Mids trying to right ship vs. Temple
‘Concerned’ Navy alarmed by 35-7 loss to Air Force
For Navy football fans, what happened last weekend in Colorado Springs was alarming.
Air Force absolutely hammered Navy, 35-7, in the first leg of the Commander-inChief’s Trophy series. For the Falcons, it was their most lopsided defeat of the Midshipmen since 2002 when they won at home by a score of 48-7.
That result was not so surprising because Navy was terrible at the time, in the midst of a three-year stretch when it compiled a 3-30 record.
Most observers thought the Navy program was well past the point when it could possibly lose to a fellow service academy in such convincing fashion. After all, the Midshipmen have built a steady, consistent program that has posted winning records in 14 of the last 15 seasons.
Saturday’s matchup with Temple (3-3, 2-0 American Athletic Conference) marks
the midway point of the season and Navy (2-3, 1-1) finds itself at a crossroads. The Midshipmen are riding a two-game losing streak and desperately need to turn things around in a hurry in order to keep alive hopes for a winning season and bowl berth.
Even coach Ken Niumatalolo acknowledged the situation is dire, stating after the Air Force loss that he was “very concerned” because Navy is “not playing very well right now.”
Niumatalolo is in his 11th season as head coach and 21st overall with the program. There have been bad losses during that span and Navy has almost always managed to right the ship. In fact, the Midshipmen have a history of following devastating defeats with uplifting victories.
It most recently happened last year after Navy absorbed a 14-13 loss to archrival Army in the regular-season finale. Niumatalolo made some changes to the practice routine and Navy rebounded to blowout Virginia, 49-7, in the Military Bowl.
In 2016, Navy lost at Air Force then bounced back to upset nationally ranked Houston in what remains one of its biggest wins in AAC play.
It is tough times like these when it helps to have a veteran coaching staff and Niumatalolo is blessed to have seven assistants who have been with the program for 11 years or more.
“We just have to keep grinding. There is no magic wand on this stuff. We just have to go back to work. Our staff has been together a long time and that has always been our approach,” Niumatalolo said. “We can’t panic. We just have to be really humble and self-critical and look at where we made mistakes. So the message is: Don’t panic, keep working, be humble and find a way to move on.”
Navy’s offense struggled during the back-to-back losses to SMU and Air Force. The Midshipmen have been somewhat one-dimensional with quarterback Malcolm Perry taking the bulk of carries. Balance has always been a hallmark of the triple-option offense, but the fullbacks and slotbacks have not been involved nearly as much as years past.
Niumatalolo rejected the notion of moving Perry back to slotback and installing Garret Lewis as the starting quarterback. He said quarterback play was far from the only issue with the offense at the moment and noted the Mids must get better across the board.
Hearing fans and media wonder aloud whether the coaching staff has considered personnel changes or schematic alterations amused Niumatalolo, who said the coaching staff is constantly discussing ways to improve the team.
“That’s what we do all day. It’s not like we come in there and watch Family Feud or put on the Price is Right at 10 o’clock. There are intricate things we talk about every day,” Niumatalolo said. “People ask if we’re going to coach harder now. They don’t realize it’s a commando raid every day. I don’t know how to coach harder than I already do. If things aren’t going well you have to try to change. You have to look at personnel and schemes and how you’re coaching.”
Niumatalolo responded similarly when asked during the American Athletic Conference weekly teleconference if the coaching staff would conduct a summit session in the wake of the resounding loss to Air Force.
“I think every week is a summit. Every week you make changes and figure out how you can get better. You’re always trying to improve. That’s what you do week by week,” he said. “We’re at the Naval Academy. There is no margin of error. You have to scrutinize everything week in and week out. You have to coach with your hair on fire and with a great sense of urgency.”
Faced with a situation in which it desperately needs a bounce-back win, Malcolm Perry will stay at quarterback, according to coach Ken Niumatalolo despite his recent struggles for the Mids. Navy would rather not have seen Temple next on the schedule. The Owls have won the last two meetings between the schools while defending the triple-option quite well.
Temple held Navy to 136 rushing yards on a whopping 52 attempts in last season’s meeting at Lincoln Financial Field. Starting quarterback Zach Abey was swarmed by multiple defenders as he tried to pound the ball up the middle, managing only 60 yards on 25 carries.
Two years ago, in the AAC Championship game, the Mids mustered just 168 rushing yards against a powerful defense that featured several future NFL players such as Haason Reddick (Arizona Cardinals) and Tavon Young (Baltimore Ravens).
Niumatalolo noted that Temple’s defense handled the option in consecutive seasons while being led by two different staffs. Matt Rhule was the head coach in 2016 before being hired away by Baylor and replaced by Geoff Collins.
“They’ve had a really good plan and played it well. You have good coaches that know what they’re doing with really physical players,” Niumatalolo said.