UNIVERSITY PARK - Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo has humbly admitted it will take a perfect game by his team in order to have a chance to win come Saturday afternoon against Penn State.
While Penn State looks to avoid just its fourth 0-3 start to a season in school history, Niumatalolo said the Nittany Lions are just a few plays away from being 2-0.
Navy was idle last week after losing to Notre Dame in Dublin 50-10 on Sept. 1st. The off week gave Niumatalolo a chance to watch the Lions' heartbreaking loss to Virginia live.
When asked if he would want to play a Penn State team that won 17-16 last week compared to a team that lost 17-16 a week ago, Niumatalo smiled and said, "I'd rather not see a team like Penn State."
"We have to play perfect," the coach said. "We can't turn the ball over, and we've got to get some turnovers. The ball can't slip out of our hands when we throw it and hopefully the ball slips out of one of their hands into us."
Niumatalolo said that playing a perfect game and hoping to get some breaks along the way is the sheer reality of playing against a team that is more superior talent wise.
The Midshipmen have some impressive wins on their resume from the past few seasons, including two wins over rival Notre Dame. Niumatalolo said the team will need to follow the model from those two wins to try and have a shot against Penn State.
"The last two times we beat a big team, like Notre Dame in '09 and '10, we almost played perfect," the coach said. "We did everything perfect and they were slightly off."
Niumatalolo compared Penn State to a wounded animal with its back against the wall and said he expects his team to be in for a ferocious fight in a wild atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium.
"They're a couple of plays away from being 2-0," Niumatalolo said. "On the other side of it, we got blown out. They know they're only a couple of plays away from being 2-0 and I'm sure their confidence level hasn't been rattled at all."
The Midshipmen are likely to give defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his defensive unit a good test with the infamous triple option the team runs.
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien joked earlier this week at his press conference that he did not put Navy on the schedule. The coach was alluding to the fact that Navy's offense is so hard to effectively mimic in practice.
"It's very difficult to practice it because you're talking about cut blocks and triple option and triple option play action," O'Brien said.
O'Brien stressed the importance of playing responsible and disciplined football. The coach said that his defense will have to play assignment football to shutdown the Midshipmen attack.
When defending against the triple option, the defensive ends especially must play assignment football and not overpursue to the ball carrier.
Defensive end Deion Barnes said the coaching staff has been stressing to the team the importance of playing their keys and staying within their gaps.
"You definitely have to be more disciplined," Barnes said. "You've got to read blocks better, watch for the people cutting you and you have to be more attentive this week."
Saturday's game will be the first against Navy since 1974. That year the Midshipmen came to Happy Valley and upset the nationally-ranked Lions, 7-6. The win ended the Lions 21-game home winning streak.
Niumatalolo said that time will tell how his team reacts to playing in front of the massive Beaver Stadium crowd. He said although his team was on the international stage two weeks ago in Ireland, he expects Beaver Stadium to be much louder than the crowd of 48,820 at Aviva Stadium.
While Penn State is still looking for its first win, Niumatalolo knows his team will need to make major improvements from its opening game that include being able to control the time of possession. The coach said he won't let Penn State's record fool him or his team into seeing Saturday as an easy chance at a win over a major program.
"They are a proud program," Niumatalolo said. "Their pride has been hurt a little bit and their ego has been hurt. Their reputation has been questioned and when you have a proud, rich tradition like that, there is no doubt in my mind that they want to set people straight."