With 14 minutes left in Saturday’s game, Pitt had just scored to go up 42-14 to put the game out of reach for Navy. And on the Mids sideline, Coach Niumatalolo thought about replacing Bryant with Dobbs at quarterback even though it did not come across that way in the post-game press conference. Upon further reflection after the game, Niumatalolo said he had considered the switch.
“I thought that there was a chance that [Dobbs] might be able to provide a spark to the offense,” said Niumatalolo. “However, [our poor play] wasn’t all Jarod’s fault. I didn’t take out some of the other players who weren’t executing. In those cases we have a rotation and I decided to stick with the starters [a bit longer].”
Navy’s first-year head coach made it clear that if he had replaced Bryant that it should not be interpreted as a punitive action, and that he has faith in Jarod, saying he “is our starter.”
However, Niumatalolo did leave the door open for some fans looking to add to the Bryant/Dobbs debate by noting that the sophomore third string quarterback is “making progress” and “has been getting better.” Nevertheless earlier concerns noted by offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper in an interview with GoMids.com about Dobbs’ decision-making ability are still there. Specifically, Niumatalolo said that Dobbs is still making his share of “mental mistakes” during practice.
Speaking of practice, Kaipo will once again be wearing a green jersey on Monday when the Mids begin to prepare for SMU. Niumatalolo said the decision on when to bring the senior starting signal caller back “keeps him up at night.”
“Who we are playing, what our record is…are all factors that I think about. With a hamstring it is really difficult to know when the right time is because he hasn’t been able to push himself in practice.
“If we are moving the ball and can do it without [Kaipo]…that is a factor because you don’t want to rush him back,” he continued.
“[Kaipo] said last week that his legs felt like ‘jello,’ and that there was no strength there. His hamstring is feeling pretty good, but he has to get his strength back,” added Niumatalolo.
When asked if he thought Kaipo may have pushed himself and came back too early after first injuring his hamstring, Niumatalolo said, “I second guess myself after the fact all the time – it’s part of the job. He wasn’t 100 percent in the Wake Forest game. He never really had a big burst of speed.”
Niumatalolo confirmed the real concern is whether or not to have Kaipo test his hamstring in practice or in a live game. However, ultimately, according to the coach, it will be “up to the player to tell you he can go and up to the doctor to agree.”
Navy’s head coach also spoke about the team’s apparent lack of trick plays that have been called this season. In past seasons, the Mids have been known to open up the offense by running a reverse every so often to keep defenses off balance. However, the failure to establish the running game the way he wants to has been a factor in the play calling according to Niumatalolo.
“We practice them, we always have, but we don’t just use them to use them. We run everything off of our base stuff and we were having trouble running the ball [against Pitt]. Did you see the Georgia Tech – Clemson game? Clemson’s coach decided to run, what three reverses and even a reverse pass on its first possession. The pass was returned for a touchdown. Now we have had some success in the past with reverses, but [deciding when to use them] sometimes depends on what the defense gives you.”
One play the Navy coach will not be calling this year is the one to include a member of the Brigade of Midshipmen on the kick-off coverage team. The popular contest consisted of having non-football playing midshipmen compete for a position on the team for one game. Called the ‘12th Mid’, the player would wear the number 12 uniform and cover one kick-off with the team. The tradition was started by former Navy coach Paul Johnson in 2004, but for the second year in a row, it will not take place.
“Not this year. It’s my first year as head coach and we have a lot of new members of the staff. I decided at the beginning of the season that we needed to get our arms around a lot this season. However, it is something that we have not ruled out for next season,” said Niumatalolo.
And while there will not be a new face on the kick-off coverage team, there may be a new kick-returner added to the mix in the near future according to Niumatalolo. It is no secret that Navy’s fastest player is senior slot back Shun White. However, White has yet to be asked to return kicks – a role that the Mids have struggled to fill after Reggie Campbell’s departure. Navy’s coach has no doubt that White could make an impact in that capacity, but the unit needs to improve as a whole before the player who leads the country in yards per rush is exposed to taking big-time hits.
“We have had three guys get ko’d back there, so we have to clean up our blocking. It wasn’t as bad this week, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see number 26 back there returning kicks at some point.”