ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — The 2019 season has gotten off to a much better start for Ken Niumatalolo and the Navy Midshipmen.
After last season’s uncharacteristic 4-8 campaign, the Mids have already matched that win total, sitting at 4-1 with seven games still left to play. A big reason why has been the return of their dominant running game led by quarterback Malcolm Perry. The Midshipmen are currently leading the nation in rushing yards per game (327.2) while averaging just under 5.4 yards per carry through five games. The triple option attack is one that will usually lead teams to be near or at the top of the rushing ranks. But Navy’s efficiency has been the key, with Perry and CJ Williams both averaging over five yards per carry, while fullback Nelson Smith is just a hair under four.
That efficiency is driven in large part by Perry and his decision-making, something that has impressed CBS Sports Network college football analyst Houston Nutt.
“The thing that to me has been a little bit different this year is Malcolm is so deliberate in his decision-making,” said Nutt. “He is in such control.”
Perry’s decision-making is one part of the reason that Navy’s offense has been so effective. But, it isn’t just a three yards and a cloud of dust, methodical type offense. Perry has shown that he has true big-play making abilities.
“And then he has this speed where like last week against Tulsa, he took it 20 times for over 200 yards,” said Nutt. “He is a true difference-maker, a running back playing quarterback.”
That performance against Tulsa was a breakout game for Perry this season, as it was the first time he went over 200 yards rushing in a game this year. Those explosive plays complement the normal clock-killing nature of the Navy offense. It bodes well for the Midshipmen in their matchup this week against South Florida (3:30 p.m. Eastern Time CBS Sports Network). Charlie Strong’s Bulls team ranks 88th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game, with opponents racking up 176.2 yards per outing and 14 rushing touchdowns already this year. However, they have held opponents to under four yards per carry, which is an area that will be key this week.
“They have to know their responsibilities of who has fullback, who has quarterback and who has pitch,” said Nutt. “That is a full-time job, and that is going to be the key to slow them down. Malcolm is going to get his, for the most part, but you just can’t let him have those big, explosive plays.”
On the other side of the ball, the Navy run defense has been similarly improved. The Mids rank ninth in the country allowing just 86 yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry to opponents this season. South Florida has struggled with finding consistent offense this season, switching quarterbacks two games ago from Blake Barnett to redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud. McCloud is more of a runner than a passer at this point, completing just 52 percent of his passes in 77 attempts while running 45 times at 3.7 yards per carry. McCloud’s status for this Saturday’s game is uncertain, however, as he is dealing with a wrist injury.
Regardless, if Navy is able to pull out the win this Saturday, they move to 2-1 in the AAC West and have home games against the two teams currently ahead of them, Tulane and SMU, still left to play. With Perry leading the offense, it’s hard to count the Mids out of the division race.