Game Week: Duke

6’8″, 310
6’5″, 285
6’4″, 285
6’6″, 290
6’6″, 280

Those are the heights and weights of the Duke offensive line. While they might not be the biggest in the country, they’re still big; plenty big enough to be a problem for the Navy defense. But that’s the story every week, isn’t it? Ten of the twelve teams on Navy’s schedule are virtually guaranteed to be bigger than the Mids each year, and even Army and Air Force have outweighed the Mids up front the last couple of years. Heck, Duke was bigger than Navy last year when Navy rushed for 435 yards and held Duke to only 113. Well, that was last year. Overcoming weight disadvantages with last year’s players is no guarantee that it will happen again with this year’s. Indeed, through three games, it hasn’t.

There are a lot of things that an offense can do schematically to overcome a size disadvantage. Navy’s A-backs are smaller than the average Division I-A running back, but they very rarely have to run between the tackles. In Paul Johnson’s offense, they get the ball in space to take advantage of their speed. Navy’s offensive linemen are also generally smaller than their counterparts on other teams. The Navy offense doesn’t ask the same things from its linemen, though. Rather than engage defensive linemen one on one, larger defensive tackles are frequently double-teamed while a defensive end goes unblocked as the quarterback’s give key. Most schools like tall offensive linemen, particularly tackles, because they can take bigger backward strides in pass protection to counter the speed of defensive ends and linebackers. At Navy, shorter offensive linemen are better suited for the cut-blocking that the triple option requires.

On the other side of the ball, though, there isn’t much you can do. If an offense wants to run the ball down your throat, there isn’t a scheme that will make up for a 235 lb. DE taking on a 310 lb. tackle. There are only so many ways a defense can line up. Since no scheme will solve this, the only way to limit the damage is through individual effort and sound fundamentals. Therein lies the problem.

As I have posted in earlier entries, effort and fundamentals haven’t exactly been the calling cards of the Navy defense this year. Well, fundamentals anyway. From what my untrained eye could tell, the effort level was better against Ball State than it was against Rutgers. At the very least, Coach Johnson hasn’t complained about effort in his press briefings so far this week. Fundamentals, on the other hand, are still being widely discussed. As was pointed out after the Ball State game, the defense has problems lining up correctly. All the effort in the world can’t make up for missed assignments. Missed assignments also compound the size disadvantage. Even if you’re getting pushed around, if you’re minding your gaps you’ll be in a position to make a tackle. It might be three yards downfield, but you’ll be there. When you line up incorrectly, not only will nobody be in the right spot to make the tackle, but the hole that the running back will have to run through will be huge. In a 3-4 defense, the linebackers are the playmakers. The defensive line’s job is to absorb blocks, leaving linebackers free to move from sideline to sideline. When you line up incorrectly, it leaves offensive linemen free to put a block on a linebacker who otherwise could have made a play.

After watching film of Ball State nearly doubling their season rushing total against Navy, first-year Duke offensive coordinator Peter Vaas has to be excited. Navy seems to be the cure for what ails opposing running games. Ball State was no rushing juggernaut coming into the Navy game, but 262 yards later their running game was back on track. The Duke coaching staff has to see this game as an opportunity to jumpstart their own ground game, which is in far worse shape than Ball State’s. Duke’s leading rusher, Justin Boyle, averages less than three yards per carry and has only 66 yards through 3 games. Their second-leading rusher, fullback (and Army transfer) Tielor Robinson, averages a more respectable 3.7 yards per carry. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, he’s also out for the year. The Navy game is an opportunity for the Duke offense to gain some momentum and confidence in running the ball going into the meat of their ACC schedule.

At least, that’s what Paul Johnson is expecting from Duke on Saturday. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis is developing into a really good player for the Blue Devils, but that isn’t the coach’s focus this week. “I hope we can limit them running the ball. For us to be successful we have to limit the rushing yards,” he said on Tuesday. “If they come in and pass for what they are passing for we can live with that. We have to limit the rushing yards.”

In other words, Navy’s defense can’t have a repeat of the Ball State game.

Since Navy coaches expect that Duke will have a similar offensive gameplan to Ball State, how do they prevent a similar result? The word of the week at practice has been “simplification.” What exactly does that entail? According to Sandra McKee this morning, Buddy Green has cut the number of defensive plays in half in order to give his young defense fewer assignments to remember. It seems to be working. If the defense is as athletic as Coach Johnson said at the beginning of the year, then just getting lined up correctly should be enough to allow them to make a few plays. Of course, having fewer plays in the defensive gameplan means that the Duke offense has fewer things to think about, but it’s probably best to deal with that issue when we come to it. It isn’t like the defense can get that much worse at this point.

