Losing seasons are rare for Navy under coach Ken Niumatalolo. Even though the Midshipmen head into the 2021 college football season with plenty of question marks after a 3-7 mark last fall, a bounce-back campaign is likely in order. Navy’s defense is anchored by standout linebacker Diego Fagot and allowed less than 19 points in each of the team’s final three games in ’20. Offensively, the Midshipmen need an answer to emerge at quarterback, along with a couple of new starters to emerge in the trenches.
Previewing Navy's Offense for 2021
Navy’s offense posted historic numbers on the positive side in 2019 and then did the same in a negative fashion in 2020. The Midshipmen did not have an adequate replacement for QB Malcolm Perry. An inability to get any movement up front meant there was little running room, and Navy averaged 177.6 rushing yards — easily the worst number of the triple-option era (2002 to present).
Freshman Xavier Arline took over under center for the final two games of the season and showed promise. The 5'9", 165-pounder has a much better grasp of Navy’s patented triple-option offense after having a full spring camp to learn the intricacies of reading defenses and making checks at the line of scrimmage. However, Tai Lavatai will push for the starting job again in the fall.
The Midshipmen suffered a setback when fullback Jamale Carothers was dismissed from the academy in May. With Carothers gone, the offense will be counting on Chance Warren, Isaac Ruoss, Daniel Jones, Carlinos Acie and converted quarterback Tyger Goslin to handle the bulk of the carries.
The Midshipmen graduated their top two blockers in guards Peter Nestrowitz and Billy Honaker. Center Pierce Banbury and right tackle Bryce Texeira are the only returning starters on the line.
Navy has a pair of promising playmakers in wide receiver Mychal Cooper and Warren at slotback.
Previewing Navy's Defense for 2021
A month-long COVID layoff in the middle of last season gave defensive coordinator Brian Newberry a chance to address some issues. After the Mids gave up an average of 37.0 points and 445.3 yards through seven games, they allowed only 14.7 points and 246 yards per game over the final three.
Hard-hitting inside linebacker Diego Fagot headlines a list of eight returning starters who should be able to build off the momentum gained toward the end of last season. Six other defenders who started games are also back. Fagot, a two-time All-AAC selection, is considered an NFL prospect. The 6'3", 240-pounder, who can penetrate the backfield and pursue sideline-to-sideline, led the Midshipmen with 72 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks in 2020.
Free safety Kevin Brennan was second on the squad with 68 tackles and five pass breakups. The 5'11", 199-pounder plays with reckless abandon.
John Marshall was a revelation at the OLB position known as “striker,” ranking second on the team in tackles for a loss (5.5). Michael McMorris returns for his third season as Navy’s top cover corner.
Previewing Navy's Specialists for 2021
Bijan Nichols enters his third season as the placekicker and has three game-winning field goals to his credit. He is focused and unflappable. Punting was a problem for Navy last season with Ben Fee and Daniel Davies combining to average just 36.5 yards. There were way too many shanks that set up opponents with great field position. Warren and Mark Walker are back to handle kickoff and punt returns, respectively.
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo has called the 2021 schedule the toughest Navy has faced during his 14-year tenure. The Midshipmen meet a total of eight opponents that qualified for bowls in 2020, including defending AAC champion Cincinnati and two-time champ UCF. Navy completed one of the greatest turnarounds in FBS history when it went from 3–10 in 2018 to 11–2 in 2019. This demanding schedule will make it much tougher to author another bounce-back campaign.
National Ranking: 89
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