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Season Preview: Navy football seeks second straight C.I.C. Trophy in 2020

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On offense, there will be a new quarterback. On the other side, Brian Newberry’s defense is anchored by Diego Fagot. Navy opens its 2020 season with BYU.

NCAA Football: Southern Methodist at Navy Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After a difficult campaign in 2018, the Navy Midshipmen made some changes for 2019. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo committed to playing Malcolm Perry at quarterback and Ivin Jasper devised a scheme and called plays that catered to the electric play-maker’s strengths. It proved to be the right move, as Perry finished second in the nation in rushing with 2,017 yards and seventh in the nation in scoring with 21 touchdowns. Navy set a school record with a clip of 360.6 rushing yards per-game.

On the other side of the ball, Brian Newberry was brought in as defensive coordinator and gave the Mids’ defenders an identity. On defense, Navy was aggressive above all else. And Newberry’s creative play calls and deceptive blitz schemes made them unpredictable. The Mids’ defense improved dramatically, going from 90th in the country to 10th in rush defense, 121st to 20th in allowing third down conversions, and 86th to 16th in total defense.

An offense powered by Perry and a rejuvenated and re-imagined defense paved the way for Navy to have one of its best seasons ever. The Mids finished 11-2, beat Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl, and were ranked 20th in the final AP Top 25 Poll. Most importantly, Navy beat Air Force and Army, bringing the C.I.C. Trophy back to Annapolis.

This season is going to be different for Navy in countless ways. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mids’ schedule was shuffled around and reconfigured a bit. For the first time since 1926, Navy will not play Notre Dame, bringing an end to what was the longest uninterrupted intersectional rivalry in college football. Navy will also not play its typical home warm-up game against an FCS side from the Patriot League.

Rejiggered schedules did lead to something neat for Navy though. For the first time since 1989, they’ll play BYU in Annapolis. And the game – featuring two Polynesian head coaches – will be played in front of a national audience; albeit without fans in the stands.

2020 has been weird, but we will have college football. Monday night, when the Mids take on the Cougars, we’ll see what a Perry-less version of the Navy offense will look like, and if the defense is ready for an encore performance in Newberry’s second season at the helm.


2020 Navy Football Preview

Mitchell Northam / Against All Enemies

Opener: BYU at Navy

When: Monday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. EST

Where: Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland

Watch: ESPN | Kirk Herbstreit and Rece Davis will have the call. Allison Williams will report from the sideline.

The buzz: This game is projected to be a close one, as spreads range from either side being favored by as much as 1.5 points. The game will mark the first start for senior Navy quarterback Dalen Morris, who beat out sophomores Perry Olsen and Masai Maynor for the job. BYU will be led by Zach Wilson, who has been christened as the “Mormon Manziel” for his abilities to makes plays on the run. BYU will be without star tight end Matt Bushman, who has logged 125 catches for more than 1,700 yards and nine touchdowns in his Cougars’ career.

Other key games

Oct. 3 at Air Force: Last season, Navy gave the Falcons one of their two losses on the season. This year, Air Force is scheduled to play just two games this fall after the Mountain West suspended fall sports. Air Force will have a long while to prepare for the Mids.

Nov. 14 vs. Memphis: The Tigers handed the Mids one of their two losses last season. Memphis is picked to finish third in the AAC this season and brings back a good chunk of the depth chart that led the Tigers to a Cotton Bowl berth last year. Mike Norvell is gone, but the Tigers should be contenders again for the conference crown.

Dec. 12 vs. Army in Philadelphia: If there’s one college football game you can count on getting played this year, it’s this one. It remains to be seen if fans will be allowed, if the atmosphere is still the same or if the game will get moved to a different location, but count on Army and Navy meeting on the gridiron at some point this year. Navy broke Army’s three-year win streak last season and will attempt to start another streak of their own this year.

Quotes and Notes

  • According to Bill Wagner at the Capital Gazette, Luca Fratianne will be the starter at left tackle. The starter at left guard will be a game-time decision on Monday.
  • On Friday, Ken Niumatalolo said of the offensive line heading into the opener: “There’s a grind that they go through – we call it the furnace – where, if you come out of the furnace, you’re a pretty tough dude. These guys are constantly under the chutes. A lot of times we get seniors that end up playing (on the O-Line) and juniors, and they just kind of groom themselves in there. They learn our system, they stay the course… Playing O-Line in an option offense, there’s a lot of running, a lot of pad work, a lot of chute work. So, you feel good that way, but the problem is, we’ve been blocking bags. And all of us have seen BYU’s D-Line. That’s what makes you not confident. You feel confident in that, guys know what they’re doing, but can we block those guys? We’ll find out on Monday.”
  • Niumatalolo named Daniel Davies, a sophomore from Richardson, Texas, as the team’s starting punter on Friday. He added that Myles Fells and Chance Warren will be involved in returning kicks and punts.
  • On not playing BYU previously and the potential of continuing the series: “I’ve actually tried to stay away from them, because I know they’re a good team… It would be pretty cool to continue it on.”
  • Navy slotback CJ Williams was named to the watchlist for the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award.
  • For Va’a Niumatalolo, Navy’s Assistant to the Director of Football Operations, he’ll be coaching against his alma mater on Monday. Va’a appeared in 19 games at BYU as a linebacker.
East Carolina v Navy Photo by Benjamin Solomon/Getty Images

Players to Watch

Diego Fagot, Junior, Linebacker

As a sophomore last season, Fagot enjoyed a breakout campaign and emerged as a defensive play-maker in Newberry’s system. He led the team in tackles with 100, had 12 tackles-for-loss, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception and two pass breakups on his way to being named First Team All-AAC. This preseason, he landed on the Bednarik and Nagurski watchlists and he’s becoming a legitimate professional prospect.

Required reading:Diego Fagot Aims To Lead Navy Defense To Even Greater Heights In 2020” (Todd Karpovich, via PressBox)

Jamale Carothers, Junior, Fullback

A 5-foot-9 native of Bowling Green, Kentucky, Carothers had a storybook sophomore season. He began the year on the JV squad and wasn’t given a chance to play until Navy’s road game at Tulsa on Oct. 12. He performed well, pushing ahead for 52 yards and a score on five carries. Two weeks later at home against Tulane, he broke out, scoring four times on 15 touches, covering 185 yards of the field. He was even better against Houston on Nov. 30, scoring five times, and by then had established himself as a starter and Navy’s best offensive weapon not named Malcolm. Navy folks expect big things out of the talented fullback this season.

Required reading: “Navy football boasts solid one-two punch at fullback with Jamale Carothers and Nelson Smith (Bill Wagner, via the Capital Gazette)

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