Malcolm Perry was leading Navy’s first team offense at practice on Tuesday and head coach Ken Niumatalolo said it will stay that way until he sees conclusive evidence the quarterback is a problem.
Navy’s patented triple-option offense has not looked quite right most of the season, but Niumatalolo said whatever issues exist go well beyond the starting quarterback.
“Obviously, everybody talks about the quarterback. We have so much improvement to make all the way around the board,” Niumatalolo said after practice on Tuesday. “We just have to continue to stay at it. We have to coach better and we have to play better – at all positions.”
Navy is coming off a disastrous 35-7 defeat at the hands of service academy rival Air Force in which the offense managed only six first downs and 119 total yards through three quarters. The Midshipmen also struggled offensively the previous game during a 31-30 overtime loss to SMU.
Having carefully reviewed the tape of those two games, Niumatalolo and the offensive coaching staff concluded that a quarterback change is not going to fix the problems that surfaced.
“If the quarterback was playing horrible and everyone else was playing great then we would have to do something,” Niumatalolo said. “Everyone is quick to point the finger at (Perry) and say he needs to change. We all have to get better.”
Whenever Navy’s triple-option offense has sputtered over the years the starting quarterback has come under scrutiny. By the same token, when the Midshipmen have posted impressive statistics in terms of yards and points the quarterback has been roundly praised.
Niumatalolo believes the current concern about Perry’s ability to direct the triple-option is just another case of the quarterback taking too much blame when things go wrong.
“It’s the nature of football that everyone sees the quarterback. You can watch a play and I guarantee you that 100 percent of the people in the stadium are looking at the quarterback,” Niumatalolo said. “Nobody will look at the left guard; nobody will look at the wide receiver. When the ball is snapped, you’re going to watch the ball. That’s just the way people watch games.”
Niumatalolo was asked if the Navy coaching staff has considered moving Perry back to slotback, the position at which he started most of last season. The 11th-year head coach said each position is evaluated on a constant basis.
“We talk about every position every day. Do we need to make a change here? That’s what you do,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s kind of comical when people ask ‘Did you ever consider that?’ What do you think we do all day? Yes, we talk about the quarterback, we talk about the nose guard, we talk about the cornerbacks. That’s what you do. You talk personnel every single day.”
Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper believes there is no reason to panic or overreact following one disappointing performance. Jasper pointed out that Navy was leading the nation in rushing coming into the Air Force contest.
“I don’t understand what the problem is. Yes, we played bad last game. I take full responsibility. We had a bad plan and I didn’t prepare us well,” Jasper said. “I went back and watched our first four games and we were running our offense. We played one game in the gun and it didn’t go well. We didn’t have a good plan.”
Jasper said after Saturday’s loss in Colorado Springs that he anticipated Air Force would employ an odd front as it has traditionally done against Navy. Jasper installed a game-plan that put Perry in shotgun formation and was going to feature some zone blocking principles.
Unfortunately, the Falcons came out in an even front and that apparently spoiled the game-plan, most likely because the blocking assignments changed and the running gaps were different.
“I put in a bad game-plan and they got after us. That’s my responsibility,” Jasper reiterated. “I need to regroup, take a look at myself and get a better game-plan in. I need to do a better job of calling plays and help the quarterback be successful.”
Since rushing for 326 yards and scoring 41 points in a season-opening loss at Hawaii, the Navy offense has been up and down. Navy was limited to 233 rushing yards and 22 points by Memphis, but did manage 145 passing yards in that one-point win.
Navy rushed for 349 yards, but was derailed by three turnovers and several costly penalties in the overtime loss to SMU. While the offense hit rock bottom against Air Force, Jasper has every confidence the Mids can turn things around this week and perform better on Saturday versus Temple.
“We came out today and had a very solid practice. That’s all you can do. You can’t abandon ship or anything like that,” Jasper said. “You have to go back to work. That’s all I know how to do and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Perry has come under criticism for his ability to execute the offense because it does not appear Navy is calling too many read triple-option plays. There has been a glaring lack of balance in the offense with Perry running the ball 105 times, a whopping 69 more than the next highest ball-carrier.
Top fullbacks Anthony Gargiulo and Nelson Smith have combined for 68 carries while starting slotbacks Tre Walker and C.J. Williams have 38 between them. Jasper said there are a lot of factors that go into the offense running smoothly and fans don’t see the missed blocks or blown assignments.
“People don’t watch the film in detail like the coaches do. We’re not playing well, but you know what? It’s not all Malcolm,” Jasper said. “We can all do better. I can coach better and put in better game-plans. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to watch film, get a better game-plan in then go out and play.”
Jasper indicated that some of the game-planning and play-calling has been designed to take advantage of Perry’s ability to make plays in space. “You always play to your player’s strengths and what they can do well,” he said.
There have been suggestions the Midshipmen are too one-dimensional because Perry has not been much of a throwing threat, completing 7 of 22 passes for 142 yards through five games.
“There are questions about Malcolm throwing the football. He can throw the football. He threw two good passes on Saturday, one he completed and one we dropped,” Jasper said. “The kid can throw the football. It’s just a matter of protecting and running good routes and catching the football.”
Perry, for one, seems unfazed by the criticism that has come his way over the last two weeks. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior knows there are many fans who hold him responsible for Navy’s recent offensive shortcomings.
“Whenever things are down it’s easy to point fingers,” Perry said. “I don’t let it affect me. I don’t pay attention to it. The only thing I can do is come out here and practice and try to get better so I can help the team win.”
Perry, a native of Clarksville, Tennessee, understands the mentality and admitted he gets mad at Marcus Mariota whenever his favorite team doesn’t move the ball or score points.
“I think I’m guilty of it myself. If the Titans aren’t doing good, I’m blaming the quarterback. It’s just a part of football,” he said.