Navy's Perry is an X-factor going into the Army-Navy game
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: December 6, 2017
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — Not many people know the full name of Navy’s most dangerous offensive weapon is Malcolm X. Perry.
Perry is definitely an X-factor going into Saturday’s Army-Navy game, which figures to be another close and low-scoring affair. Five of the last six meetings between the archrivals have been decided by a touchdown or less with the winner posting 27 points or fewer.
“We know how this game is going to go. It’s going to be a grind-it-out type of battle,” Perry said after practice on Tuesday. “Big plays can definitely decide this game so we do need some of those.”
Perry is the unquestioned big-play threat for Navy, having averaged nearly nine yards per rush and a whopping 25 yards per catch this season. The sophomore sensation leads the Midshipmen with 1,437 all-purpose yards and has scored 10 touchdowns.
“Malcolm’s as dynamic a ball-carrier as we’ve ever had here,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Perry is the fastest player on the team and a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound speedster broke loose for a 92-yard touchdown run versus SMU and scored on a 91-yard scamper against Air Force.
Perry has also been a factor in the passing game, catching a 75-yard touchdown pass in the Central Florida contest and getting open for a 40-yard scoring strike against Air Force. Navy would love to see the youngster do something similar on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Big plays are important because they’re hard to come by in this game,” Niumatalolo noted.
Perry has played slotback in nine of 11 games this season, sitting out entirely against Notre Dame due to a sprained ankle. He has touched the ball 104 times – an average of just under 12 per game – in that capacity.
Perry made his first collegiate start at quarterback versus SMU and was nothing short of sensational, rushing for 282 yards and four touchdowns to lead a 43-40 win. The Tennessee native carried the football 33 times in that contest, which was the equivalent of three games worth of touches as a slotback.
Naturally, all the speculation going into the Army-Navy game is whether Perry will play quarterback, slotback or both. Niumatalolo certainly wasn’t about to shed any light on the subject when asked about the quarterback situation after practice on Tuesday – stating that season-long starter Zach Abey, backup Garret Lewis and Perry could all possibly play.
“I’m not telling Army who is playing quarterback. Right now, all three of them are playing,” Niumatalolo said. “They’ve all been practicing. They’re all doing well. They’ve all got their strengths.”
Niumatalolo said offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper is in charge of the quarterbacks and will make the final decision about divvying up playing time on Saturday. Jasper merely said the Midshipmen must put the football in Perry’s hands, whether it’s as a quarterback or slotback.
“Malcolm can always be a game-changer. We just have to find ways to get the ball to him,” Jasper said. “We have to find ways to put him in spots to be successful. If we come out of the game with Malcolm not touching the ball 10, 15 or 20 times, we’re not doing our job.” You can bet that Navy fans will be squawking if Perry is not given numerous chances to make an impact on this season-defining game. By far the most asked question of this season has been: Why doesn’t Malcolm Perry run the ball more?
“Anytime we can get Malcolm the ball out in space – whether by handing, pitching or throwing it to him – that’s to our benefit,” Navy slotbacks coach Danny O’Rourke said. “We want to get him the ball more, we’re trying to get him the ball more, we have ways we’re going to get him the ball more. That’s on us as coaches and if we’re not getting Malcolm the ball enough, Coach Niumat is going to tell us to start doing it.”
At the same time, O’Rourke said Navy cannot force the ball to Perry so often that it becomes obvious. “It has to be in the flow of the offense, too. Obviously, Army knows we want to get Malcolm the ball,” he said.
It’s a pleasure to watch Perry run the ball as he seems to just glide across the field. The Kenwood High graduate has an innate ability to change direction at top speed, the quickness to start and stop on a dime and the explosiveness to leave defenders grasping at air.
“That’s all God-given. There’s no drill work we do out here that can teach that. He’s just been blessed with a knack to run fast and make full-speed decisions. Some guys have it, some guys don’t,” O’Rourke said. “Malcolm knows how to make you miss and people have a hard time catching him. Those 90-yard runs could have been 40 or 50, but he pulled away at the end.”
O’Rourke is understandably proud of Perry, who played in only three games as a plebe. This breakout season is a by-product of natural talent, but also hard work.
“Malcolm’s had an unbelievable year. Obviously, he’s been blessed with a lot of athletic ability, but it’s really his hard work, determination and drive that have made him a really good player,” O’Rourke said. “He wants to be good and is harder on himself than I could ever be. It’s fun coaching a guy like that where you can set the bar really high and they’re going to bust their butt to get there.”
Perry shrugs his shoulders and smirks when told that some Navy fans wish he ran the ball on every play. The humble and unassuming sophomore does not feel he deserves more consideration than Abey, slotback Darryl Bonner, fullback Chris High or wide receiver Tyler Carmona.
“I don’t really pay attention to it. I do whatever the coaches tell me. I know they have the best interest of the team in mind,” he said. “Whoever has the ball in their hands and is making plays, I’m happy with it as long as we’re winning.”
Perry, who said it’s no big deal to transition back-and-forth between quarterback and slotback, is hoping to do something on Saturday to help Navy beat Army.
“It’s the biggest game of the year. If you can’t get excited about this one, you can’t get excited about any game,” he said. “I’m the most excited I’ve been for any game all year. I’m ready to get out on that field and do some work.”
Perry, who was the subject of a recruiting war among all three service academies, stood on the sideline flashing signals during last year’s Army-Navy game. He hopes it helps having experienced the electric atmosphere of the historic rivalry.
Army head coach Jeff Monken fully expects Perry to make more than a token appearance at quarterback and is also prepared to see him at slotback.
“Malcolm Perry is an outstanding player and we need to be aware of where he is on the field at all times,” Monken said during the Army-Navy press conference on Nov. 30.