Service Academy Football Roundup — Week 1 a portrait of 180-degree opposites
On the weekend when FBS college football returned — in a pandemic, after an offseason unlike any other — one probably expected the season openers for Army, Navy, and other teams to be a mixed bag: some good, some bad, some reason for concern, some reason for optimism, and a lot of mystery for the journey ahead.
Naturally, this being the year 2020 — when nothing makes sense — the reality for Army and Navy in Week 1 (with Air Force not yet playing) confounded those broader expectations. It’s hard, if not impossible, to imagine two teams and two games offering a greater study in contrasts than what the Black Knights and Midshipmen delivered out of the gate.
Army maxed out in a 42-0 wipeout of Middle Tennessee in glorious Saturday afternoon sunshine at Michie Stadium. Navy bottomed out in a 55-3 disaster of a defeat at the hands of BYU on a Monday night in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Army didn’t allow a touchdown. Navy didn’t score one.
Army did everything it hoped to do, Navy none of what it normally tries to achieve.
The Black Knights served up a triple-option clinic, aided by a defense which established physical superiority. The Midshipmen offered a textbook example of what NOT to do, crippled by a defense which got thrown around like rag dolls.
The Middle Tennessee team Army beat might not be very good, especially since the Blue Raiders failed to make a bowl game last year. However, MTSU has been an above-average Conference USA program, making a bowl game in five of the past seven seasons. Army didn’t play one of the true bottom-feeders of the FBS and the Group of Five in particular. Middle Tennessee is a respectable program, and Army was just miles better.
BYU is a decent but not spectacular program. The Cougars have been good enough to beat USC and Wisconsin in recent years, but they have been all over the map in terms of consistency and reliability. BYU has rarely stitched together as perfect a performance, start to finish, as it unfurled against the helpless Midshipmen. This doesn’t give Navy any sort of excuse; it merely reveals the extent to which Navy was flattened and failed to measure up.
The big story flowing from the Navy loss is that coach Ken Niumatalolo didn’t have any live contact in practice during the offseason. The last time a Navy practice involved hitting in pads was before the Liberty Bowl victory over Kansas State. Very clearly, the lack of hitting — even once — left Navy unprepared for live action against BYU. Niumatalolo owned the result; the buck clearly stops with him.
Now we’re left to see if a live game — followed by, presumably, some live hitting in future practices — will sharpen the Mids for their next game, an ABC national television outing (due to the Big Ten’s absence!) on Sept. 19 at Tulane.
Army will prepare for Louisiana-Monroe, confident that what it did in Week 1 can carry over to Week 2 against a team which isn’t expected to be particularly strong this year.
Army could not have been better, Navy could not have been worse. We will now find out if these polar opposites are indicators or aberrations for the remainder of these two service academy football seasons.