This is a Groundhog Day season for Navy football under Ken Niumatalolo. The Midshipmen keep living through the same patterns and the same limitations. The crazy part is that this season isn’t very different from last year.
By Matt Zemek
The program – which had so much success with high-powered triple-option offenses for a decade and a half under Paul Johnson and then Niumatalolo – has struggled in the 2020s. Navy has had a very difficult time stringing together plays, possessions and games on offense.
How bad has it been for Navy in 2022? This one fact tells the story: Navy has failed to score at least eight points in the first three-quarters of every game it has played. The same program which produced Ricky Dobbs, Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Keenan Reynolds, and Malcolm Perry – who led hugely productive Navy offenses and gave the Midshipmen a lot of horsepower – can’t score 10 points in the first three-quarters of a single game, not even against Delaware of the FCS. It’s a genuine offensive crisis, and if one wants to look at the win-loss record for this group, it’s a team crisis as well, even though the defense is doing its job and playing as well as it reasonably can in a context of profound limitations. We are already at a point in Navy’s 2022 season where the keys to the game are obvious to the point of being very repetitive … but what else can one say when the theme of each week is itself quite repetitive?
1 – Big plays
Would it be great to forge 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drives? Of course, it would … but the shortest and most direct line to more touchdowns, more offense, and a better outlook with better results is for Navy to crack the code and hit home runs, whether in the running game or the passing game. Instant strikes not only change the scoreboard and give the defense a lot more margin for error; they give the offense new belief in its capacities and can reshape how every Navy offensive player performs. Guys need to see the system work. They need to see what can happen when everyone does his job well. The coaching staff needs to see a well-drawn-up play unfold the way it was intended to. Unlocking big plays is the most immediate way for Navy to change the trajectory of its offense and, by extension, its season.
2 – Fourth downs
If Navy can’t hit the big play, the next thing which boosts confidence throughout an offensive unit is to succeed on fourth downs. Navy has to walk over the hot coals of pressure and confront its problems. An extra ounce of clarity and attention to detail can make all the difference in these crucial and defining situations.
3 – Defensive scores
If all else fails on offense, the defense has to find ways to strip balls from running backs, jump routes, and hunt big plays. This doesn’t mean being reckless, but it does mean looking for details in film study which offer the chance to get defensive scores and win games in some form or fashion. Whatever it takes has to be the mantra for a team whose offense can’t get out of jail.