Ricky Dobbs stepped up in relief of an injured Jarod Bryant and ran for 224 (!) yards on 42 (!) carries on Saturday as Navy topped SMU, 34-7. Jarod Bryant ran for 50 yards before leaving the game with a shoulder injury. SMU was held to 157 passing yards and -13 yards on the ground.
Conventional wisdom says that Navy doesn’t get the country’s most coveted recruits. But on Saturday, one 5-star recruit– THE HAND OF ALMIGHTY GOD– played his finest game of the season. The weather was Navy’s best weapon on defense, especially the wind. SMU’s biggest threat– the deep ball– was made virtually impossible to execute thanks to 30-35 mph gusts that kept the flags at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium taut and TV cameras shaking. To give you an idea of how big of an effect this had on SMU’s offense, think of Navy’s struggles earlier in the season. When Kaipo went out, Jarod Bryant struggled running the triple option. Without the ability to capitalize on all three options, Navy’s offense wasn’t effective. The same is true in the run & shoot. A receiver runs deep on almost every play, but if the quarterback’s key told him to throw deep, he wasn’t able to take advantage. That meant a lot of short-yardage, pre-determined routes; plays that aren’t the real run & shoot and take SMU’s offense out of its element.
Deep passes weren’t the only thing affected by the wind, either; Bo Levi Mitchell’s shorter throws were also getting knocked down. SMU’s punts were even worse. The Mustangs won the coin toss and decided to take the ball to start the game; they probably should have chosen to defer. Navy made them drive into the wind, and after the Mustangs couldn’t get those drives going, their punts went nowhere and gave Navy fantastic field position for its first three drives. Navy took a 20-0 lead in the first quarter on touchdown drives that had an average starting position of the SMU 39 yard line. The game was over by the second quarter.
While the wind was Navy’s MVP, it was still a team effort. It isn’t as if teams haven’t been able to nickel and dime themselves down the field against the Mids in the past. Buddy Green decided to rely on a 3-man rush for most of the game, dropping 8 into coverage. This hasn’t worked too well for Navy in the past, as opposing quarterbacks had all day to find an open receiver. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Nate Frazier, Jabaree Tuani, and Matt Nechak controlled the line of scrimmage. They didn’t get immediate pressure on Mitchell, but they closed the pocket quickly enough that the freshman quarterback wasn’t able to camp out and wait for someone to get open. To me the most impressive part of the line’s performance was their ability to make plays all over the field. Nechak had the hit of the game, running outside to plant the wide receiver on a screen play. Nate Frazier got his sack by chasing down Mitchell from behind. Tuani might have had the most impressive play, coming in on a pass rush, then turning around and making a tackle on the wide receiver downfield and stopping him on third down. It was a good performance from a group that needed to rebound after the Pitt game.
But let’s be real here; the weather might have been the biggest factor in the game, but the biggest story is Navy’s ongoing quarterback soap opera. Poor Jarod Bryant just can’t catch a break. After struggling over the first half of the season, he seemingly put it together against Pitt, only to see the team around him get manhandled. This week he picked up right where he left off and moved the ball fairly easily against a bad SMU defense. But apparently Jarod had reached his good vibes quota for the week, and a couple of awkward falls onto his shoulder led to him being knocked out of the game. (WHY CAN’T I ENJOY A BLOWOUT FOR ONCE???) In stepped Ricky Dobbs, who runs like Brian Hampton and apparently prefers not to pitch the ball, like Brian Madden. Dobbs ran like a tank, bulldozing his way to 224 yards and 4 touchdowns. But it’s hard to really get a feel for how well he did because SMU’s defense was really, really bad.
To get an idea of how bad, let’s look at Ricky’s longest run of the day, a 38-yard stampede in the second quarter. SMU had brought a safety up to the line of scrimmage who would end up covering the playside slotback and getting run out of the play. Ricky’s pitch key was the linebacker lined up over the B-gap. He showed a pitch read, but the cornerback had blitzed to cover the pitch man:
This play should have been blown up by the defense. Against Pitt, it would have been. But Ricky just sidestepped the linebacker and ran upfield. You could say it was a good move on Ricky’s part, and it was. Ricky also deserves credit for seeing the blitz and not pitching the ball. But better linebackers aren’t going to miss those tackles the way SMU’s were.
One dimension that Ricky brought to the game was that he was essentially a second fullback. Ricky’s hard running inside made things easier on the offensive line. A lot of times you’ll hear about the importance of “establishing the fullback” from media and coaches alike. Being an astute fan, you might find that odd since in a triple option, you take what the defense gives you. But even when it looks like the option is working well outside, you still see the coaches call a couple of designed handoffs to the B-back. The reason is because it makes linebackers easier to block. Last week against Pitt, we saw how the middle linebacker ignored the dive and ran to the quarterback on the triple option. The Mids just couldn’t get enough of a push inside to force Pitt’s defense to respect the dive play. This week, Eric Kettani became a lead blocker for Ricky Dobbs, who attacked the middle of the field. The success they were having meant that the linebackers had to respect that play, and it kept them from running outside on the snap. That hesitation made it easier for the tackle to make the block:
There’s another play that might not have worked the way Pitt was playing, but was a nice little 5-yard gain against SMU. The linebacker went to meet the fullback, but wound up getting blocked by the tackle.
One thing you’ll notice is that both of those plays are triple option plays. That’s a good sign.
At this point we could have three healthy quarterbacks for Temple, or we could be starting our third string. If Ricky has to start, it’s good to have seen him run some of the offense. And we didn’t even use his biggest strength– his arm. Now we wait.