Navy 2013 Review: Stepping Away From The Edge

Navy's success under Ken Niumatalolo has in many ways come down to the ability to win close games, particularly when one side of the ball is able to bail out the other. That tendency will probably need to give way to a more balanced approach this season, starting with a more airtight display from the secondary.


When looking at the whole of Navy's 2013 season, the proper response should naturally be defined by a mixture of admiration, respect and appreciation for what the Midshipmen achieved. Yet, to put a finer point on the matter, as the memory of last year recedes even more into the past, it's just about impossible to become less impressed with Navy's feats the more one reflects on them.

Indeed, the more you study the 2013 season, the more you should be inclined to ask, "Gee whiz, just exactly how did these guys carve out nine wins and a bowl triumph?"

In many ways, the answer to that question is that Navy distributed its offensive and defensive gems with an almost perfect sense of balance. Teams never do (and never really can) set out to attain such distribution-based efficiency, but that's very much what happened for the Midshipmen.

When the offense didn't roar against Air Force, the defense was there. The defense similarly set the tone in the first 20 minutes against Army and in the whole of the Armed Forces Bowl, while the offense tried to find its footing.

In games against Indiana, Hawaii, and San Jose State, it was Navy's offense which carried the day, and the defense did just enough to get by. The win over Pittsburgh – a medium-scoring affair – probably stood out as Navy's most "blended" team win of the season, and the South Alabama victory was perhaps the most complete victory forged by the Men of Ken Niumatalolo. Yet, the majority of Navy's nine wins (and more specifically, its eight FBS triumphs) came from one side of the ball's ability to hold the fort while the other side scuffled. This is a great characteristic to have, but as the scene shifts to 2014 and the present moment, Navy's going to have to work to put itself in better situations. It can't rely on having a flawless offensive game when its defense gets exploited. Coordinator Buddy Green has done stellar work in Annapolis, but he's going to tell his players that they have to clamp down on pass defense if this team wants to get to the 10-win plateau, one of the foremost goals for the coming season.

The numbers are striking, even in light of Navy's 8-4 record against FBS teams last year: In four contests in particular, the Midshipmen's pass defense was legitimately shredded by an opposing quarterback. Indiana's Nate Sudfeld went 31-of-42, a fraction under 75 percent. Duke's Anthony Boone went 31-of-38. Hawaii's Sean Schroeder went 29-of-33. San Jose State's David Fales? 42-of-56. Those are video game numbers, and Navy allowed at least 28 points in all of those contests, 35 in three of them. That the Midshipmen won three of those four games shows how well the offense performed on days when it had to be at its best.

It's easy to not be as concerned about statistics and more encompassing realities when you win, but it has to be said that the euphoria of victory might have drowned out (for the casual fan) the noise of alarm bells that rang out whenever Navy's secondary was dissected. In 2014, the back lines of Navy's defense have to find ways of making completions more difficult for opposing offenses to produce. If the Midshipmen can take this step forward, they won't have to walk the high wire the way they did in 2013.

Navy might have been successful at living on the edge last season, but there's an elemental point to be made about living on the edge: If you do it long enough, you're not going to survive. Top Stories