ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Navy's football team has done a good job of bouncing back from defeats over the last 12 years.
Since 2003, there have only been nine instances in which the Midshipmen have dropped two in a row. A six-game skid in 2011 was the only time during that stretch when Navy has lost more than two straight.
"I think a big part of that is these kids. They're pretty resilient," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "You go through a lot at the academy. It's hard to get these guys down because they deal with so much. You have to be a tough person to go to school here."
Navy has not lost two straight since falling to Notre Dame and Penn State to start the 2012 season. That streak will be tested on Saturday, when the Midshipmen (2-2) seek to bounce back from last week's loss to Rutgers against visiting Western Kentucky (1-2).
A year ago, Navy lost to the Hilltoppers 19-7. Western Kentucky rolled up 417 total yards of offense, and linebacker Andrew Jackson anchored a defense that held Navy to just 162 yards.
Here are some things to watch when Navy hosts Western Kentucky on Saturday:
IN A RUSH: Western Kentucky limited Navy's triple option to a mere 86 yards rushing last year. The Hilltoppers employed a five-man front with three down lineman and a pair of stand-up defensive ends. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt periodically threw in a wrinkle by having one of the down linemen back off the line of scrimmage and try to time the snap count and shoot the gap. "It's going to be a huge challenge. It's a good football team that got after us last year," Niumatalolo said.
AERIAL ATTACK: Western Kentucky comes to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium having lost two straight — 42-34 at Illinois and 50-47 to interstate rival Middle Tennessee. Quarterback Brandon Doughty directs an offense that is putting up an eye-popping 608.7 yards per game. The Hilltoppers are second nationally in passing offense with an average of 486.3 yards. Doughty has completed 117 of 170 passes for 1,459 yards and has thrown 12 touchdowns to seven different receivers. The Hilltoppers rank third in Football Bowl Subdivision in third down conversions (60 percent) and ninth in scoring with 46.7 points per game. But their defense is allowing an average of 41 points and 508.7 yards per game.
BUDDY GETS GREEN LIGHT: Navy defensive coordinator Buddy Green will be on the sidelines Saturday after experiencing a health scare. Green was hospitalized last Saturday morning with flu-like symptoms, but wound up coaching that day against Rutgers against the advice of doctors. Green had to check back into the hospital that night and remained there until Tuesday morning with an undisclosed illness. The 61-year-old coach was cleared to return to work on Wednesday. "I'm good to go," he said.
BEEN HERE BEFORE: This marks the eighth time in the last 12 years that Navy has started its season 2-2. The Midshipmen are 6-1 in the fifth game during those eight seasons. The only time the Midshipmen failed to win their fifth game while sitting at 2-2 was in 2011.
UNCHARACTERISTIC MISTAKES: Navy has six turnovers through four games this season after committing just 10 all last year. Opponents have scored 20 points off Navy turnovers, including two fumble returns for touchdowns. The Midshipmen have traditionally ranked among the national leaders in fewest turnovers and penalties, which is a big part of their formula for success. Navy also ranks an uncharacteristic ninth in penalty yardage per game (29.75) this season. "Our penalties and turnovers are up. Those are two things we normally don't do and we have to get better in those areas," Niumatalolo said.