TauiliiliLike Navy, Duke has a bit of a rebuilding effort this year on defense with only two seniors expected to start. Unlike Navy, some leaders have emerged on that defense. Michael Tauiliili is no surprise. Duke’s leading tackler the last two seasons, Tauiliili has picked up right where he left off. After missing Duke’s opener against Connecticut due to suspension, the junior middle linebacker returned to force turnovers in each of the last two games, including an interception on the second play of Duke’s win over Northwestern. Tauiliili was just as rangy against Navy last year, registering 13 tackles. While his performance is no surprise, Vincent Rey’s is. A sophomore who lines up at weakside linebacker, Rey is third in the ACC in tackles. He had 17 against Connecticut alone. Rey had 11 last week against Northwestern to go along with 4 pass breakups and two tackles for a loss, earning him ACC Player of the Week honors. Patrick Bailey plays a hybrid DE/LB position and is also in the ACC’s top 10 in tackles. With the emergence of Rey and the consistency of Tauiliili added on to the talent of preseason Lindy’s and Athlon All-ACC pick Vince Oghobaase, Duke has a better defense than people think.

Last year, the Duke game was where Navy fans got their first real look at Kaipo’s potential. He had is first career 100-yard rushing game and threw his first career touchdown pass while leading the offense to 435 rushing yards and 38 points. With that performance, chances are that Duke will line up differently this year. No matter how they line up, the key matchup will be Antron Harper against the 6’6″, 310-lb. Oghobaase. Antron hasn’t been 100% healthy yet this year, and he’s going to need everything his injured ankles can give him to move that mountain of a DT. The fullbacks also had a big game against Duke in 2006, with Adam Ballard running for 104 yards. Now that the offense finally established the FB last week, I don’t think they want to lose that momentum.

The importance of this game can’t be overstated. The confidence gained or lost from winning or losing will have a huge impact in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy battle next week. Win, and Navy is back on track. Lose, and you’re 1-3 with doubt creeping in and a likely 3-1 Air Force team coming to town. We hear Paul Johnson say all the time that the most important game of the season is the next one. This week, that couldn’t be more true.

Extra points:

— Navy better have solved its kicking issues after last week. Duke has already blocked three kicks this season: an extra point against UConn plus a punt and a field goal at Virginia (the latter coming from, once again, Vincent Rey). Duke’s special teams superlatives extend to kickoffs, where Jabari Marshall leads the ACC in return average at 28.5 yards (including a 94-yard TD vs. UConn). Duke kickoff coverage is #1 in the nation, allowing only 14.36 yards per return. Navy has also done well on kick coverage so far, ranking 8th nationally at 16.23 yards per return.

— And you thought Juicy Juice was bad… At some point during the game, you just know that Duke NG Ayanga Okpokowuruk will tackle Navy QB Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. Thoughts and prayers go out to Bob Socci, Pete Medhurst, and their families.

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15 Responses

  1. I think their D line is pretty big too right?

  2. A great comeback engineered by Jarod Bryant -the next Doug Flutie.
    I would have to say its now time to give the kid the start agaianst Air Force.
    He not only brought the crowd to its feet but also gave the D some newfound spirit and life and led what may have been the most impressive comeback in many years (we dont come back much anyway) and also made PJ jump onto the filed and join the celebration.
    Congratulations JB you were tremandous and brought the normal operatic crowd to its feet!
    JB the ND dragon slayer!

  3. You’re seeing what you want to see.

  4. I don’t know Birddog. I think Jarod should get his shot. He may not have the tools Kaipo has, but (aside from the fumbles), I don’t have as much fear of mistakes when he is in. Mistakes like throwing a pick when he should have ran for the first or taking a sack from a defender that is crawling on his hands and knees for five feet directly in front of him. I know ones gut is not always correct, but I have to say that I now have a “Good, Bryant is in.” reaction when I see him play.

  5. I’m not saying that Bryant didn’t do a good job, but people are ignoring what was a ridiculous game by Kaipo. Everyone keeps asking when Navy’s offense is going to look like the old Hawaii teams, and yesterday you had it. Now people want to bench the quarterback?? And you can’t say “aside from the fumbles.” If it was Kaipo who fumbled against Ball State, everyone here would be crucifying him.

  6. I understand your point. But fumbles are things that happen and with Bryant there is the hope that they will stop or that all his career fumbles are occuring at the beginning of his career or that it can be coached out of him. This is different than problems a player has with making decisions about what is the best thing he should do with the ball. The later does not tend to go away or get coached out. This is why, for me at least, I would rather see Bryant in the game.

