Navy aims to get back on track in 2022 after coach Ken Niumatalolo's squad has won just four or fewer games in three out of the last four seasons. However, the Midshipmen were much closer to a winning mark in '21 than some may have realized. Navy lost four games by one score (including matchups versus Houston and Cincinnati) and closed by winning its last two contests. The defense should be solid despite some key departures, and if Niumatalolo can generate more production on offense (20.1 points a game in '21), exceeding preseason expectations to return to the postseason is within reach.
Previewing Navy's Offense for 2022
It was a second straight disappointing season in terms of production for the Midshipmen, who averaged 20.1 points and 282.2 yards per game in 2021. On a positive note, Navy's patented triple-option attack did improve its rushing game, ranking ninth nationally (225.5 yards per game) after finishing 52nd in 2020.
Quarterback Tai Lavatai seized the starting quarterback job and finished strong. Lavatai made plenty of big plays and few mistakes to help Navy upset Army.
Wide receivers Jayden Umbarger and Mark Walker are returning regulars. There is plenty of talent at slotback with Kai Puailoa-Rojas emerging as a playmaker in 2021. However, the fullback position is unproven; Anton Hall Jr. sits atop an inexperienced depth chart.
Lavatai showed a much greater grasp of the offense and ability to read defenses and make checks at the line of scrimmage during spring camp, and that provides hope the Mids will be able to put up the type of numbers necessary to succeed in the high-scoring AAC.
Previewing Navy's Defense for 2022
Navy was vastly improved on this side of the ball despite being remarkably young and inexperienced due to injuries and attrition.
Will Harbour, who missed half the season with injuries, has massive shoes to fill at inside linebacker after Diego Fagot, a three-time All-AAC selection, led the team in tackles for three straight seasons.
Free safety Rayuan Lane is a rising star in the secondary, but Navy is relying on a pair of sophomore cornerbacks in Elias Larry and Mbiti Williams — both of whom will be tested by the high-powered passing attacks in the American.
Nose guard Donald Berniard Jr., a third-year starter, anchors a defensive line that figures to be a strength. Jacob Busic showed tremendous promise in starting every game at end in 2021, while Clay Cromwell figures to make a major impact after moving from nose guard to tackle.
Previewing Navy's Specialists for 2022
The Mids are blessed with an extremely reliable kicker in Bijan Nichols, a second-team All-AAC selection last season after converting 15-of-19 field goals and all 28 extra points. Riley Riethman was thrust into the role of starting punter as a plebe and was inconsistent until finding his footing in the second half of the season and finishing with a 42.7-yard average. Maquel Haywood emerged as a dangerous threat after taking over as primary kickoff returner five games into the 2021 season, averaging 31 yards per return.
Navy was not as bad as the final record might indicate in 2021, losing four games by one score against easily the toughest schedule in program history.
The 2022 schedule is not quite as daunting, but Navy will nonetheless be predicted to finish in the bottom half of the AAC for the third straight season. Not being able to accept transfers or bring back fifth-year seniors and graduate students like all the other league schools has hurt the Midshipmen.
National Ranking: 102
Podcast: Previewing and a Deep Dive + Predictions on the Group of 5 Conferences for 2022