we correct it and don’t do it again.”

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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