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USF football: Five things to know about Navy

A stout defense and sleek quarterback have sparked the Midshipmen’s resurgence.

A quick look at Navy (4-1, 2-1), which hosts USF (3-3, 1-1) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Annapolis, Md.

1. Malcolm is the man

Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry (10) talks to teammates during the second half against Air Force earlier this month. Navy won 34-25. [JULIO CORTEZ | AP]

In a performance that earned him the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor, Midshipmen senior quarterback Malcolm Perry dissected Tulsa for 218 rushing yards and three touchdowns in Saturday’s 45-17 romp.

He called it one of his worst games as a Navy starter. “Just a little too much indecision,” he said.

Seems the dude’s as modest as he is mobile. A 5-foot-9 converted slot back, Perry has Ken Niumatalolo’s trademark triple option humming. He’s averaging nearly 6 yards a carry (102 carries, 604 yards, 12 touchdowns) and needs only 54 yards against the Bulls to become the fourth 3,000-yard rusher in Navy history.

“I think a big part of it is, he’s just hard on himself,” Niumatalolo said. “There are things he can get better at, but everybody can. … I’m just grateful that he hasn’t settled or feel like he’s arrived.”

2. A fourth option?

Contrary to widespread presumption, Navy isn’t throwing the ball more frequently this season. Perry’s 43 attempts through five games are short of his 2018 pace, when he threw 129.

He’s just throwing with a lot more proficiency. He’ll enter Saturday’s game with a 202.64 efficiency rating, having completed 27 of his 43 attempts (62.7 percent) for 535 yards, three TDs and one pick.

Translation: USF can no more ignore the occasional spiral than it can the slot backs.

MORE BULLS: USF men 5th in AAC preseason coaches poll, women 2nd

3. These guys waste no time

In this Aug. 2, 2019, file photo, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo stands on the field as players warm up during preseason camp in Annapolis, Md. [TOMMY GILLIGAN | AP]

The Bulls’ tendency to start sluggishly could prove fatal against the Midshipmen.

Navy has outscored its five opponents 114-33 in the first half this season. It built 28-3 halftime advantages against both East Carolina (42-10 triumph) and Tulsa, and even had a six-point halftime lead in its 35-23 loss at Memphis.

The Bulls, by contrast, have been outscored 109-61 before intermission this year. With offensive possessions at a premium against the triple option, a sluggish start won’t fly Saturday.

4. The defense has been dominant

Navy linebacker Nizaire Cromartie leads a defense allowing 86 rushing yards a game. [JULIO CORTEZ | AP]

After surrendering more than 425 yards a game and struggling mightily on third down last season, the Midshipmen defense has enjoyed a resurgence under first-year coordinator Brian Newberry.

Buoyed by a veteran front four, Navy leads the AAC in both total defense (286.2 ypg) and run defense (86.0), ranking ninth nationally in the latter category. The 18.8 points per game they surrender also are fewest in the AAC. Of equal significance: Opponents are converting only 30 percent of the time (22-for-73) against the Mids on third down.

“They’re doing a lot of slanting and moving,” USF coach Charlie Strong said. “They’re attacking with eight guys in the box and they’re forcing you to throw the football. "

MORE BULLS: Jordan Cronkrite and USF keep churning

5. Perhaps USF can take notes

Annually one of the least-penalized teams in the nation, the Mids are averaging only 44.2 penalty yards a contest, fewest in the AAC. The Bulls, by contrast, were flagged 11 times Saturday against BYU, nearly half of Navy’s total for the season (25).