ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — The 2018 season, was only the second in which the Navy football program finished under .500 in the tenure of head coach Ken Niumatalolo. The 3-10 season ended a streak of six straight bowl game appearances.
Heading into 2019, one could be excused for thinking that there wouldn’t be a lot of hope around the program. But, as CBS Sports college football analyst Randy Cross told me in a phone interview, the opposite is true. The feeling throughout the program is that the Midshipmen are primed for a bounce-back for two key reasons.
“One is a major shakeup on the defensive side of the ball. Dale Pehrson retired and they changed four or five coaches on that side and brought in [Brian] Newberry from Kennesaw State as the new defensive coordinator along with a bunch of his handpicked guys,” said Cross. “They want to be unpredictably aggressive, and Newberry has had a real history of doing that. The real key to that is you have to be excellent at self-scouting. In trying to be unpredictable, you can be predictable. When you’re trying to go outside of the box, you can end up at the same corner of the box every time.”
The other reason for optimism? The man under center, who will guide the Midshipman from the start of the season this time around.
“Ken Niumatalolo at his media day mentioned that he made a mistake in flip-flopping positions for Perry last season,” said Cross.
Perry, a junior last season, played at several different spots before settling in at QB. He was by far the Midshipmen’s most effective run-threat at the position totaling 1,087 yards on 172 carries with seven touchdowns. In Navy’s triple-option offense, he didn’t get a ton of pass attempts (9/25) but he did add 222 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The passing side of his game may be showcased a bit more this season as Cross says that Coach Ken has some ideas up his sleeve for this year.
“On the passing side, he is going to install a little bit of the run-and-shoot offense. That will be interesting,” said Cross. “I’m not sure you’re going to see it against Holy Cross but they go to Memphis and then host Air Force in the late September-October area so you could see some of it then.”
Introducing more of a passing threat to an offense that has been traditionally all triple-option, all the time, could pay dividends if the unit is able to master those concepts. Luckily for the Mids, they have a pair of early bye weeks to work things out before getting into one of their bigger conference games.
“They are a team that starts with Holy Cross, then a week off, then East Carolina, and then a week off. So before they even go to Memphis, they are going to have a couple of dozen practices to ensure that they have things down from that standpoint,” said Cross. “I expect them to be much improved on defense and a lot more consistent in terms of running the ball on offense.”
In addition to Perry in the backfield, the Mids offense will have several slotbacks that drew carries last year in CJ Williams, Justin Smith and Tazh Maloy. Add in fullback Nelson Smith (78 carries 411 yards 3 TD) and there are some strong skill position players in place to help key a bounce back season. But, a lot of the weight of improvement will lay on the defensive side of the ball where the team struggled mightily last season. That all said, Cross paints a rosy picture for fans of the Midshipmen heading into the season based largely on the fact that their schedule sets up favorably.
“I think they are another one of those teams, like my alma mater (UCLA) that wins 8 or 9 games,” said Cross. “If you look at their schedule the way it is set up right now, and say okay Navy is running the ball, they’re back to their old selves, last year was an aberration. They could win eight or nine games.”
8/31 vs. Holy Cross
9/14 vs. East Carolina
9/26 (Thursday) @ Memphis
10/5 vs. Air Force
10/12 @ Tulsa
10/19 vs. South Florida
10/26 vs. Tulane
11/1 (Friday) @ UConn
11/16 @ Notre Dame
11/23 vs. SMU
11/30 @ Houston
12/14 vs. Army (neutral site)