The 2018 season was the Navy Midshipmen’s first losing season since 2011 (5-7). Before that, their last losing season was in 2002. So, you could imagine how frustrating a 3-10 record is for everyone involved: the players, the coaching staff, and the fans.
Let’s take it one step at a time and briefly review how we ended up here.
The Midshipmen opened up the season in a cross-country trip to Hawaii. In a game that was expected to be a relatively easy win, just ended up being the first exposure of the team’s defensive issues. Hawaii quarterback, Cole McDonald, threw for six touchdowns leading the Rainbow Warriors to a, 59-41 victory.
The Midshipmen bounced back in an exciting one-point win over conference opponent, the Memphis Tigers. It was great win for Navy, and gave us all hope that the Hawaii game was just a case of the “early-season scaries”.
Navy won their next game with ease, beating FCS opponent, Lehigh, 51-21. Although, this was their last win for a while.
The Midshipmen traveled to Dallas to take on SMU. Again, expecting an easy victory for Navy, we were unpleasantly surprised. Navy turned over the ball three times and lost in overtime after SMU converted a two-point conversion, 31-30. A true heartbreaker.
Navy was back on the road to face fellow service academy, the Air Force Falcons. Frankly, the Midshipmen were completely embarrassed, losing 35-7. This was close to rock bottom and we all knew there wasn’t much hope for the rest of Navy’s season.
Following those losses, the Mids flew out to San Diego in a neutral site game against Notre Dame. That wasn’t close either, losing 44-22.
Finally, we hit rock bottom. Navy lost to Cincinnati, 42-0. This was the first shutout for the Midshipmen since 2012. However, after this loss, we began to see a different Navy team.
The Midshipmen came back and fought hard against the undefeated, UCF Knights, losing by only 11 points, in Orlando.
Then, Navy broke their seven game losing streak with a home-win, on senior day, beating Tulsa 37-29. This game was, by far, the highlight of the season. The seniors were able to win their final game in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Following the win, the Midshipmen were heartbroken again against Tulane, where they too, lost at the end of the game on a two-point conversion. The team was devastated.
Lastly, the season finished off with a tough loss to Army, where had a few plays went in favor of the Midshipmen, the game could have been different.
To be blunt, there really weren’t too many positives on the season. However, there were definitely bright spots and strong season performances from specific individuals. First, let’s start with Navy’s kicker Bennett Moehring.
Moehring became the owner of the most career extra points in Navy history this year. He bounced back from a devastating missed game-winning kick in the 2017 Army-Navy Game by making 11 of 13 field goal attempts, including a made kick in this year’s Army-Navy Game. Unfortunately, Moehring is a senior and will not be returning next year for the Midshipmen.
On offense, the two most exciting players of the season will also be returning next year: Malcolm Perry and Nelson Smith. Malcolm Perry, a junior, started the season under center primarily because he is Navy’s most explosive and talented athlete. However, his effectiveness was limited at quarterback and eventually was moved back to his previous position of A-back(Navy’s running back). Perry rushed for over 1,000 yards and was second on the team in touchdowns, with eight.
Nelson Smith shocked everyone in Navy’s first game against Hawaii. Smith, who was largely under-the-radar before the game at number three on the fullback depth chart, averaged 8.6 yards per carry against the Rainbow Warriors. Instantaneously, he became a fan favorite by his opening performance. Smith battled some nagging injuries throughout the year, but as a sophomore, he provides great potential at the B-back position(Navy’s fullback).
Inject Nelson Smith into my bloodstream holy hell— ⚓️#2 Service Academy To Army⚓️ (@BarstoolNavy) September 2, 2018
Good afternoon, its September 2nd and @nsmith_43 is our new favorite player bc of heart, hustle, and seldomly touching the ball— ⚓️#2 Service Academy To Army⚓️ (@BarstoolNavy) September 2, 2018
On defense, there was even less to be positive about from this season. Senior defensive captain, Sean Williams provided big numbers for the Midshipmen this season. Williams had 85 tackles on the year. But was even more impressive was his five forced fumbles and two interceptions, making him responsible for a total of seven of the Midshipmen’s 21 turnovers.
Furthermore, we saw an incredible level of effort, every single play, by senior linebacker, Taylor Heflin. Heflin finished the season with 11.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He played with the level of intensity that we normally see from all 11 defensive players on Navy’s side of the field.
The Midshipmen will return approximately six starters on offense and five on defense. So, about half of Navy’s starting players will return, and that, is the best takeaway from this season.
Coaches often tell their players to forget about the last play. Whether the play, the game, the season, was good or bad, it is in the past and there is nothing to be done except to learn from the experience. So we will not dwell on the past season and all the things that went wrong. However, we will identify some areas that were not great and call them, “Areas for improvement”. Then, we will give some suggestions on how to make these improvements.
First, Navy needs to improve their defense dramatically if they want to compete for an AAC Championship next year. The Midshipmen allowed an average of 27.8 points per game in 2018. No matter how good the offense plays, if the defense allows a score every time the opponent has a possession, very few games are going to be won.
Where Navy is able to compensate for their lack of size on offense by running the Triple Option, the defense does not have such luxury. Navy either needs to get better at recruiting bigger and faster athletes, or they need to improve schematically. Recruiting may be the tougher option, so we will go with coaching. Sione Po’uha, Navy’s defensive line coach, has departed for his alma mater, the University of Utah. Now, I’m not in the business of calling for coaches’ jobs. However, I would say the Navy defensive line severely struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This deficiency played a large role in the number of passing yards allowed by the defense. Whoever takes over for Coach Po’uha will need to figure out a way for the defensive line to get to the opposing quarterback.
But while were talking about Navy’s pass coverage, we can point out that there really wasn't any at all. For a long time, Navy primarily played zone coverage. In recent years, the defense has toyed with man coverage at times. Due to the lack of speed and size of a Navy secondary, man coverage is simply not reasonable. Look for Coach Ken Niumatalolo to stick to what he is comfortable with and have his defense play zone next year.
The quarterback position is not necessarily an area of improvement, but rather an area of uncertainty. Zach Abey and Garret Lewis were two of the three players who played quarterback for the Midshipmen. Malcolm Perry was the third. Lewis and Abey are both seniors and we have already seen the results of the Malcolm experiment. So who is going to play quarterback?
Advice for that: ...well... there isn’t much to say. The best thing Coach Jasper, Navy’s Offensive Coordinator and Quarterback Coach, can do is identify a quarterback during j
Spring practices and ensure they are sound in the basics of the Triple Option.
The Midshipmen will now begin their off-season strength and conditioning, led by Coach Bryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is in his first season as the head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Navy. Previously, he served as an assistant on the Strength staff. Fitzpatrick has great rapport with the players and truly draws out the best from them. You can be sure Navy will be in the best shape they’ve ever been in, coming into the 2019 season.
As for next season itself, it will likely be another tough one. There will be growing pains and unforced errors just simply by the lack of experience at the quarterback position. Nevertheless, the offense will continue to score.
It will be upon the defense to get better and hold the opposing offenses to less than 25 points per game. If they can do that, Navy’s season will go from 3-10 to 10-3.