Preview 2017: Navy Had A Great Year, But …
Why Navy’s great season fell flat at the end.
But Navy lost to Army.
And Air Force, too.
Yes, the Midshipmen were hit by injuries late in the season, but QB Zach Abey was a more-than-fine fill-in for an injured Will Worth, and there are always good backs waiting in the wings when the top guys go down – the running game still worked.
But still, Navy lost to Army.
Yes, Temple was rolling in the American Athletic Conference championship, and yes, Louisiana Tech was a rough matchup for a Navy team with a rocky secondary, but those losses, combined with the gut-punch loss to the Black Knights, now puts a little bit of pressure on to make sure that it was just a bad three-game run.
To put it into perspective, 2001 was the last time Navy lost the final two games of a season, much less three. And why? That was the last time the program lost to Army.
But last year, Navy won nine games, it cranked up the nation’s fourth-best running game, ruined Houston’s season, beat Notre Dame, and won the West on the way to the conference championship game in an otherwise outstanding season, but it lost to …
A rivalry game is just one date on the slate, but even more than Auburn vs. Alabama or Michigan vs. Ohio State, the Army-Navy showdown is a barometer for the programs. And the same goes for the Air Force game, but that’s never as heated.
If one of the Power Fivers loses the big date against the rival, it can recruit better, change up styles, and do a number of other things big programs do. But for Navy to lose to Army – or vice versa – that speaks to something different, since the two service academies play similar styles and each has such small pools to choose from.
It means Navy has to do what it does, but a bit better.
The Navy way always ensures the next man up is prepared and ready to fit into the system and produce. That has nothing to do with anything relating to the real, obviously more important duties the players will have to deal with after their time in Annapolis, but it’s the way the football program has operated under Ken Niumatalolo. And it’s worked really, really well.
The triple-option scheme doesn’t really change, the 3-4 defense is always going to do what it can to hold up in key moments, and the team will own third downs and penalties – finishing first in the nation in both categories.
So there’s no reason to panic.
Just four starters are back on offense, but Abey is a fantastic quarterback prospect, Chris High is a top fullback, and the line – in time – will come together despite the loss of three starters.
The defense has to be better – Army’s D, by the way, was the reason its season was so strong – but seven starters are back. There aren’t any future NFL first-rounders, but there’s actual size up front, and there’s a little bit of bulk in the linebacking corps, too. This group should hold up just fine.
Navy will win eight-to-ten games again. At some point, a team with superior talent won’t be able to figure out the option and get its doors blown off, and the season will end with yet another bowl appearance. If that sounds sort of boring, it’s not – bowl games and eight-to-ten win seasons almost never happened until the early 2000s.
Right about when Navy owned that school from West Point.