WON’T ANYONE THINK OF THE POOR BLOGGERS?
Seriously, this short week is a pain. People talk about how it might effect the two teams or how it’ll effect area high school games, but what about MY timeline? I’m supposed to get a game preview out in time for a Friday game, but here it is Thursday and all I’ve managed to do is dupe other people into doing my writing for me. It’s pathetic. Despite the fame, fortune, and good gas mileage that comes with being a college football blogger, I still insist on keeping another job. And even though this blog is my ticket to glory, I sometimes let that other job get in the way. I know, priorities, right? Don’t bother to send the nasty e-mails, I already hate myself. Anyway, on to the game.
Last year I said of Ball State, “If this team was called anything other than Ball State, they’d be fairly highly regarded right now.” And the Cardinals backed up my words, putting together their first winning season in a decade, a bowl game… and of course, beating Navy. So this year, you hopefully don’t have to be introduced to Nate Davis, Dante Love, and Darius Hill. You know that Nate Davis threw for a school record 3,667 yards and 30 TDs last year, with only 6 interceptions. You know that Dante Love was second in the nation in all-purpose yardage in 2007 (206.92 ypg) and racked up nearly 1,400 receiving yards. You know that tight end Darius Hill set another school record with 11 TD receptions last year. You know all three of them are probably going to be drafted. You also know that the Ball State offensive line has a pair of excellent bookends, including Outland Trophy watch listee Robert Brewster. You know they’re good, and can throw the football.
After last year’s game, how could you forget? Nate Davis threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns. Love and Hill were on the receiving end of two of those, and the two combined for 12 catches and 178 yards. As good as they were, though, the real difference in the game was running back MiQuale Lewis. Lewis, who at 5-6, 184 is built more like a Navy slotback than your typical running back, ran for 161 of Ball State’s uncharacteristic 262 rushing yards. Up to that point, Ball State hadn’t really been able to establish a running game, finishing 106th in rushing offense in 2006 and looking lackluster when running the ball in its first two games of 2007. All that changed when the Cardinals took on Navy, and Lewis followed up his performance in Annapolis with 122 yards at Nebraska before suffering a season-ending injury. He’s apparently healthy now, though, and ran for 95 yards on 11 carries in Ball State’s opener against Northeastern.
The “duh” analysis tells us that the top two priorities for Buddy Green will be to stop Lewis, and get pressure on Davis. Most of Lewis’ yardage came in the first half of last year’s game. The Mids did a MUCH better job slowing him down in the second half, and it’s no coincidence that they also held Ball State to 10 points in that same stretch. As for getting pressure on Davis, that’s going to be tough to do without blitzing. Jabaree Tuani came in as a situational pass rusher against Towson and managed to get to the quarterback twice by simply bull-rushing his way there. That’ll be a lot tougher to do against Ball State’s senior tackles. Their guards, though, are a redshirt freshman and a sophomore. Nate Frazier might be able to cause a little trouble inside. No matter how you look at it, though, it’s probably going to be a lot more effective to defend the pass from the front end than it will be on the back end, covering these receivers.
Offensively, Navy is still dealing with some injuries. Jarod Bryant will get the start again, although in a bit of a surprise announcement, Kaipo will, in fact, dress for the game. It still doesn’t appear likely that he’ll see the field, but he will apparently be available if needed. Unfortunately, Andrew McGinn had his bell rung against Towson. He’ll be replaced at RT by Mike Von Bargen. In better news, Greg Shinego and Andre Byrd should be back to give Ivin Jasper a couple more options at slotback.
Even with the injuries, Navy has every chance to put up some big numbers. The Mids put up 521 rushing yards against Ball State in the 2007 game. Let’s take a look at how that happened.
Ball State used a 4-man front on defense against Navy last year. For most of the game they left the A gaps uncovered and had their interior linemen in a 3 technique, responsible for the B gaps. Two linebackers would crash the A gaps on the snap, with the DE (the quarterback’s give key) showing that he was playing the QB and not the FB. The idea was to mess up the quarterback’s read; the QB would read the DE and give to the fullback, who would be met by a charging linebacker or two. Paul Johnson’s adjustment? Run the fullback off tackle:
By running off tackle, the linebackers take themselves out of the play when they charge the A gaps. The fullback runs right by the DE, who is focused on the quarterback. The run support is covering the pitch, leaving open field for Adam Ballard. And just like that, a week’s worth of Ball State gameplanning was thrown out the window.
After that, the linebackers were extremely tentative, which made them easy picking. On the very next play, PJ called the midline option. The linebackers were confused, blocked without problem, and Kaipo ran up the middle for 15 yards:
From that point on, Navy owned the middle of the field. Of Navy’s 521 rushing yards, 395 came from the quarterbacks and the fullbacks. It was the kind of game well-suited for Jarod Bryant, who relieved an injured Kaipo and led the team in a second-half comeback. The lesson here, kids, is that no one trick is going to stop this offense. Your best bet is to vary the looks you give the quarterback on every play. We’ll see if Ball State’s coaches learned their lesson. I can’t imagine they’ll line up the same way.
Whatever questions there are about Navy’s defense will be answered tomorrow. Even if the defense plays well, though, Ball State is going to score some points. The offense will be challenged to keep pace. This is the first game in a long stretch of tough ones, so whatever momentum Navy can get will be valuable. This is Ball State’s first ESPN primetime game at home, so you know they’ll be excited. Here’s hoping Navy can match the intensity.