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Perry Delivers Punch In First Start At Quarterback

Nov. 14, 2017

No coin toss ever decided a football game, but after Navy won and chose to receive the kickoff from SMU, the subtle drama was enticing.

Would Zach Abey, banged up in the final quarter against Temple, make his 11th consecutive start at quarterback? Or, would Garret Lewis, who led Navy back to within a touchdown in the final minutes at Temple, get the nod?

Out trotted the offense and – surprise! – neither Abey or Lewis were there. A decision obscured during the week could no longer remain hidden, as Navy Sports Information Director Scott Strasemeier intoned in a press box announcement.

“Starting at quarterback today for Navy, No. 10, Malcolm Perry 

It was a bombshell decision. After three straight losses wiped out Navy’s 5-0 start, and games against Notre Dame and Houston looming, the entire season was on the line against SMU. A slotback the entire season, Perry delivered 282 yards rushing and four touchdowns, as Navy survived SMU, 43-40, on J.R. Osborn’s game-winning 18-yard field goal as time expired.

The victory was the sixth of the season, making Navy bowl-eligible for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.

The decision reminds me of Niumatalolo’s decision to insert Keenan Reynolds – then an untested freshman – into the game at Air Force in 2012. Navy was 1-3 and the season’s success was in danger, and Reynolds delivered a 28-21 overtime victory. He never backed up again.

No one knows if Perry’s effort will deliver similar results long-term. It’s fair to ask if Perry can deliver the same magic versus a Notre Dame team smarting from a 41-8 loss to No. 2 Miami – a loss that eliminates the No. 9 Irish from the college football playoff discussion – but something had to change.

The trouble Navy faced was opposing defenses that, for the better part of the last month, exploited Abey’s inability to outrun defenders on the perimeter. At Temple, the Owls brought their outside linebackers and sometimes a safety – serving as a robber or bandit – to the brink of the line of scrimmage to take away Abey’s ability to pitch to the outside perimeter. Left with a fullback dive or a quarterback keeper, the offensive line predictably struggled to eliminate the five to six defenders.

Abey is a bulldozer, but couldn’t overpower multiple tacklers play after play. By taking away running between the tackles, and being able to string out the perimeter, the only option was to throw the football, something that severely hampers Navy’s ability to win.

Longtime fans who remember the difficult days of the 1980s and 1990s know Navy’s best defense is a patient, offensive attack that grinds the clock down, limiting the opposing team’s offense opportunities to score.

Because it had become easy to shut down Navy’s option offense, the idea of starting Perry was an idea bandied about among some of Navy’s beat writers almost two weeks ago inside the media room at Temple. The best player on Navy’s offense, from a skill standpoint, is Perry. The ball should be in his hands on every snap.

Immediately, the dividends were evident. Perry directed a game-opening, 73-yard, 10-play drive that resulted in Anthony Gargiullo’s 1-yard touchdown. The drive chewed five minutes, 19 seconds off the clock. On Navy’s second possession, Perry marched the Mids 92 yards in eight plays. By the time Perry marched in from two yards out, Navy had 165 yards rushing and 10:04 of possession time; four different Mids had carried the ball.

Perry’s skill was featured on his second touchdown of the game, a 24-yard jaunt that featured an outstanding decision to cut back against SMU’s pursuit to allow Perry to virtually walk into the end zone. That score gave the Blue & Gold a 20-5 lead.

But more importantly, Perry’s speed is a game-changer for attacking defenses. Opposing defenses from Memphis, Central Florida and Temple spent the last three weeks stacking the box with as many as eight defenders. Knowing Zach Abey wasn’t going to outrun anyone on the perimeter, they were daring Abey to check out of a called play and into a pass play to throw over them.

Perry’s 92-yard score late in the second quarter was breathtaking, sprung by an outstanding block by Chris High, was his second score of 90-plus yards of the season. Perry raced for a 91-yard touchdown against Air Force.

The question that looms now is can Perry withstand the physical assault he’ll endure? He walked off the field on crutches after spraining his left ankle, a move that required Garret to drive the Mids 78 yards over 10 plays for the game-winning field goal. It’s unknown what Perry’s status will be for Notre Dame.

There were some hiccups when he was healthy, too. Perry’s first pass of the day was an overt disaster – a “flying fumble” that was intercepted – and with 5:55 left in the second quarter, Perry fumble the snap and SMU recovered on the Navy 40.

Along with head coach Ken Niumatalolo, Offensive Coordinator Ivin Jasper and Defensive Coordinator Dale Pehrson hand-picked Navy’s roster. A blunt introspection was needed and the elixir to repair the Mids’ season was within the walls of Ricketts Hall.

“There is something seriously wrong with this team right now,” Niumatalolo said after the loss in Philadelphia, Navy’s first-ever at Lincoln Financial Field after 12 victories. “I felt it in the last week. Even though we were 5-2, we were out of sync and out of sorts. I coach by feelings and I just felt that something was amiss with us.”

For a week anyway, the problem is solved. As Trevor Replogle from Mid-Atlantic Sports opined from the press box Saturday, “This looks and feels more like Navy football.”



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