Navy Week Gameday Central
Navy Week Q&A with Secondary Coach John Butler
VIDEO: Military Appreciation Week - DE Brent Smith
VIDEO: Military Appreciation Week - FB P.J. Byers
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions return home Saturday to face off with Navy (0-1) on Military Appreciation Day in Beaver Stadium (3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2).
Penn State will pay tribute to the men and women in uniform, including a pair of current Nittany Lions who have direct ties to the armed forces. Senior fullback P.J. Byers is an active member in the Navy while playing football for Penn State. When he graduates, Byers will become a Navy officer. Fellow Nittany Lion Brent Smith is a "run-on" defensive end who served in the Marines for eight years, including two tours of Iraq. Offensive graduate assistant Steve Williams also has ties to the military. His mother, Sandra Perry, served 26 years in the Air Force.
On the field, Penn State is seeking its first win under head coach Bill O'Brien following a hard fought 17-16 setback at Virginia last week. The Nittany Lions forced four turnovers and controlled the game, but fell short on the scoreboard. Following a good week of practice, the Nittany Lions head into Saturday's clash against Navy with a great deal of confidence. Welcome to the gameday preview.
What to Watch For - Penn State
1. Coach O'Brien indicated late in the week that the Nittany Lions will turn to Michael Zordich, Curtis Dukes and Zach Zwinak as the primary ball carriers on Saturday. Zordich is no stranger to the backfield, but he has taken a lot of reps this week at the tailback position for the first time in his college career. The senior back is a downhill runner with good hands out of the backfield. Dukes and Zwinak are both coming off of two very good weeks of practice. Coach O'Brien wants to establish the running game against Navy's defense, but look for Matt McGloin to use success in the running game for deep shots down the field to the weapons in the receiving corps. Allen Robinson enters the game as the top receiver in the Big Ten with 19 receptions through two games.
2. Navy's unique triple option style is a challenging offense to prepare for. Penn State's defense needs to account for several players on every down. Ensuring that the quarterback, fullback and pitchman are all covered on every play is what Ted Roof and the defensive staff have stressed all week. That task is easier said than done against a team like Navy that practices the triple option every day. Being disciplined on defense and working against Navy's cut-blocks is crucial for the Nittany Lions on Saturday. Additionally, Penn State will be looking to take Navy out of its comfort zone and force the Midshipmen into third and long situations. Ideally, Navy wants to see manageable third downs on every possession to avoid throwing the ball. One-on-one tackling is another area to keep an eye.
3. Two areas Coach O'Brien wants to see improvement in this week are special teams and red zone offense. Special teams play has been an integral part of every practice since training camp began on Aug. 6. This week was no different for the Nittany Lions. Repetition in all facets of special teams play is what the kicking operation worked on throughout the week. In the red zone, look for the tight ends to play a bigger role in the attack on Saturday. Execution in the red zone starts with consistency from the offensive line.
What to Watch For - Navy
1. Under head coach Ken Niumatalolo, Navy has a 27-4 record when it scores first. When its opponents have scored first during that span, Navy is 5-18. Additionally, Navy has lost its last eight games when the opposition has scored first. Those stats speak volumes about Navy's ability to execute its offense without being forced to throw the ball. When the Midshipmen play with a lead and dictate the tempo they are a different team. Quarterback Trey Miller is the catalyst of the Navy offensive attack. The junior carried the ball 20 times in the season-opener against Notre Dame.
2. Continuing with the same theme, Navy's ability to make Penn State play its game will play a huge role in the final outcome. As we mentioned, the Midshipmen will need to keep third downs at a manageable distance throughout the day. Avoiding turnovers and giving the Nittany Lions a short field is essential to Navy's success on Saturday, as well.
3. Defensively, Navy will have its hands full getting into the backfield against the size of Penn State's offensive line. Nonetheless, the Midshipmen need to find a way to get off the field on third down against the Nittany Lions. Limiting the number of Penn State's big offensive plays is another big area for the Navy defense.
Kickoff: 3:35 p.m.
TV: ABC (ESPN2 outer market) - Mike Patrick (PBP), Ed Cunningham (Analyst), Jeannine Edwards (Sidelines)
Radio: Penn State Sports Network - Steve Jones (PBP), Jack Ham (Analyst), Loren Crispell (Sidelines)
Stadium: Beaver Stadium (106,572) - Natural Grass
Coaches: Bill O'Brien - 0-2, 1st season
Ken Niumatalolo - 32-22, 5th season at Navy
The Series: 37th Meeting
The Final Word:
Despite an 0-2 start to the season, Penn State's confidence level has not wavered one bit. Members of the senior class walked around the locker room immediately following last Saturday's game against Virginia to tell the team to keep battling. This group of Nittany Lions knows how to face adversity, and this week has been no different than the previous two. Penn State practiced with great enthusiasm and was sharp on the practice field throughout the week. Navy presents a unique challenge unlike anyone else on the schedule. As secondary coach John Butler said this week, the Midshipmen try to minimize the athletic advantage their opponents have with disciplined football for 60 minutes. The Nittany Lions are well prepared for Navy's attack, but it is difficult to mimic the speed of the triple option until the game starts. Penn State made significant strides from week one to week two. Coach O'Brien is looking for more of the same progression on Saturday with better execution on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Pay close attention to the team's play in the red zone. Navy will play hard for the duration of Saturday's game, and the Nittany Lions are motivated to play well at home.
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