  7. You have it backwards. Decision making is the very essence of coaching.

  8. I didn’t understand what you meant. Are you saying that coaches make decisions or are you saying that coaches teach players to make the right decision? If it is the latter, there is another related question I have. In college ball, where each player has a four year window and lineups change year to year, how much time do you spend trying to coach out potential before you go in another direction? Kaipo is not a long term investment. 1 more year and he is done, gone. How fair is it to the rest of the program. He should be dominating by now. It’s not as if he is surounded by untalented players. He should be making better decisions. Fakes and Playaction should be more sharp. And under no circumstances should a defensive player crawl on hands and knees right in front of his eyes for five feet and record a sack without the option quarterback on the number 1 rushing offense in the country take one step to avoid the sack. It would not hurt at this point to give Jarod the ball and show us what he can do in a real game as the Navy QB.

  9. Kaipo WAS dominating. He had 276 yards of total offense and the team scored 32 points in 3 quarters with him at the helm. What more do you want the kid to do? You’re focusing on one or two plays and losing the big picture. Kaipo is doing just fine. If the defense wasn’t the worst in the country right now, nobody would be saying a thing.

  10. I guess I’m discounting the passing yards and looking at the anemic rushing stats from the Rutgers and Duke game. Take out the 80 yard run from the Ball State game and you have a third poor rushing game from the Navy QB. Applying the same criteria to Bryant, we have great stats against Rutgers (Small sample size), and Ball State. With Duke, even if you take out the 35 yd run, he still got 2.6YPC vs Kaipo’s 2.2YPC when his 19 yard run is removed. Kaipo’s total offense number came from his passing which cannot be depended on when we play better teams. Jarod is seemingly the better rusher in games and since we are an option offense, he deserves a shot. That’s my contention. This reminds me of the Ben Fay/ Chris McCoy battle. In the end, the better runner got the starts and both saw plenty of playing time.

  11. Kaipo threw the ball well early in the game, but the interception he threw was awful looking and he threw another two balls by my count that he was lucky to get away with only an incompletion (Jarod, to be fair, threw one of those as well.)

    Look, Kaipo is the main guy, but don’t harp back to JB’s fumble in OT last week when Kaipo’s pick before the half could have taken us out of the game. Both guys make dumb reads, both guys have turned the ball over, and both guys make plays. Mistakes are part of the game, no matter who is playing. Phelix, I feel your frustration because I too have seen Kaipo make great plays and lead this team to new offensive heights. But I also feel frustrated because I know that Kaipo has made mistakes but we view him as if those never happened (some of us, anyway), and instead choose to always point out the “yea but Jarod fumbled” argument.

    People are having this debate not because the offense isn’t good, but because the margin for error is so small with the defense we have. I don’t think many fans (including myself) are able to look at this objectionably, because we all have our own biases we pick up on and judge quarterbacks by. Lucky for us, none of our opinions matter though.

    Whatever happned to the “this is a good problem to have” argument?

  12. I agree that Kaipo looks bad if you just ignore all the great things he’s done.

    Give me a break.

  13. Like I said on Pitch Right. A 2 QB system is brewing, trust me.

  14. I am here with a few other Navy fans watching CSTV and all agreed that JB looks alot more comfortable running the option that an at times “timid” Kaipo.
    Who looks more confident?
    Who looks and runs stronger?
    Whos pitches looked better?
    Who looked in control?
    If JB started who is to say he too would not have shredded a bad pass defense like Duke?
    Am I seeing what I want to see? Or have I seen what I expected to see?
    Hey I was through Flutie/Johnson in Buffalo and always thought Fltuie got raw deal.
    Lets face it both camps will have their fans and detractors.
    But based on last week would Kaipo have had that ridiculous great game going if he were in there the entire 2nd half?
    It looked to many that Duke was keyed into Kaipo and had Navy and him reeling.
    That would also explain the defeatist attitude and empty seats (it was looking like Rutgers last year if he stayed in there).
    Now against AFA (your most hated rival) dont you think a new face like JB would be a better weapon as opposed to Kaipo whom AFA knows better?
    Lets just say that if PJ realizes and uses a quicker hook to JB then we are in good shape.
    If he allows Kaipo as he has in the past to stay in there..we stand no chance.
    For the record how many times have we seen a comeback like this one?
    Do you remotely think Kaipo would have done this?
    Ok enough now from me- lets just wait and see this week.

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