Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry vows improvement after subpar performance vs. BYU

Navy defenders were a step behind the BYU offense throughout Monday night's season opener. BYU running back Lopini Katoa (4) blows past the second level in breaking a long run.

When only one reporter logged onto his virtual news conference Thursday, Navy defensive coordinator Brian Newberry joked that no one wanted to talk to him anymore after what happened to his unit during Monday night’s 55-3 loss to Brigham Young University.


While coach Ken Niumatalolo has shouldered all responsibility for the lopsided loss, Newberry said there was plenty of blame to go around and pointed the finger at himself for not having the defense prepared.


“I’m disappointed. I certainly thought we would perform better,” Newberry said. “We didn’t perform well as a staff and we didn’t perform well on the field fundamentally.”

BYU totaled 580 yards and picked up 28 first downs. That no doubt came as a shock to the Midshipmen, who allowed an average of 314.2 yards per game and ranked 16th nationally in total defense last season.

Some would say to simply flush this game because of the circumstances. Niumatalolo did not hold live practices because he was concerned about the coronavirus and the prospect of losing several players for two weeks or more because of positive tests and contact tracing.

“You can’t put it all on us not going live, but it was definitely a contributing factor to the way we played,” Newberry said. “Not tackling and not seeing a full-speed live look. We looked like we typically do during a first fall scrimmage.”

However, Newberry also made it clear the staff and players bear responsibility for the subpar defensive performance.

“Like you do after every loss, you have to lick your wounds, look at yourself first and try to figure out what you can do better,” Newberry said. “As coaches, we have to figure out how we can help the players. Players have to take responsibility and be accountable for themselves as well.”

Describing it as a “perfect storm,” Newberry said the combination of Navy not being physically ready to play and BYU having spent the month of August hitting was overwhelming. Compounding the problem was a Cougars offensive line led by All-American candidates James Empey and Brady Christensen that mauled the Midshipmen throughout.


“I was concerned about whether we could hold up against them up front. That was a veteran offensive line, a big and physical offensive line,” Newberry said. “I didn’t think it would be as bad as it was.”

BYU was able to do whatever it wanted because the offensive line blew Navy off the ball on running plays and did not allow any defenders to touch quarterback Zach Wilson on passing plays. The Cougars boasted superb balance, rushing for 301 yards and passing for 279.

Newberry said BYU’s ability to establish the run set up play-action pass.

Navy’s improvement defensively last season was due largely to stopping the run and making teams one-dimensional. The Midshipmen ranked 10th nationally in rushing defense, giving up just 105.8 yards per game on the ground.

“One thing we’ve done well is defend the run, and that’s because of gap integrity and having all 11 guys know where they fit,” Newberry said. “That kind of went sideways [on Monday night]. We lost gap integrity and didn’t fit things right.”


Newberry was not pleased with the intangible aspects of how Navy played, a factor that could not be blamed on non-contact practices.

“I didn’t think we played with the elite effort we talk about around here. I thought our toughness wasn’t there,” he said.

In his first season as coordinator, Newberry turned around the Navy defense by implementing a system that was unpredictable. He utilized a variety of exotic blitzes to wreak havoc in the backfield, and the Mids amassed 80 tackles for loss and 30 sacks as a result.

That aggressive, attacking mentality was not evident Monday night with Navy managing only four tackles for loss and being held without a sack. Standout inside linebacker Diego Fagot had two tackles for loss, while Ian Blake — backup at the outside linebacker position known as raider — contributed 1½.

“They had a lot to do with us not getting negative plays. We want to get people in second-and-long, third-and-long situations and make them more predictable,” Newberry said. “When you look at the third downs in that game, I think there were only two third-and-longs. We were atrocious in the early downs and never got them behind the sticks.”

Thanks to a bye week caused by cancellation of the Lafayette game, Navy has two weeks to prepare for its American Athletic Conference opener at Tulane. Newberry expects the defense to look much better Sept. 19 at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans.


“Some of your biggest growth comes after your biggest setbacks,” he said. “We’re going to be OK — I promise you that. We’re going to get this ship turned around in the right direction. We’ll be much better when we play Tulane.”

Niumatalolo announced Wednesday that the Midshipmen would begin conducting full-contact practices. Newberry believes that will help the defensive staff address some of the problems that cropped up during the BYU game.

“Some of the things you typically correct after that first scrimmage are what we’re looking to correct now,” he said. “A lot of little things like fundamentals, details, pad level, angles, leverage, tackling … you name it. We didn’t do anything well.”

Meanwhile, competition for spots on the depth chart will resume with players having to prove themselves anew in a different practice environment. During a meeting with the entire defense, Newberry made it clear no starting spot was safe and hinted at possible position changes.

“I talked to the defensive unit about going out and competing as though their jobs are on the line,” he said. “These next few days are going to be intense. We’re going to coach them hard and see how they respond."