Tulane is gearing up to play Navy for the fifth time in Willie Fritz’s tenure as the Wave’s head coach. Despite Fritz’s overall success, the Wave have only beaten the Midshipmen once with him calling the shots. Many, though, feel as though that could change this year after the Green Wave’s impressive come-from-behind win last weekend and the Navy’s brutal loss BYU.
In preparation for Saturday’s game and to preview this year’s Midshipmen team, we reached to SB’s Nation’s Against All Enemies site to answer our questions about Navy.
Jared Miller (Tulane-UDD): Malcom Perry was such an integral part of Navy’s offense but now he’s out the door. Who do you expect to step up and fill those shoes this season and how do you think said individual(s) will be able to handle Tulane this weekend?
Rocky Dobson (Navy-AAE): Navy has a long history of losing stellar quarterbacks to graduation, and the next-man-up mentality kicks in. Will Worth followed Keenan Reynolds and led Navy to the AAC championship before going down with a season ending injury early in that game. In that same vein I expect Dalen Morris to step up and be a solid replacement. I have no problem giving him a mulligan for the opener against BYU. It’s tough enough to have your first start happen in prime time, it’s even harder when you’ve been preparing in no contact practices. I don’t even remotely blame Morris for that game, and I think he will be ready to bounce back on Saturday. It’s nearly impossible to replace the kind of production that Malcolm contributed last season, but Morris will be a capable replacement.
That said, I would be worried about Jamale Carothers If I were the Green Wave this weekend. He gashed them last year for 154 yards on just 14 carries and that was basically his coming out party. Navy is going to have to establish the fullback early, and I wouldn’t look at last week’s matchup as an indicator of future performance.
On the defensive side of the ball, you’ve got to look out for Diego Fagot. That kid is a monster and plays with a motor that just doesn’t stop. I think it’s going to be a good matchup.
J: The Midshipmen’s first game of the season was a less-than-stellar showing against BYU. How do you think the team will rebound after a disheartening loss like that? Do you think what we saw in the opener is a sign of things to come for Navy in 2020 or was it just a fluke that they’ll use as a wake up call?
R: I know this sounds “homer-ish”, but I don’t like to bet against teams led by Coach Ken Niumatalolo. He has a coaching style that his players really respond to. They went out there and got whooped on national TV, and the first thing Coach Ken did was take 100% of the blame —that is the kind of guy you want to fight for. I’m not going to sit here and tell you Navy is going to win the AAC right now, but I’m certainly not convinced the BYU game was a sign of things to come this season.
I think I will have a better indicator after a few more games, but I really am willing to just chalk that loss up to bad judgment, specifically relating to exclusively executing no-contact practices up to that point. You can’t reasonably expect a football team to be ready to play against a program like BYU when they aren’t conditioned with respect to the tackling and physicality you need to be ready for on game day. All that said, I still expect a lot of kinks to be worked out. The triple option offense doesn’t typically hit its peak until mid-October. Long winded way of saying: I’m not worried yet.
J: The matchups between the Midshipmen and the Green Wave, as of late, have been extremely close affairs. In fact, the margin of victory for either team over the last four years has been no more than seven points. Do you think that trend continues in this year’s edition? Do you believe the teams are that evenly matched again this season?
R: I absolutely think it’s another tight game. It’s stressful as a Navy fan to watch, but I have a ton of respect for Willie Frtiz’s ability to coach his defense against Navy’s triple option. That said I feel a lot better about Navy’s defense right now than I do the offensive side of the ball.
I really don’t see this one being super high scoring to be perfectly honest. I expect this game to be won by less than a touchdown and somewhere in the low 20s for both squads. My best guess for Tulane’s approach is to try and shutdown the fullbacks and force Dalen Morris to the edge to make a decision out there. I’m not sure what kind of speed Tulane is working with, but that could be problematic if they don’t allow him to get into a rhythm. I think the Green Wave has the edge on offense for sure, with the experience of Keon Howard coming in as a transfer.
J: How do you expect Navy to game plan for Tulane’s new QB Keon Howard? Of course Howard didn’t have the most eye-popping game last week against South Alabama but he still did enough to rally the team to victory. What will the Midshipmen have to do to combat a guy who is a threat to both throw and run the ball?
R: Anecdotally, mobile, dual-threat QBs like Howard tend to be Navy’s kryptonite. Navy shouldn’t have a problem putting pressure on him, but if he consistently scrambles and effectively eludes defenders outside of the pocket then I think it could be a long day for the Mids. Conversely, I don’t really know how well he holds up under pressure either. The controlled chaos of Brian Newberry’s defense has effectively gotten in the heads of more experienced quarterbacks than Keon. Definitely not putting all my eggs in that basket either though. Not sure what Newberry is more worried about: the arm or running ability. I expect he’s going to try and take away the one he sees as Howard’s strength, and force him to make plays with the other. Gotta take risk somewhere right?
If Howard is running well and makes smart throws down field, it may end up being too much for Navy. After all, Howard’s gotta be feeling pretty good about himself after last weekend. Like you said, the numbers weren’t eye-popping, but that’s the kind of game that tends to boost a player’s confidence and performance.
J: Who is the X factor for Navy in this game? If the Mids come away with the win, who will you be able to point to as a reason why?
R: I’m going with Carothers on offense and Fagot on defense. I think they are the anchors on those sides of the ball. I think Carothers establishes the fullback, and gets the option humming, and I think Fagot will be the key to containing Howard. I am excited about this matchup!
For more coverage of the Midshipmen, any of the service academy schools or to see more from Rocky Dobson be sure to visit the Against All Enemies blog here.
Tulane’s game with Navy kicks off at 11:00 AM (CT) on Saturday on ABC.