It feels like the 2016 football season has just started, yet we are already (without a bowl game) a quarter of the way through the schedule. Navy is off to is second consecutive 3-0 start and with the bye week upon us, it seems like a good time to look at how the season has gone so far and where expectations should be set for this team moving forward.
The obvious place to start here is the injury suffered by Tago Smith in the second quarter of the Mids opener against Fordham. Smith has been the heir apparent to the team behind record-setter Keenan Reynolds for the best part of three years. He was impeccably versed in the offense and he had the backing and trust of all the coaches. One knee injury later though and the Mids were scrambling to pull a quarterback out of the stands just to cover the quarterbacks who were healthy.
Since that injury, Will Worth has stepped into the position and he has probably been better than most expected. The offense has continued to move the ball at a successful rate and in the game last week against a Tulane defense that shut the Mids down last year, Worth rushed for a career-high 113 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Worth also has the ability to throw the ball and he has 267 yards passing on the season.
There are a lot of teams in the country that have played three games at this point and they are at the limit of what their best football will be. Navy, on the other hand, is 3-0 despite having played either unevenly or badly depending on how you look at it. There have been turnovers. There have been injuries. There have been penalties. Basically, there has been a number os small mistakes that meant Navy had to guy out a couple of wins to be where they are.
The epic goal line stand against UConn was followed by a massive drive in the fourth quarter against Tulane to grab a couple of wins where most teams would have either split those games or gone without a win. Much of that is down to coaching and Ken Niumatalolo convincing hs players to play the full 60 minutes, while part of it is the winning culture Niumatalolo has wrapped around this program that means Navy finish games strongly. Either way, it worked, and Navy can now move forward and hopefully play complete games against the better teams on the schedule.
The ceiling for this Navy team is likely to be determined over the next couple of weeks. After the bye, Navy travels to Colorado Springs to take on unbeaten Air Force in the first match of the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series. If the Mids can get past that unscathed there is the little matter of hosting the team currently ranked at No. 6 in the country when Houston comes to town. Houston humbled Navy in Texas last fall, costing the Mids a berth in the AAC Championship Game in the process.
Navy can still do big things in 2016 and this bye week is more important than the bye in most years as the Mids fix those little problems that have prevented them dominating games. Navy is on the cusp of breaking out into a very good team this season and the next two weeks will show us just how good that team can be.