Many thanks to The Birddog for answering my Navy-related questions despite his busy schedule. He was not able to submit any questions to me, but I definitely owe him a feature in the future. I was looking forward to riffing on the Triple Option too.
Q: Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada missed Navy's first two games with injuries, and was pulled from the Duke game during the first half due to heat exhaustion. What's his status, and how important is he to Navy's success on offense?
A: Very important. You could argue that Jarod Bryant is the better runner. Kaipo is faster, but Jarod has quicker feet and is generally harder to tackle. What makes Kaipo the #1 quarterback is his grasp of the offense. When Paul Johnson was the offensive coordinator at Hawaii, the Rainbows won the WAC title in 1992 with a quarterback named Michael Carter. Carter just happened to be Kaipo's offensive coordinator in high school, and he installed Paul Johnson's offense. Add in a year at the Navy prep school, and Kaipo's been running this offense for almost a decade. Since repetition means so much to option quarterbacks, it's understandable why the guy who's had the most reps is the starter. The playbook shrinks when he's out of the game.
He's expected to start again this week. The real question is how long he'll last.
Q: Duke and Ball State look to be better this year, but it still must be disappointing to lose two winnable games early in the season. Has Navy gotten off to a slow start because they miss Paul Johnson, roster turnover, or for some other reason? What are your initial impressions from the first year following Johnson's departure?
A: The offense misses Kaipo. Camille Powell mentioned in the Washington Post today that the three main cogs of the Navy machine-- Kaipo, Shun White, and Eric Kettani-- have been on the field together for all of three plays this season. They should be together on Saturday, so maybe we'll see the Navy offense we're used to.
The defense was horrible against Ball State, too; they looked the way they did last year. They were much improved against Duke, even though the scoreboard doesn't reflect that. The book on beating Navy is to spread them out, which Rutgers seemed to be doing against North Carolina. At least more than they did last year anyway.
Q: According to internet rumors, the future of the Rutgers/Navy series is in doubt. I don't think Greg Schiano likes preparing against the Triple Option, but our AD Bob Mulcahy frequently speaks of his admiration for the service academies, so I'd expect that he would want the series to continue. Do Navy fans want to keep playing Rutgers?
A: I can't really speak for Navy fans, but everyone likes an easy road trip. Navy has been rearranging its 2009 schedule to accomodate playing Ohio State. Other than that, I haven't heard anything about not finishing the rest of the series.
Q: Rutgers fans are probably familiar with Kaheaku-Enhada, and Shun White and Eric Kettani are forces to be reckoned with in Navy's backfield. Who are the other Midshipmen standouts that we should know about?
A: If Kaipo leaves the game, Jarod Bryant will assume control of the offense. He'll do most of his running between the tackles. WR Tyree Barnes had a bit of a breakout game at Duke, and could be a factor. Defensively, linebacker Corey Johnson looks like he's becoming our #1 pass rusher. He's quick; he was the starting point guard on the basketball team for 3 years. Still learning the finer points of getting to the quarterback, though. Like avoiding helmet-to-helmet contact.
Q: There may be some awkwardness in the Belichick family this week. Bill Belichick grew up around the Navy football program because his father was an assistant coach at the school. His son Steve largely grew up in New Jersey while his dad was an assistant in the NFL, and now plays lacrosse at Rutgers. Who should the Belichicks cheer for in this matchup?
A: I will look the other way if Bill chooses to pull for Rutgers, but only because he has good vibes to burn after re-signing Kyle Eckel this week.
It's going to be a tough matchup on Saturday, with both teams feeling the pressure after getting off to disappointing starts. Many thanks to the author of The Birddog for answering my questions, and Rutgers fans will surely be pulling for the Midshipmen the rest of the year. Let's hope they can continue the winning streak against Notre Dame!