OK, so the NIU game was a week ago, and now it’s Army week. You’ve probably moved on from last Tuesday night’s win, focusing instead on things like Army and bowl games and whatnot. Well, not me. Not having written anything about the NIU game eats at my conscience like termites gnawing away at a dead tree. So before we let this game fade into <mike> bolivian </tyson>, let’s take one last look.

I wasn’t overcome with joy to see that ESPN moved the game to ESPN Classic, but whoever it was in Bristol that suggested the move is probably getting a lot of high-fives around the office. If you aren’t a Navy fan, that game was b-o-r-i-n-g, especially when compared to Ball State’s quest for perfection. But if you are a Navy fan– and why the hell else would you be subjecting yourself to this crummy blog– then few things were as beautiful as the Mids’ 16-0 shutout of the Huskies. It was the prototypical Navy football game, with long drives on offense to shorten the game and a bend-but-don’t-break defense that prevented the big play and tightened up when it had to. The shutout was Navy’s first since 2004, and came at a time when the defense could really use it.

Before the game I wrote that this was a good opportunity for Navy’s defense to develop some consistency. They haven’t been able to string together back-to-back solid performances since the Rutgers & Wake Forest games back in September. The defense played well against Notre Dame, but the team still came up short. After such a letdown, you get concerned with how the team will respond. Not this week. Ross Pospisil once again led the team in tackles against NIU; after recording 20 in last year’s game, he followed it up with 12 more this year. The defense gave up some yards here & there, but they improved as the game wore on thanks to some shrewd adjustments by Buddy Green.

One of the best moves Buddy made led to Emmett Merchant’s interception. Early in the game, NIU had been using a particular pass play with some success:

In the first play, NIU is lined up with trips to the left. The inside receiver runs a route to the flat. The two other receivers on that side of the formation run downfield. Ram Vela is the linebacker responsible for covering the flat, but he gets caught up defending the other two receivers. In essence, there are two defenders covering the receiver who ran the hook pattern, and nobody covering the flat. NIU completes the pass to the open receiver for a nice gain.

In the second play, we have a variation on the same theme. Instead of trips receivers, though, there are twin receivers and a tight end on one side of the formation. Slightly different formation, but NIU runs basically the same play out of it. The tight end runs to the flat, while the two wide receivers draw the linebacker (this time Jeff Deliz) downfield. Another wide open play, and another nice gain.

Both of those were in the first half. In the third quarter, NIU ran the exact same play as the first example; trips to the left, inside receiver running to the flat, with a buttonhook and a corner route to draw the linebacker away. Only this time, Buddy baited NIU’s quarterback. Deliz covered the buttonhook, giving the QB the same look he had on the first play. Probably thinking the same receiver would be open again, the QB threw the ball. But this time, Emmett Merchant jumped the route to the flat from his safety position and intercepted the pass.

A great adjustment by Buddy, and great execution by the Mids. The maturation of the defense is a sight to behold.

But even the first shutout in four years couldn’t make the defense the biggest story in this game. No, it’s all about the quarterbacks with you people, and all eyes were on Ricky Dobbs as he made his first start. And Ricky played pretty well. You’re probably thinking, “duh.” He had 124 yards and a touchdown! Of course he played well! But like we’ve said before, sometimes stats tell you less about how well you did, and more about what you did. That’s definitely the case here. Ricky and Eric Kettani combined for 44 of Navy’s 54 carries, and 216 of the Mids’ 262 rushing yards. With numbers like that, you might think that Ivin Jasper called a lot of midline option. You’d be right. You might also think that Ivin called so many midline plays in order to keep things conservative for his young quarterback. There, you’d be wrong. The midline was actually an adjustment by Ivin to what NIU’s defense was doing.

First, let’s look at a triple option play from early in the game. You’ll recall from previous game reviews the “cross charge,” a stunt where the linebacker takes the B-back while the defensive end takes the quarterback. Jarod Bryant struggled with that read. Northern Illinois did the same thing here, and to his credit, Ricky was able to read it and pitch the ball for a nice little 6-yard gain:

Now, take another look at the defensive end. He doesn’t actually attack the quarterback. Instead, he takes a really deep step upfield and waits for the quarterback to come to him. By doing this, he hopes to accomplish one of two things. The first would be to confuse the quarterback, causing him to hesitate and making it easier to tee off on him. The second would be to step in and bat down the pitch. This is the same defense that East Carolina used against the Mids back in the 2006 opener, and you may recall that they did so with a little bit of success. The Mids lost two fumbles that day when Brian Hampton’s pitches were swatted away by ECU defenders. PJ’s adjustment, as he explained it, was to “play the game in the phone booth.” That meant running between the tackles, and that meant a heavy dose of the midline.

Coach Jasper, seeing the same defense that ECU ran, made the same adjustment that PJ did back then.

