Thanks to Justin for sharing his insight!
1) We've heard a lot about Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option offense, what can you tell us about Navy's defense?
The Navy defense has definitely played well so far this season. The defensive line may shape up to be one of the better fronts in recent memory with three-year starter and defensive captain Bernie Sarra anchoring the line and DE Will Anthony and Amos Mason wreaking havoc on the outside. Anthony and Mason both turned in stellar performances against ECU.
The linebackers are inexperienced outside of SAM backer Daniel Gonzales, but they have stepped up to the plate for the most part in the first two games. MIKE linebacker Micah Thomas leads the team in tackles so far with 15.
Navy has two good corners in Brendon Clements and Quincy Adams who have a lot of game experience. They also have a pair of safeties in Kwazel Bertrand and Lorentez Barbour that round out an experienced, athletic secondary.
Navy was one of the worst teams in the country in sacks and third down conversion rate last season and in order to be better in this area Coach Niumatalolo has emphasized that they will look to bring more pressure this season than in the past. This has been evident in the first two games and paid dividends against ECU.
2) Ok, but how would you recommend stopping Keenan Reynolds and your triple-option offense?
I will defer to Michael James over at Navybirddog, who gave an exceptional look this week at not only what it looks like to defend the standard triple-option formation, but also what it looks like to try and defend against some of the different wrinkles Navy will throw at you throughout the game. He combines this with also showing you how Diaco historically tackled stopping Navy during his tenure at Notre Dame and the past two years against Army. If you are a UConn fan and want a detailed breakdown of handling the triple-option, this is a must read.
3) Who are the other offensive weapons to keep an eye on?
What makes Navy's offense even more dangerous than normal this season is the fact that not only do they have Keenan Reynolds orchestrating the triple option to near perfection up to this point, but he is surrounded by a really good supporting cast.
Fullback Chris Swain has been dominant so far with consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. The scary part is that his backup Quentin Ezell has looked just as dominant and third stringer Shawn White is no slouch either. They average over 250 pounds, are bruising runners, and have picked up a significant amount of yards after contact this season.
Left tackle Joey Gaston anchors the offensive line and was the offensive player of the game against ECU in a game that saw Reynolds rush for five touchdowns. Offensive tackle coach Chris Culton told me at practice this week that Gaston graded out higher than any other offensive lineman has in the eight years he has been at Navy.
A final offensive weapon to watch out for is junior receiver Jamir Tillman. While Navy does not throw the ball often, Tillman has a knack for coming down with the ball and has caught over 70% of Reynolds passes so far this season.
4) UConn Head Coach Bob Diaco called this perhaps the best Navy team going back 6 years or so, do you agree with that?
Coach Niumatalolo was asked in the post-game press conference last week if this has the makings of a special team. He answered that this team is full of "special people" and he knows how he feels inside about his team but they "will just keep grinding." I kind of feel the same way.
Two games into the season with one of those games coming against FCS opponent Colgate is way too early to try and compare the 2015 version of Navy Football with some of the successful teams in recent memory. The 2010 team lost their three regular season games by a combined 14 points and really dominated Notre Dame that year.
Does this team have the chance to be the best team of the Niumatalolo era? Absolutely.
Keenan Reynolds is going to break records, the offense is full of seniors with a lot of experience, the defense is more athletic and capable of developing into a special unit, their placekicker has never missed a kick since taking over last season, and the list goes on. However, it is way too early to put the special label on any team at this point in my opinion, and Navy is no different. So, I will answer by simply saying there is every reason to be optimistic this year if you are a Navy football fan.
5) By the way, welcome to the AAC! How did it feel to open conference play with a comfortable win over ECU?
The ECU game was great. Navy's offense was a thing of beauty. ECU had no answer for them the entire first half. The defense gave up some points, but that was to be expected. However, they got pressure on the quarterback and made plays when they needed to.
You know what's great about being in a conference, though? Message boards and meltdown threads related to your team. That is probably my favorite part so far of joining the AAC.
It's so nice to have other teams care about your team for more than one game a season. As an independent, outside of Air Force and Army, no one really cared what happened to Navy except for the week their team was playing them. Now I go and read message boards and just bask in the nonsense that is being put out there because even though so much of it is absurd, it's so much fun to see ECU fans lose their minds and UConn fans talk about how Navy is going to get beat by 30 this week and have other fans of other AAC teams chiming in left and right.
6) How do you think the Navy fanbase perceives the challenge UConn will bring Saturday?
I'm sure that the casual Navy fan probably looks at this like the casual UConn fan. The casual Navy fan will probably go so far as to see that UConn went 2-10 last year and have only beat Villanova and Army so far and assume that after Navy's performance against ECU last week that Navy will win this game easily.
UConn has made significant strides in a short time under Bob Diaco, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This should be a really good game, especially when Navy has the ball. UConn's stout defense against Navy's uber-efficient offense should make for some exciting football. I expect the UConn defense to give Navy fits at times, but I also expect Navy to put points on the board because it will be really difficult to completely shut down.
7) Your prediction?
8) See you in Annapolis next year?
Without a doubt. I look forward to reliving this Saturday's game next season over a beer in downtown Annapolis. I may have predicted a Navy victory this week, but if Diaco continues on the trajectory he has this UConn program headed, I won't be looking forward to having to predict this game next year!