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C.I.C. MVP of the Week: Nelson Smith paved the way for Navy’s win over ECU

The senior fullback rumbled ahead for 157 yards and a pair of scores in Greenville last weekend.

NCAA Football: Navy at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Navy’s win last Saturday over East Carolina can be traced directly to play of the fullbacks and the offensive line.

Yes, quarterbacks Tyger Goslin and Dalen Morris had to make correct reads and a few other skill position players assisted in the blocking, but the fullbacks rumbled ahead to power the offense through holes created by the big boys in the trenches.

And of the fullbacks and the offensive linemen, there was one player that stood about among the rest.

That player is Nelson Smith, who is this here blog’s C.I.C. MVP of the Week after totaling 157 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. That’s a yards-per-carry average of 9.2, in case you were wondering.

After playing special teams and seeing some time at fullback in 2017, Smith — who checks in around 5-foot-9 and 213 pounds — started seven games in 2018, finishing the year as Navy’s third-leading rusher with 411 yards and three touchdowns on 78 carries. Entering 2019, Smith was seen as the presumptive starter at fullback, but midway through the season, Carothers emerged, Smith’s touches dwindled and his play was overshadowed. Still, he started in seven games, and again finished as Navy’s third-leading rusher with 571 yards and seven touchdowns on 116 carries.

But Carothers’ emergence only made Smith work harder. He entered this season second on the fullback depth chart, but Smith and Carothers have played so well that Navy’s offense has turned into a unit that can feature both fullbacks. Carothers and Smith have become a potent one-two-punch at the position, one that can really wear down a defense. And they aren’t just doing it with simple fullback dives. Many of Smith’s most successful runs vs. ECU were off-tackle.

“There’s a lot of nuance to our fullback run game,” Navy running game coordinator Ashley Ingram said this week. “It may all look like the same play to the casual observer, but there are a lot of little subtle details. We try to attack different fronts in different ways.”

So far this season, Smith has six touchdowns and 342 rushing yards on 55 carries. The East Carolina game was the second straight week in which he had rushed for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s running to the right spots,” Ken Niumatalolo said. “Nelson has been the spark plug this season. He’s running physical and getting a lot of yards after contact.”

Navy had been searching for consistency and identity on offense this season. Malcolm Perry is gone and whoever is under-center can simply not do what he did a year ago. Against BYU and Air Force, the offense was a total mess. But in Navy’s three AAC wins — against Tulane, Temple and ECU — the fullbacks have rushed for 561 yards and eight touchdowns.

A recipe featuring a heavy dose of the hulking fullbacks seems to be working for the Midshipmen. Keep feeding the fullbacks.

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