It’s a good thing Navy football has a bye this week, because the coaching staff has an awful lot of work to do.
The Midshipmen are 0-2 and the product that has been on display so far this season has not been at the level required to beat any opponent.
An anemic and dysfunctional offense was the greatest concern after an embarrassing 14-7 loss to Delaware in the season opener. Now the defense is also under scrutiny after allowing 506 total yards in Saturday’s 37-13 pummeling from Memphis.
It should be noted that both losses came at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, where the Midshipmen no longer have a home-field advantage. Navy is 2-11 in Annapolis since the start of the 2020 season.
Now the Mids must go on the road for the first time this season, traveling to Greenville to meet East Carolina on Sept. 24. ECU is 1-1 after beating Old Dominion, 39-21, Saturday. The Pirates opened with a narrow 21-20 loss to No. 16 NC State.
Coach Ken Niumatalolo vowed that everyone involved with the program will work overtime to get things fixed. He promised in Saturday’s postgame press conference that Navy is a proud program that “is not going anywhere.”
By far the biggest question marks for Navy involve the offense, which is averaging 10 points and 316.5 total yards per game. Those figures are not going to get it done against the many high-powered programs in the American Athletic Conference.
So far through two games, slotback Maquel Haywood is the only offensive skill position player who has shown he can be a consistent playmaker. The speedy sophomore is averaging almost six yards on 14 carries and a whopping 38.5 yards on two receptions.
Niumatalolo and the rest of the offensive braintrust would be wise to find as many ways as possible to get Haywood more touches per game.
One method would be to incorporate more short passing concepts. I’ve advocated for several years to have such elements added to the offense as those passes are quicker and completed at a higher percentage than the attempts deep down the middle or wheel routes that have long been a staple of the triple-option attack.
I would think Haywood, and several other slotbacks, would be quite dangerous on short crossing routes. Navy has used a screen pass to the fullback to great effect in the past, but that play is rarely called anymore.
There is no question the Mids need a higher level of play out of the quarterback position, and starter Tai Lavatai would be the first to acknowledge that. Lavatai has carried the ball 36 times for 71 yards through two games. That averages out to 2.0 yards per carry, which simply does not cut it.
Everyone knows the quarterback must be a legitimate rushing threat in the triple-option. If opposing defenses don’t think the quarterback can do much damage, they can sell out to stop the fullback dive and slotback pitch elements.
Lavatai, who has 12 more rushing attempts than any other Navy ballcarrier, said after Saturday’s loss that he’s “not playing fast enough.” That is obvious and needs to change immediately. At 6-foot-2 and 221 pounds, Lavatai should be much more of an interior power runner than he has displayed so far.
Lavatai should watch film of former Navy quarterbacks Ricky Dobbs, Will Worth and Zach Abey and figure out how to replicate their running style.
Meanwhile, the Mids are not getting enough production out of the fullback position as well. Anton Hall Jr., Logan Point and Daba Fofana have combined for 209 yards on 63 carries. That works out to just over three yards per carry, which also is not acceptable.
Of course, a big reason why the quarterback and fullbacks have been relatively ineffective between the tackles is because the offensive line has not been winning the point of attack. I thought the unit performed a bit better versus Memphis than it did during the opener, but Navy has yet to show it can knock the defensive front off the ball on a regular basis.
Coming off the opener, Navy fans were comforted by the fact the defense played so well. Coordinator Brian Newberry has fielded a solid outfit for most of his four seasons in Annapolis, so prevailing wisdom was that the defense would get the job done.
That is why what happened against the Tigers was alarming as the Mids gave up far too many big plays. It was a repeat of what happened last season when host Memphis used a handful of explosive plays to break open the game.
Quarterback Seth Hennigan found wide receiver Eddie Lewis wide-open behind the defense for a 50-yard catch-and-run that set up the initial touchdown by the visitors. Hennigan connected on another deep bomb on the opening possession of the second half, hitting Joseph Scates in stride for a 79-yard touchdown.
Hennigan also had completions of 37 and 41 yards, while tailback Asa Martin broke loose for a 45-yard run late in the game. Those chunk yardage plays are a backbreaker and almost always produce points.
Newberry probably regrets leaving cornerbacks Elias Larry and Mbiti Williams in single coverage a few times, although it should be pointed out that his safety blitzes are often successful.
Navy has two weeks to get the offense and defense fixed before trying to get its first victory on the road against an East Carolina program that is vastly improved under coach Mike Houston.
It would help if starting kicker Bijan Nichols recovers from a leg injury and is available for the next game.
Lastly, it should be noted that the Memphis players and coaches on the field showed a lot of class by lining up behind Navy for the postgame playing of the alma mater Blue and Gold. The same could not be said for the Memphis assistant coaches in the press box, particularly offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey.
I cannot print some of Cramsey’s language in a family newspaper, but the bottom line is that he displayed a lack of professionalism and poor sportsmanship by basically taunting Newberry every time the Tigers made a big play.
Everyone in the entire press box could clearly hear Cramsey’s expletive-laden rants and it was simply uncalled for and unnecessary.
Saturday, Sept. 24
Radio: 1430 AM