Normally, we decide to do these bye week thoughts during the season individually. One of the contributors for each school will take the time to assess where their school is as we get a week off from the regular writing flow and focus in on what’s left of the season.
But, given where Navy football finds itself at this juncture of the year, sitting at 7-1, ranked 24th in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, in the thick of the AAC West race, a CIC victory already under its belt with a 3-6 Army team waiting a month from now, and staring down a showdown with Notre Dame in South Bend, I couldn’t handle this all by myself. No one outside of that Navy locker room predicted that the Mids would be here at this point in the season, and that includes all of us here at Against All Enemies.
The turnaround on BOTH sides of the ball has been nothing short of phenomenal, and all the credit in the world should be given to Coach Niumatalolo, Coach Jasper, Coach Newberry, and the rest of the staff. But more importantly, the credit should be given to Malcolm Perry, for sticking through all the position changes. It should be given to Ford Higgins, Nizaire Cromartie, Perry, and Paul Carothers for the work they have done as team captains. It should be given to the players on the defensive side of the ball who have bought into the new defensive scheme in the way that they have.
Because I couldn’t do this turnaround justice as we head into the last third of the season and the toughest stretch of the schedule with Notre Dame, SMU, Houston, and Army remaining, I decided to bring along all four USNA grad contributors here at AAE to do a Q&A style dissection and reflection of where we are, because well, it’s pretty much unfathomable.
Okay, I already know the answer, but go ahead and tell me if you predicted Navy would get to 7 wins all season on here, let alone be at 7 wins with ⅓ of the season still to play? Do ya’ll remember your season predictions, because embarrassingly for myself I do?
Gavin: I absolutely did not predict Navy would have seven wins this year. However, after last year’s season, I’ll admit I became quite the pessimist. I don’t actually think I made an official prediction because I was fearful of what I would come up with. I didn’t want to come to the fact that the Midshipmen were “probably” not going to do great in my mind.
Rocky: I was optimistic about a 7-6, and maybe even an 8-5 season. I knew that getting the AAC East’s lower half would be significant, but I never imagined rolling into Notre Dame at 7-1.
Austin: I liked the possibility of making a bowl game but I think a seven win season was probably the most optimistic I was expecting. Now, uh, I am hopeful for more.
Editor’s Note: Just for the sake of keeping it real, I said 6 wins was the best case scenario I saw, and predicted 5-7.
What’s more impressive in your opinion, the offense averaging 457 yards per game compared to 348 a game last year or the defense going from 426 yards per game to 310?
Gavin: Without a doubt, the defense holding opposing offenses to 310 yards per game is significantly more impressive. The offense has always been able to perform. Navy’s Achilles’ heel has been the defense. Specifically, the lack of pressure on quarterbacks consistently makes it difficult for the secondary to cover receivers for a prolonged period of time. Brian Newberry’s aggressive game plans have changed that completely.
Rocky: I did predict Navy averaging 450 yards a game, but I expected a few more passing yards on average (325 Rushing and 125 Passing). Either way, no doubt the effective passing has enabled wide open rushing lanes. Longtime fans of Navy had to believe it was only a matter of time before the Triple Option got its MOJO back, but no one in their right mind could have predicted what this defense is doing. It was not unreasonable to predict a modest leap forward, as the defense was one of the worst in the country last year, but this is something else. The 2015 defense was pretty great even by Navy standards, allowing them to go 11-2 their first year in the AAC, but they weren’t this good. If the defense keeps this pace up, I really think it’s possible for the Mids to win out, assuming the offense continues to roll as well.
Editor’s Note: Yes, you predicted this in your Bold, and we mean BOLD headlined article. So, I’ll give you that. But to see the offense actually be able to jump to where they are is just as impressive as the defense if you ask me.
Austin: Defense. The offense always had a chance in my opinion. You think of the modern day greats at QB, SB, and FB and you’d figure Jasper could make that happen again. The Newberry hire was extremely intriguing and I think I expected an improvement but not by so much, so quickly. I mean, he is doing this with zero guys he recruited. It’s truly an incredible turnaround.
Similar question with probably the same result for everyone, but scoring offense and defense? Navy went from giving up 33.5 points per game last year to just 18.1 a game so far this year. Offense is at 40.1 points per game compared to just 25 a game last year. Which is a more impressive turnaround? By the way the answer might as well be both, because Navy is top 20 in both categories (10th offense) (19th defense); only Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Penn State, and Oregon can say the same
Gavin: I’m sticking with the defense being more impressive. However, it will be even more impressive if they can maintain this performance against the rest of their opponents this season.
Austin: Yeah, beating the dead horse here I suppose. That’s not to say what the offense has done isn’t impressive. We all knew Malcolm had the playmaking ability and we knew the Navy offensive staff had proven success, so I think it just comes at less of a surprise.
Rocky: Again, it has got to be the defense for me. Yes the offense scored the second lowest amount of points per game since the very beginning of the Triple Option era when new head coach Paul Johnson led his team to 24.2 points per game in 2002 and the Mids went 2-10. Navy was also held to 25 points per game one other time in 2012 when Navy went 8-5. Navy has averaged more than 30 points per game in the triple option era, while allowing more than 26 points per game. So while both are track for historic seasons, the offense has scored in the mid to high 30s five other times in the Triple Option era. However, the defense has held opponents to under 20 points per game just twice. It’s the defense and it’s not even close.
