Navy closed out a successful 2019 season with a 20-17 victory against Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl on New Year’s Eve. Bijan Nichols kicked a 23-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to give the No. 21 Midshipmen the hard-fought win, which marked a remarkable turnaround for the program. Navy ran for 323 yards against Kansas State and broke the school’s single-season rushing yards record with 4,687 yards. The previous record was 4,568 yards set in 2017.

Here’s what we learned about Navy’s season:

1. After going 3-10 last season, the Midshipmen finished with an 11-2 record, tying the program record for wins (2015).

That also matched the second-biggest season-to-season improvement in win-loss record of any team in Football Bowl Subdivision history. The Midshipmen will assuredly finish the season ranked in the AP Top 25 for just the third time in the last 56 years. Navy finished 18th in 2015 and 24th in 2004.

The 2019 season marked perhaps Ken Niumatalolo’s best performance in 12 seasons as Navy’s head coach. Niumatalolo has received interest from other programs in the past but has remained loyal to Navy. He should remain in Annapolis, Md., for the foreseeable future. “Everything that happened this year isn’t surprising to me because they did the work, they paid the price,” Niumatalolo said. “They did everything that was asked of them.”

2. Midshipmen quarterback Malcolm Perry had one of his best performances in his final game.

Perry set the Navy bowl game record for rushing yards with 213, breaking the previous record held by Ricky Dobbs, who ran for 166 yards against Missouri in the 2009 Texas Bowl. Perry is a legitimate NFL prospect as a running back or special teams player. He’s electrifying each time he touches the ball. Now, Niumatalolo will be hard-pressed to match Perry’s production in 2020. Freshman backup Perry Olsen will get an opportunity to compete for the starting job. That could be an ideal scenario to be set at the position for the next three seasons.

3. Under first-year defensive coordinator Brian Newberry, the Midshipmen had a remarkable turnaround containing opponents.

Navy forced 22 turnovers in its 13 games this season — 10 fumble recoveries, 12 interceptions. The Midshipmen came up with at least one turnover in every game this season except two: Tulsa and Notre Dame. Navy finished the year with 80 tackles for a loss, which is the fifth most in school history. The Midshipmen also finished the year with 30 sacks, which is tied for third most in school history (1997) and was just one shy of the second-best mark set in 2005. Newberry could be a hot commodity this offseason among the Power Five programs.

4. The Midshipmen should be talented on defense again in 2020.

Sophomore linebacker Diego Fagot was a game-breaker this season and was named Liberty Bowl Defensive MVP. Navy has some talented sophomores who will take the next step with their development, including cornerback Michael Morris and defensive end J’arius Warren. A second season in Newberry’s system would also be beneficial.

5. Moving forward, Niumatalolo will begin reloading his roster.

Niumatalolo has an uncanny ability to get the most out of his players, and there’s no reason the 2020 season won’t be much different. A pair of talented fullbacks — sophomore Jamale Carothers and junior Nelson Smith — will keep the triple-option moving. The Midshipmen hit the ground running in 2020, opening the season against Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland, Aug. 29.

Photo Credit: Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

Todd Karpovich

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