Entering the 2020 season, the big question mark for Navy football — you know, other than the coronavirus — is who the starting quarterback is going to be.
It’s likely to be Perry Olsen, who appeared in eight games last season behind the electric Malcolm Perry. Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo told PressBoxOnline that Olsen is “ahead on the depth chart because of his experience.” Olsen ran the option in high school and in prep school and he’s a “big, physical runner,” Niumatalolo says. At about 6-foot and around 205 pounds, he’s sort of in the mold of someone like Will Worth, who led the Mids to the AAC Championship game in 2016 after never starting a game in previous seasons.
But other guys could take snaps under-center too. The job is open, and guys like Chance Warren, Dalen Morris, Tyger Goslin and Maasai Maynor will be gunning for the top spot.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, all are pretty inexperienced. In fact, Navy has one of the least-experience quarterback groups in the nation as they are one of 14 FBS teams who enter the season with zero starts at quarterback on their roster, according to the academy’s sports information department. Duke, Colorado and LSU are among the rest.
But there’s one thing that puts Niumatalolo’s mind at ease about his quarterback situation. Whoever the starter is, they’ll be surrounded by reliable ball carriers in the backfield.
“That’s what I feel really good about,” Niumatalolo told the Athletic. “If you’ve got an inexperienced quarterback, I feel good that the skill group around him are guys that have played a ton.”
A season ago, Navy powered ahead for 360.7 yards per-game on the ground, giving them the nation’s best rushing offense by a wide margin, as they were the only team to average more than 300 rushing yards per-game.
And while Malcolm Perry and his 2,017 yards are gone, Navy returns six of its other seven top rushers. Leading the way are Jamale Carothers and Nelson Smith, who combined for 1,305 yards and 21 touchdowns last season on 227 carries — good enough for a combined 5.74 yards per-carry average. And Carothers, who appeared in just nine games because he started last season on the JV squad before breaking out, also caught two touchdown passes.
Carothers, a native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, often made defenders look like bowling pins last year as his 5-foot-9, 203-pound frame rolled over them. He is one of a few Navy players to land on preseason watchlists for annual awards, as he’s up for the Doak Walker trophy.
Elsewhere in the backfield, CJ Williams is the most veteran returning slotback. A year ago, he scampered for 508 yards of total offense and five scores on 63 touches. Keoni-Kordell Mahekau, who has averaged 9.6 yards per-touch in his three seasons with the Mids, also returns.
More good news for the group of speedy and bruising backs, and for the fresh new quarterback, is that Navy should have another solid offensive line. Two starters return and the three likely candidates to slide into starting roles — Justin Self, Sean Rattay and Kurt Stengel — are all seniors with varying degrees of experience.
The Mids are also returning 93 percent of their receiving production from a year ago, according to the Athletic.
So, while Navy’s quarterback won’t have much experience as a starter, everyone around him will.
The Navy offense heading into 2020 is sort of like my first car, a 1985 Chevy El Camino. It wasn’t flashy and it was far from brand new, but it was a lot of fun around the back roads of the Eastern Shore and I absolutely loved it. It was a machine. Some of my friends were fans of it. I could bang it around, slide it into a ditch, back it into another car and it would be fine. It always got me from A to B. All I had to do was not total it.
Which is to say, as long as Navy’s starting quarterback isn’t a complete total disaster — like the time I was heading to the movies in the El Camino and the water housing blew up, or the time I hydroplaned and took out a fence — then this offense should be just fine.