I’m not sure how often you get a big-game atmosphere from a matchup between a 1-2 team and an 0-2 team, but the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium record crowd of 37,821 knew what was at stake. Both Navy and Rutgers have pretty high expectations for their seasons; expectations that include a winning record and a bowl game. Whoever lost this game would probably find those goals to be a lot harder to attain, with Navy facing games against Wake Forest, Pitt, and Notre Dame on the horizon and Rutgers potentially being 0-3 with the Big East schedule still to come. So maybe it wasn’t a game that meant anything to the average college football fan, but it was certainlty critical to the faithful gathered in Annapolis on Saturday.
With so much at stake, it was great to see the Mids rise to the occasion and top Rutgers, 23-21. The defense played their best game yet, holding the Scarlet Knights to 337 total yards. More importantly, they also limited Rutgers to converting only 5 of 11 third downs. Eric Kettani finally broke out, running for 133 yards and a touchdown despite only being at about 80%, which he revealed in his postgame TV interview. Shun White ran for 85 yards, and Tyree Barnes made two huge catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Lately it seemed that Navy wins have been a matter of the offense carrying the team, but the credit for Saturday’s victory goes the players on both sides of the ball. Neither side was perfect, but neither side had to be. It was refreshingly… normal. I mean, isn’t that how football is supposed to work? Can’t most teams punt once or twice without putting the game in jeopardy? Maybe Navy is finally reaching the point where going for it on every 4th & 1 isn’t a matter of necessity.
I said on Friday that Rutgers would try to get their running game back on track, and that’s what they did. This time, Greg Schiano turned to Jourdan Brooks. Brooks responded with 134 yards and two TDs on 22 carries. He was spelled occasionally by Joe Martinek, who ran for 61 yards on only 8 carries. Unlike a week ago, Navy had trouble stopping the run all afternoon. But Rutgers never tried to take advantage with play-action. Kenny Britt did have 7 catches, but his longest was 17 yards. Tiquan Underwood, the real deep threat, only caught one pass. It seemed that the Rutgers coaches didn’t want to put too much pressure on Mike Teel to make plays after he threw three interceptions against North Carolina. With the holes that Brooks had to run through, they didn’t really need to until the final drive. Actually, with two minutes left, Rutgers probably could’ve kept running the ball. But they didn’t, and Ross Pospisil made them pay.
Wyatt Middleton finished with 13 tackles, mostly because Brooks was getting into the secondary too much. Clint Sovie had 7 tackles even though he didn’t start. My guess is that he will against Wake Forest; after overrunning too many plays in the first three games, Sovie played much more under control against Rutgers and had his best game.
Offensively, Navy opened up with a bang. Shun White had 40 yards on the Mids’ first two carries of the game, prompting Greg Schiano to call timeout. After the timeout, Rutgers had a safety spy on White. Well, sort of. The safety spied on whatever A-back went into tail motion, which was usually White, but not always. Shun had 16 carries, which once again, is too many. Now to be fair, this is the kind of game where Shun probably should get a few more carries than normal. Once Navy switched to an unbalanced line with trips on the heavy side (basically the last 3 quarters of the game), it made sense for Shun to be the inside A-back, with the other slot split out wide between Shun and the wide receiver. If only one slotback is going to carry the ball, it should be Shun. But the problem is that even before Ivin Jasper changed formations, Shun was still the only slotback getting the ball. I could tell which way the play was going based on where Shun was lined up. And if some idiot blogger could see it, you know a coach will see it on film.
As strange as it may sound, the fewer carries Shun gets, the more effective he’ll probably be. While Shun averaged 20 yards apiece on those first two carries, he only averaged 3.2 ypc the rest of the game. Shun’s greatest asset is his speed. He can better utilize that speed when he gets the ball in space. He’ll get more space if the defense can’t key in on him. The other slotbacks have combined for only 12 carries, but they’re averaging 7.8 yards on each carry. Since the Towson game, Shun is actually averaging less– 7.3 yards per carry. And that includes his 71-yard run at Ball State and his 73-yard TD run at Duke. Take those away, and he’s averaging only 4.3 yards per carry. Now, I know you can’t simply dismiss those long runs like that– like I said last week, Shun is the home run threat– but it gives you a better idea of what’s happening on most drives. Is it worth sacrificing consistent yardage in order to swing for the fences? I don’t think so, but hey, maybe that why I’m sitting behind a computer while the coaches are coaching.
Anyway, this was a very entertaining game to watch if you like the coaching chess match. In this case, Ivin Jasper was Boris Spassky while Greg Schiano was the captain of the Broadneck High School chess club. Schiano just had no answer for the adjustments that Jasper made. Some were more obvious than others:
Adjustment #1: The unbalanced line. When Coach Jasper moved a tackle to one side of the formation as a “tight end,” Rutgers countered by shifting their line to line up on top of him. Meanwhile, a wide receiver came in to play tackle. But he was still an eligible receiver, so Rutgers still had a corner lined up & covering what was basically a skinny offensive lineman. That left one less player to worry about.
Adjustment #2: Running the triple option off of the midline. I may post about this later in the week.
Adjustment #3: Passing! With a safety spying on the motion slotback, it meant a lot of man coverage. The first drive of the second half capitalized on that, as Kaipo went 3-4 with 77 yards and a TD.
Along those lines, it’s a shame that Kaipo doesn’t get the appreciation he should for his passing. He makes a lot of hard throws. Maybe it’s his goofy throwing motion, but people don’t really give him credit. They think he gets lucky. But as often as he gets “lucky,” you think that maybe it isn’t luck at all? Food for thought.
Adjustment #4: Blocking. This one was subtle. The option pitch was getting blown up by the safety spying on the slotback. In the second half, the playside “tackle” (aka the wide receiver) changed up his blocking a little bit to help. He’d disengage his first block and engage the safety coming down to make the play. The first guy would end up making the tackle, but it’d usually be 2-3 yards further downfield than when the safety was running free.
One more thing– why does Rutgers block a kick almost every year against Navy? Some years it’s field goals and extra points, others it’s punts. Either way, it’s getting REALLY old.
Anyway, it was great to see a total team effort from the Mids the week before they play the best team on the schedule. At least now we know it’s possible.