This is the fourth and final entry in our series dissecting spring football coverage for Army’s 2019 opponents. We get into the home stretch this week with reports on the Virginia Military Institute, Hawaii, and Navy.
The Fourth Quarter’s Ours!
As before, previous articles are archived below:
Heading back to the @NCAACWS
— Army Baseball (@ArmyWP_Baseball) May 20, 2019
RECAP: Army Goes Back-To-Back To Claim Title Over Navyhttps://t.co/jqzyyjdXyH
— Army Baseball (@ArmyWP_Baseball) May 20, 2019
Virginia Military Institute Keydets
It’s easy to be skeptical of a VMI team that went 1-11 last season, but they return eighteen (!) total starters, nine each on offense and defense. Surely they’ll be at least somewhat better in 2019. Having given up 50+ points five times in 2018 and 70+ points twice, though, we can perhaps still safely assume that the Keydets may yet have some room to improve.
Being a military academy, you might have thought that the Keydets would run some version of the flexbone triple-option. In fact, they’ve gone the other way with it. 2019 will mark their second year running the Air Raid. These guys throw it all over the field! Returning QB Reece Udinski went 302/523 passing (57.7%) for 3,082 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. Alas, though those numbers let the Keydets score at times, VMI was rarely able to get a lead and hold it, perhaps because they were unable to hold the ball for any appreciable amount of time on offense.
Maybe VMI’s completion percentage improves in 2019, and they somehow learn to keep FCS teams on their heels with that uptempo air attack offense. Reports out of spring practice have been encouraging, and the team returns a heck of a lot of experience in its new system. A step-change in performance is certainly possible. Even with all of that, though, this squad has a Hell of a long way to go to become competitive in the FCS. Worse, against Army this particular offense risks becoming a truly unique way to lose the time-of-possession battle in horrifying fashion, especially with the Keydets relying on a quarterback who’s struggled to complete even 60% of his passes.
— VMI Football (@VMI_Football) May 13, 2019
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors
Prognosticators across the country are sleeping on Hawaii. Again. This is a team that went 8-6 in 2018 with one of the youngest rosters in all of college football. They lose exactly two key starters, WR John Ursua and LB Jahalni Tavai, while returning their entire offensive line, their emergent star quarterback, and nine starters on defense.
Will they be better?
Of course they will.
Hawaii faces two tough issues, however. First is their travel schedule, which will always be brutal. The Rainbows have by far the longest road trip schedule in the nation, and it showed in 2018 as the months wore on. Their other issue is that their degree of difficulty increases significantly this year. In addition to a tough Mountain West schedule that includes both Boise State and Fresno State, the Rainbows open with three straight games against the Pac-12—Arizona, at Oregon State, and at Washington. Thankfully, their last two games are at home against San Diego State and then Army on rivalry weekend. Neither of those is exactly a layup, but Hawaii’s coaching staff is surely hoping to avoid another late-season swoon like we saw in 2018.
Perhaps the most surprising news to come out of spring camp is that it looks like the Rainbows have a quarterback competition. Despite incumbent QB Cole MacDonald’s play last season, rising sophomore QB Chevan Cordeiro has been pushing for playing time. Cordeiro looked good in limited action last season, and his performance at spring camp has been extremely encouraging. Having two starting-caliber quarterbacks is not exactly a problem, but this is a battle that might be worth watching as the season progresses. The offense also returns WRs Cedric Byrd and JoJo Ward, both of whom were highly productive in 2018.
Losing LB Jahalni Tavai on defense doesn’t help, but the Rainbows return almost all of their other starters. Considering how young this unit was last season, they ought to be much, much better in 2019. Reports out of spring camp indicate that the defensive backfield in particular has improved.
Unfortunately, this team could be substantially better in 2019 and still win fewer games. Given their schedule, that actually seems likely.
— Mountain West (@MountainWest) May 16, 2019
The AFF crew has become deeply skeptical of Navy’s ability to be competitive in 2019. The Mids are moving Malcolm Perry back to quarterback, allegedly so that they can get him more touches per game. According to OC Ivin Jasper, “Malcolm is a fast kid who is great in space, so we need to do some things that are designed to fit his skill set.” In 2018, Perry carried 20+ times per game as a quarterback versus the 10+ times he either caught or carried out of the slot. They seem to want him to get exactly 15 carries per game.
To get that, they’re sacrificing almost two full yards/carry. Out of the slot, Perry rushed for 7.5 yards/carry and caught for an otherworldly 18.6 yards/catch. By comparison, he rushed for just 5.6 yards/carry from under center. Bottom line, this plan on its face appears to make Malcolm Perry a bit less than half as likely to have the kinds of game-breakingly explosive impacts that the Navy coaching staff is clearly counting on in 2019. Meanwhile, this same coaching staff has claimed all offseason that they need to get the rest of their offense more involved this season, even as they move their one proven playmaker to handle the ball on every single snap.
Similarly, the Mids’ defense is graduating the best part of itself, i.e. its linebacking corps, from a seriously under-performing unit overall, and to fix that, this defense is looking to get lighter and faster. Oh by the way, Navy also needs three new offensive line starters, four new slotbacks, and four wholly new wide-receivers.
What can you do?
Navy is shifting to a 4-2-5 defense, so barring a miracle, everybody and their brother is gonna run right at that lighter, faster front. Meanwhile, they’re also practicing reads and looking to incorporate elements of the Run-and-Shoot on offense, potentially giving away the would-be time-of-possession advantage that might’ve helped them stay in some close contests down the stretch. Maybe QB Malcolm Perry learns to ride his fullbacks and keep defenses honest, but nobody at AFF is putting money on that.
It seems like Army and Navy both got a little caught up in Perry’s performance during the 2017 Army-Navy Game. This is not exactly surprising. It was a performance for the ages despite coming in a losing effort. However, Coach Jeff Monken managed to pull out of it after seeing SB Kell Walker play quarterback situationally against Duke. Thank God. Coach N, however, has seen just enough wildly encouraging repeat performances, like last year’s home victory over Memphis, that he can’t quite get perspective on it, and here we are two and a half years later still chasing the dream.
The Mids had a quarterback with Kelvin Hopkins’s skill set last season, and his name was Garrett Lewis. Lewis damned-near pulled his team back from the brink in last year’s Army-Navy Game, but he never got enough reps to settle into the role, and that showed when it counted. Now Lewis is graduating, and there’s not any appreciable depth behind Perry.
Folks, this thing could get legitimately ugly.
— Navy Football (@NavyFB) May 17, 2019
“VMI Football: Spring practice under way,” Augusta Free Press: April 2, 2019.
Virginia Military Institute Audio & Video, “Football Spring Practice Scrimmage #1 Recap 4-13-19,” VMIKeydets.Com: April 13, 2019.
David McCracken, “Hawaii football begins spring practice this weekend,” Hawaii News Now: March 28, 2019.
Jeremy Rodrigues, “Hawaii Warriors 2019 Spring Preview: Phase 2 Begins,” MWC Connection: March 29, 2019.
Eric Mathews, “Hawai‘i Kicks Off Spring Practice,” HawaiiAthletics.Com: March 29, 2019.
Bill Wagner, “Navy has many holes to fill as spring football practice begins,” Capital Gazette, March 26, 2019.
Bill Wagner, “Navy begins building offense around quarterback Perry,” Capital Gazette, April 16, 2019.
“Navy announces football captains and will have four for first time,” Capital Gazette, April 16, 2019.