Ladies and gentlemen, this is reality. Navy is not good. It might hurt to say it, but it’s hard to reach any other conclusion objectively. Could Navy be good eventually? Maybe, but right now the team has a host of problems. How can a team that rushed for almost 1/3 of a mile and scored 31 points still lose a football game? Through fumbles, special teams miscues, and a defense about as stout as the Maginot Line.
Once again, I’m going to talk to myself:
OK, so tell me about these problems.
The offense produced against Ball State. They had 521 yards rushing, scored 31 points, only had to punt once, and averaged eight yards per play. As productive as they were, though, they still weren’t flawless. Shun White fumbled a perfect pitch in the third quarter when he was looking upfield instead of at the ball. Jarod Bryant’s overtime fumble washed out his commendable second-half performance in relief of an injured Kaipo.
Bryant’s fumble was disastrous, but the game should never have reached that point. With two seconds left in the game, Matt Harmon put what should have been a chip shot, game winning field goal on a trajectory so low that his own linemen probably could have blocked it just by standing at attention. That was Harmon’s second blocked field goal of the game. Kicking a field goal is about as basic as it gets in football. Making the same mistake twice in one game is inexcusable.
Both of those problems are bad, but likely correctable. The offense needs some up-downs during practice to remind them to keep their heads in the game, and we might see a new kicker. The defense’s problems, though, run a lot deeper.
I don’t know where to begin. I guess we’ll start with the big picture: Ball State had a ridiculous 539 yards of total offense. The Cardinals had a total of 293 rushing yards for the season coming into the game; against Navy, they nearly doubled that with 262. They converted 11 of 15 third downs. Once again, Navy did not record a sack, and still has only one through 3 games. Ketric Buffin and Darius Terry managed to make a couple of plays, but for the most part the front seven was silent.
The defense’s struggles put the offense in a bad position. In order for Navy to win, the offense now has to be perfect. Every time the offense doesn’t score, it could potentially cost the team the game. Every mistake the offense makes is amplified because the defense isn’t able to make a play of its own. Nobody, especially Navy, is going to have a successful season if they go into every game with the mindset of “last team with the ball wins.”
In his blog, Bill Wagner tells us that during a phone conversation he had with PJ (showoff), a little light has been shed on some of the defense’s issues.
“We need to simplify some stuff,” Johnson said. “We’re not getting lined up properly and we don’t understand what we’re supposed to do.”
Johnson said some coach-speak, technical mumbo jumbo about the Navy defense being in a “five technique when we were supposed to be in a down nine technique.” I have no idea what that means, other than the fact Navy’s defense was not in the formation it should have been based on the way Ball State lined up.
I have a feeling that Wagner does indeed know what this means, but feels that the details would just weigh down his post. I have no such discretion. PJ is referring to how the defensive line and down linebackers are supposed to line up across from the offensive line. These assignments are the fundamentals of pass rushing and gap control in the running game. For example, in the five technique that PJ is talking about, the lineman/LB is lined up on the outside eye of the tackle. His responsibility would be the C gap, between the tackle and tight end. In the nine technique, the lineman/LB is lined up on the outside eye of the tight end and is responsible for outside containment. Now, multiply missed assignments like this by each down lineman or LB and it’s obvious how there can be such wide running lanes for opposing RBs, and why opposing offensive lines have no problem handling our pass rush. Again, from Wagner:
Johnson said the film showed instances on Saturday when Navy left the area within five yards of the line of scrimmage (known as the box) completely wide open due to linemen slanting the wrong way and linebackers either getting blocked or running themselves out of the play.
It also makes it easy to understand what PJ meant earlier when he said that the defense was playing “street ball;” they’re just lining up wherever and trying to bull rush the OL rather than minding their assigned technique.
So tell the coaches to fix it! I’m so smart.
Well, it isn’t that easy. This isn’t one of those things that coaches can micromanage during a game. The coaches are teaching these things in practice, but during a game it’s the players’ responsibility to know where to line up when the defense is called. That’s why losing Sovie was so huge; lining everyone up correctly was his job. Nobody else has shown the ability to do that yet. You could say that the defense is young, and that’s true. But if the team is content with that, then it’s going to be a long year. That’s why PJ wants to, as he puts it, “simplify” the defense. If the players don’t know where they’re supposed to line up, then it’s time to call plays where they will. That’s apparently what PJ and Buddy have in store for practice this week.
Should I start talking quarterback controversy?
No. Jarod Bryant did step in and play well, with the obvious and catastrophic exception being the overtime fumble. He seemed to miss a couple of reads, but nothing out of the ordinary for the third game of the season. Bryant also had the benefit of PJ’s halftime adjustments. The offense moved the ball well in the second half, but it wasn’t Jarod Bryant that opened up the toss sweep or changed the blocking scheme to give the fullback room to rumble. That was PJ. Bryant managed the offense effectively, but the quarterback wasn’t the only change that was made in the second half.
Don’t forget that Kaipo was on his way to a career day before he got hurt, with 117 yards and two TDs in one half. The bulk of those yards came on a beautiful 80-yard TD run that showcased his deceptive speed. Before he was injured, I thought Kaipo had shown a lot of improvement in running with more strength. PJ called the midline option regularly in the first two quarters, and Kaipo gained good yards by putting his head down and fighting inside. He could get better, but he wasn’t tip-toeing anymore. He seemed to run with more authority. He wasn’t perfect; his passing was still awkward, and he took a bad sack that put us on the edge of field goal range. But he didn’t do anything to demonstrate why he shouldn’t start.
Assuming that Kaipo is healthy, he’ll start against Duke. The good thing is that we know we can be confident with either quarterback running the offense.
Should I start talking fullback controversy?
No. We knew both FBs were going to play. Ballard averaged 5 yards per carry and ran for 75 yards. He had a good day. PJ said last week, though, that if one of the fullbacks was hot, he wasn’t going to take him out. With a couple of great TD runs, Kettani was hot. I’m sure they’ll both play plenty next week.
Should I start talking kicker controversy?
Perhaps. Harmon is usually dependable, but his worm-burner FG attempts were costly. Maybe he’s changed his kicking technique to handle kicking off from the 30 instead of the 35 or something. I can’t think of any other explanation why his FGs would take such a low trajectory all of a sudden. But with proven big-game kicker Joey Bullen breathing down his neck and Kyle Delahooke turning heads in the JV game, Harmon might not have the chance to redeem himself. Don’t be surprised if Harmon handles kickoffs on Saturday, with Bullen taking the FGs. Pure conjecture on my part, of course; but what else is new?
So now what?
Well, the good news is that Wagner reports that both Kaipo and Irv Spencer should be healthy enough to play on Saturday. That’s a start, assuming they can get through a week of practice without aggravating their injuries.
All we can hope for now is that the defense will learn, and that the offense can stop making careless mistakes in order to pick up the slack until they do. Last week I told you that Ball State was a good football team, but they aren’t the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. They have no business running for 262 yards against anybody. If that’s the kind of defense we’ll get all year, then we might as well start packing up the CIC Trophy, never mind a bowl bid.
Along those lines, I hope that Navy fans understand just how special the past few seasons were. There has been a lot of talk around here of “next level” and “signature wins” and whatnot, while implying that seasons like ’03-’06 just won’t cut it for too long. I hope that everyone understands how much of a balancing act it is to succeed at USNA, and how little it takes to tip that balance.