The 2018 Navy season spun out of control. It bore some resemblance to the 2011 season, in which Navy lost a number of agonizingly close games, but this was not a 5-7 season. This was not a journey which would have been a bowl season if only one bounce of the ball in one game had been different.
By Matt Zemek
This was worse. Navy could not make the argument that one game, one twist of fortune, one moment in time was all that separated the Midshipmen from a bowl bid. This was a season in which Navy repeatedly got shoved around.
This next fact is a jarring statistic, and if coach Ken Niumatalolo wants to motivate his players, he could do a lot worse than slap it everywhere in the locker room or the training facility: Air Force and Army both held Navy under 130 yards rushing last year.
Navy rushed for an average of “only” 276.1 yards per game last season. For a normal team and a normal group of human beings, 276 rushing yards per game is great, but at Navy, it meant the lowest average rushing yards per game since 2002, the year when Paul Johnson began the culture shift which occurred and took root in Annapolis. 276 rushing yards per game wouldn’t be such a problem if Navy had a reliable passing game which could hit the big play on a consistent basis, but the Mids did not have that last season. As a result, when the Mids get limited to fewer than 130 rushing yards per game, they are dead in the water.
The offensive line got shoved around at times in 2018, most notably by the two Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy rivals, but also by Cincinnati and Tulane. That’s four out of 12 games, one-third of the team’s contests. That can’t be allowed to happen again in 2019.
Navy’s offense did what it is supposed to do in 2016. The Midshipmen averaged 37.9 points per game. That level of output will always bring Navy to its desired standard of performance. The Mids won nine games that season, doing what they have done so often in the Niumatalolo-Johnson era (seven seasons with at least nine wins).
In the last two seasons, Navy lost its edge.
In 2017, Navy averaged 30.5 points per game. The program sought a rebound in 2018, but instead of improving, the unit became noticeably worse, posting only 25 points per game.
Navy’s defense is never going to be dominant. This program can’t expect to field Alabama-type athletes on defense and smother opponents with regularity. Navy has to be a high-scoring team to put itself in position to win most (not all, but most) of its games. The Mids ceased to be high-scoring last season. A 25-points-per-game average will, in this era of modern football and spread passing, always be a disaster for Navy.
The offensive line — against Army and Air Force and on too many other occasions — did not impose itself on the opposition.
That simply has to change in 2019.
If you want to look for a turning point, a source of urgency, and a centrally defining aspect of this new season of Navy football — which began with spring practice next week on today, Monday, March 18 — the development and refinement of the offensive line is a good place to start.