Editor’s Note: Sitting with a top 20 scoring Offense and Defense, Navy is one of just six FBS schools that can say that at this point of the season: Ohio State, Alabama, Penn State, Clemson, and Oregon are the others
Okay, we are ⅔ of the way through the season. Who you got for MVP on offense, defense, and special teams?
Offense: Malcom Perry
Defense: Diego Fagot
Special Teams: Bijan Nichols
Offense: Malcolm Perry
Defense: Jacob Springer
Special Teams: Owen White, actually. Punters get no love and he has nearly 50% punts inside the 20 and is averaging nearly 4 more yards per punt than he did in 2018.
Offense: Malcolm Perry; Honorable Mention, Jamale Carrothers
Defense: Jacob Springer; Honorable Mention, Diego Fagot
Special Teams: Is this a trick question? Bijan Nichols!
Over/under at 2.5 years for Coach Newberry’s tenure at Navy?
Gavin: It’s hard to tell. I will go with under and say 2 years. However, it’s not uncommon for Navy coaches to stay for long periods because of the challenging nature of the job. Again, assuming the Midshipmen defense continues to perform the way they have, Coach Newberry will have a handful of big offers on the table.
Austin: I will take the over here. Not to say I am predicting a setback next year but I’m not sure if what we have seen so far is attainable through the first eight games every year. Double-edged sword, you want him to stay and you want to be successful.
Rocky: If the defense plays like this the rest of the season I would be shocked if he doesn’t get heavily courted in December. Unless the offer is compelling, and at a big program, my guess is he sticks around for another season, but I will be shocked if he stays at Navy for more than 2 years. I’m taking the under.
Plebe or youngster whose career you are most excited to watch unfold?
Gavin: Bijan Nichols. Calling it now, he will end up as Navy’s all-time scoring leader by his senior year. Of course, the offense will have to do its part, but he’s a good kicker with tons of potential.
Austin: Jamale Carothers on the offensive side. The youngster has a unique balance of speed and vision at the FB spot. Obviously Fagot is going to be a lot of fun to watch on the defensive side, but I am also looking forward to seeing Tama Tuitele when he is healthy. But a solid young group on both sides of the ball in multiple positions. Lots of promise that Navy fans should be excited about.
Rocky: Diego Fagot has been one of the anchors of the defense and is poised to be an all-time Navy great. I think Mychal Cooper is the next deep passing threat (think Jason Tomlinson, Tyree Barnes, and Jamir Tillman). Lots of young guys to be excited about.
What is your prediction for Navy’s record at the end of the year now?
Gavin: Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the team and hope they win out. I don’t see any reason it’s not possible, especially if Malcolm Perry stays healthy and avoids that shoulder injury if it’s still bothering him.
Realistically, I think winning in South Bend is going to be extremely difficult. Playing SMU at home helps but they’re still good. And I’d call Houston a “trap game” if there is such a thing. As a player, morale is the lowest when you have to stay in Bancroft on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving when all your friends go home and have to play in Houston two days later. And, Army is what it is.
Overall, I have no idea. Could easily be 4-0 or 0-4 the rest of the way. Officially, I say 4-0.
Editor’s note: This means you are calling for 11-1 heading into the bowl game for those keeping track at home! Also means we would only need one Memphis loss to get a shot at the AAC Champ Game and New Year’s Six!
Austin: Oh, man. I see a winning record to close out the season if certain position groups can stay healthy. That would put Navy at 10-3 including bowl season. But look, 8-4 with a win over Army heading into a bowl game would still be a very impressive 2019 showing.
Rocky: I think 12-2 is a real possibility, but I’ll caveat that by saying it assumes no serious injuries, continued positive progression of the offense, sustained defensive effort, and some lucky bounces . YES IT IS VERY MUCH A STRETCH GOAL. Realistically I think Navy finishes 9-4; which is still a crazy bounce back season.
Lastly, given that Navy is still well in the mix for a spot in the AAC Championsip Game, how do you expect the American race to play out?
Gavin: I don’t see Memphis losing. I hope they do for Navy’s sake. Therefore, Cincinnati beats Memphis in an exciting match that puts the American Athletic Conference truly on the map.
Austin: I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cincinnati vs. Memphis for two weeks in a row. It’s crazy to find that Navy will still be in the race in late November. I went to the 2016 championship in Annapolis and didn’t think I would ever witness Navy in a conference championship game. To think it’s a possibility twice in four years is truly remarkable.
Rocky: To be honest, I didn’t think we’d even be in the mix for the conference championship, let alone hold the top spot in the division at this point. Navy needs Memphis to stumble again, but they have been really close in their last few contests, so it’s not exactly out of the question. If Navy wins out in conference games I think there is a better than 50/50 shot at representing the West. It seems unlikely that anyone other than Cincinnati takes the East.
Well, there you have it folks. We have a #24 Navy Football team the first week of November sitting at 7-1 and staring a ranked showdown with Notre Dame in the face for the first time since 1978.
So, buckle up! It’s gonna be a wild ride the rest of the way!