“It’s not time to sit back and reflect on this,” Niumatalolo said. “Maybe when I’m in Hawaii driving a bus in however many years I can sit back and reflect.
“In this profession, if you start reflecting on stuff, you’ll have a lot of time to reflect because you’ll get fired.”
The focus for this week, with a trip to East Carolina on Saturday, is finding consistency after the Midshipmen (2-2, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) put together their best 60 minutes of football in a 31-29 victory over Temple. That came seven days after they were blown out, 40-7, by rival Air Force.
Navy piled up a season-high 251 rushing yards against the Owls as the offense looked like the punishing triple option that is the trademark of the program. There was a physicality that was missing in previous games, particularly from an offensive line that opened gaping holes in the defense. The fullbacks finally got going, with Nelson Smith posting a career-high 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Jamale Carothers adding 53 yards and a score.
“It was just a gut check,” Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “Got embarrassed. Our pride hurt. Got hit in the mouth, and we had to answer. Like anything else, when you get embarrassed and get your butt kicked, you want another chance at going out there and making up for it. Rectifying things.
“Coach Niumatalolo got after those guys in a team meeting about being a physical football team. A physical O-line, that’s where it all starts at. They took it personally.”
As odd as this pandemic-affected season has been and as ugly as losses to Air Force and BYU by a combined 85 points were, the Midshipmen sit atop the American with a 2-0 record in league play. No other AAC team has played two conference games without a loss.
Navy travels to face a team in East Carolina (1-2, 1-1) that seems to be dealing with some kind of novel coronavirus issue within the roster. Coach Mike Houston spoke Wednesday about “some issues” and added there wasn’t a “clear picture” of positive test numbers or contract-tracing details. Houston declined to address questions about the status of specific players.
“We’re all dealing with a lot of stuff,” Houston said. “It’s not been easy to deal with, and it’s a situation we take very seriously in the way we handle it and our protocols.
“We are dealing with some issues right now. We’ll continue to work through them as the week goes on. … It’s a situation that’s still very fluid. … I’m excited about the group that we have on the field. We have had to make some adjustments. Those adjustments have been made and will continue to be made.”
Houston added, “We won’t have a true picture until the end of the week of what our roster is going to look like.”
The AAC requires testing three times per week, including Friday for those playing on Saturday. A conference game between Cincinnati and Tulsa scheduled for Saturday already was rescheduled for Dec. 5 because of positive cases in the Bearcats program.
Navy has continued to focus on itself during preparations, and this week the goal is sustainability. The Midshipmen played horrific football against BYU and in the first half against Tulane before rallying from 24 points down in the second half. The gains from that second half were nowhere to be seen against Air Force, but those regressions disappeared against Temple despite Navy being down five defensive starters.
A measure of consistency is the next step forward for the 2020 Midshipmen.
“Hopefully, we’ve got some consistency with the quarterback [Dalen Morris] now,” Niumatalolo said. “That will definitely help us from that standpoint. Our guys have been working hard. Some of our young linemen that haven’t played as much are getting comfortable.
“Just having those guys in there. A quarterback that has played two games. … Hopefully some of the experience will help us to continue to get better.”