It might have been vanilla, but don’t call it bland!
Navy kept things simple yesterday while beating Towson, 41-13, in front of a season-opening crowd of 31,613. What was billed as a history-making day for Towson, playing their first I-A opponent in school history, became a history-making day for Shun White. White ran for three touchdowns on a school-record 348 yards, and is spending his Sunday as the toast of Annapolis. White broke Eddie Meyers’ 27 year-old record of 298 yards, set against Syracuse in 1981.
Ken Niumatalolo laid it out in his press conference after the game. “We didn’t try to get too sophisticated out there,” the Navy head coach said after his successful regular-season debut. White’s 348 yards might not seem to say “simplicity,” but when you think about it, it really does. Almost as amazing as all those yards is the fact that White had 19 carries. That’s usually about 3 games’ worth of carries for a slotback in this offense, and it shows how Ken and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper kept things basic. Rather than the usual mystery that comes with identifying the ballcarrier on each play in the Navy offense, the gameplan this week was simply to get the ball to Shun White.
It was the winning move in the proverbial chess match of football coaching. Towson head coach Gordy Combs had done his homework:
We thought that with Bryant coming in as quarterback, they might be more conservative with Kettani on the dive and we did a good job on stopping that. Maybe we should have spent more time on stopping the pitch.
Hey, you’d think the same thing if you saw Bryant’s last start, a 35-24 win over Northern Illinois last year. Just about everything was kept between the tackles, with Bryant and the fullbacks getting most of the carries on designed handoffs and midline options. But in one of those “he knows, but I know that he knows and he doesn’t know that I know that he knows” things, Coach Niumat saw it coming.
“We gave [Shun] a challenge early on in the week… that this is what we were going to do. We were going to ride him if they were going to take away Eric.”
And sure enough, taking away Eric Kettani is exactly what Towson set out to do, sticking 8 men in the box and selling out on the fullback. And with that, Shun’s run to the record book was born. It didn’t even matter that Towson’s coaches knew what was coming:
We had some difficulties with Shun White. We figured out after the 1st quarter what they were trying to do. They were trying to put him in position to be the pitch man or the toss guy and we knew it and made some adjustments. We tried to stop him and just couldn’t. They did a good job of blocking along the perimeter.
(LOL @ “some difficulties,” by the way.) That’s a credit to the offense’s execution. Speaking of which, if you’re playing defense against Navy this year, I recommend that you keep an eye on Curtis Sharp. Holy crap he was laying some blocks out there that would cure cancer, they were so incredible. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
I haven’t gone back to actually count it all up yet, but I’d estimate that about 90% of Navy’s plays on offense consisted of one of three plays: triple option, counter option, and toss sweep. I know the joke is that Navy only runs 5 or 6 plays anyway, but that’s only half-serious. And with Towson selling out on the fullback on every play, it made the reads on those option plays really, really easy to make. And when you make things easy for an option quarterback, you’re pretty much screwed.
So why would Coach Niumat want to keep things simple anyway? Probably to keep anything interesting off of Ball State’s radar. Like I said before the game, Navy should beat Towson. So if you can win without tipping your hand to your next opponent, you do it. As obvious as it was on offense, it was almost as obvious that was the plan on defense, too. After Towson converted their first 3rd & long, I got a really sick “oh no here we go again” feeling in my stomach. But as the game wore on, it was obvious that Buddy was doing as little as he could get away with. He almost never sent more than three or four rushers in to get Towson quarterback Sean Schaefer, and the secondary was playing even softer than they usually do. That is, until the 4th quarter. As Towson made its way into Navy territory late in the game, Buddy finally put in a blitz package or two. And when he did, the Mids teed off on Schaefer for three sacks.
It’s hard to get a good idea of any improvement that might have been made on defense, since Towson, while competent in what they do, is no Ball State. Still, there were some definite signs of good things to come. The front seven played well. The linebackers didn’t miss many tackles and were all over the field. The defensive line caused trouble all day. I’d say that Nate Frazier was unstoppable, but Towson discovered that if you just tackled him on every play, he’s a lot more manageable! Jabari Tuanee, one of the more exciting recruits from this year’s class, got into the game at DE and pitched in with a pair of 4th-quarter sacks. Clint Sovie had 8 tackles, and he and Ross Pospisil combined to break up 5 passes.
A clear improvement over 2007 was Jon Teague’s kickoffs. Teague booted his first one deep into the end zone for a touchback. The rest weren’t as deep, but they had terrific hang time and allowed the coverage to get down the field to make the play. Towson’s average starting field position was their own 20 yard line, and a lot of that was thanks to Teague. If the Navy defense is improved at all, giving them a little more field to work with only helps them that much more.
All in all, it was a good game. Jarod Bryant ran the offense well, the defense showed a little life, and Shun White made Navy history. The good feelings will be short-lived, though, as the Mids have to get right back to work to prepare for one hell of a Ball State team on Friday night. Still, the opener was everything Navy fans wanted it to be, and a good debut for the new coaching staff.