By using the midline, you allow the DE to more or less take himself out of the play when he steps so deep into the backfield. As a fringe benefit, he also becomes an easy assignment for the tackle to block. The quarterback then options off of the DT instead. The playside A-back runs inside of the tackle and becomes a lead blocker for the quarterback. If the playside linebacker follows the A-back to the middle of the field, it means a nice gain for the quarterback (which you can see on the second play).

Ricky wasn’t perfect. But outside of the fumbles– which hopefully can just be attributed to jitters– he played a good game. Things certainly didn’t get worse with him in there, although it should be noted that Ricky was aided by a Northern Illinois defense that kept things pretty simple for him throughout the game. He’ll see something different from Army if he plays.

One thing from the game that I didn’t understand was the clock management at the end of the second quarter. The Mids got the ball on their own 13 yard line with about a minute and a half to play. At that point, if Coach Niumat didn’t want to put his first-time starter at quarterback in a position to give up a turnover deep in his own territory, I completely understand– especially when you’re already up 9-0. But three plays into the drive, the Mids were almost to the 40 yard line with :32 left on the clock. At that point I figured it might not be a bad idea to call timeout and take a couple of shots downfield to see if maybe we could set up Matt Harmon for a field goal. Navy did indeed call timeout. It was 2nd & 2 coming out of the TO; a perfect chance to throw deep. If it’s incomplete, it stops the clock, and you still have the opportunity to pick up the first down (which also stops the clock) running the ball on the next play. But that’s not what the Mids did; instead, they ran for the first down right away. OK, not what I would have done, but they still picked up the first down and were able to spike the ball to stop the clock. They still had enough time to throw a pass or two, right? That’s not what they did though; the next play was a handoff to Kettani, and Navy let the clock run out.

I don’t agree with not trying to score there. It was clear that possessions were at a premium in that game, so I felt that you had to make the most of the ones you got. Coach Niumat obviously felt differently, and I don’t mind deferring to his judgment. I’m sure that his decision was impacted in part by having already burned two timeouts on the first drive. But if you’re going to run out the clock, why call your last timeout? Why bother to spike the ball? Kind of confusing.

But that’s one small quibble in an otherwise outstanding game. Playing in a phone booth won’t get you many highlights, but it was the perfect adjustment in a game like this. It wasn’t the most spectacular game to watch, but a shutout coupled with long, grinding offensive drives is a perfect recipe for a Navy win. With the 6th consecutive winning season secured, it’s one less thing to be concerned about heading into the biggest game of the year.


  1. football dad dan

    Mike, … Appreciate the analysis –> Always learn something when I get to see it (with the “white arrows”) so easier to focus on what “should be happening”.
    It’s not like Navy didn’t run the TO with a certain measure of success in this game (both halves … but moreso in the 2nd quarter). There were no big Shun White 70 yarders, … but both Shinego & Doyle had solid gains on the pitch/quick toss (10 total by my count … only two went nowhere –> down @ the 5 on the initial drive where it seemed like NIU was “crashing the pitch”).

    GO NAVY … Beat ARMY!!!

  2. tman

    Sorry to go backward but…Just reminded of anecdote about AF I learned from source at NAAA. 2004 AF vs N at AF, DeBerry and PJ talking before game at midfield. DeBerry all friendly like says to PJ, “why dont you get a real job instead of Navy?!?” He meant it as a compliment to PJ. PJ too surprised to respond, just said good luck and walked away. I think that about describes my feelings about why the zoomies are the way they are. We won with last second FG.
    NIU great to watch because of obvious adjustments made by coaches and players during game.

  3. JD

    Thanks for taking the time to do your analysis. I learn something everytime, and a watch a lot more of the blocking and line play as a result.

    I also was surprised that they didn’t take a shot or two downfield once they got out to the 40. That said — no complaints — NUI didn’t get any opportunity to do anything, which kept Navy in total control with getting the ball back first in the 3rd qtr.

    And that pretty much was story of the game — NUI created some opportunities for themselves, but Navy always maintained control. I suppose it was pretty boring to neutral parties, but it was good to see us control an entire game rather than needing to find the bunny at the bottom of the hat like we did with Temple, and came close but couldn’t do with ND.

    Beat Army!

  4. DJ

    I called my dad after buring the first two timeouts and told him that we would need those. Mistake #1 was buring the TO’s, and mistake #2 was Coach Ken waffling on whether or not to push it, leading to poor clock management.

    I am convinced (courtesy of the Sports Guy) that every football team (pro and college) needs to hire a 15 year old X-box freak to be the “end of half clock managment coach.”

  5. EKW JR

    Thanks, Mike.

    I don’t care how “boring” it looked, this was for me the most satisfying game I have seen Navy play this year.

    First, you can’t lose if the Bad Guys don’t score. What a confidence booster for the D! Apparently the Buddy Green Spandex defense tightens up just enough in cold weather.

    Second, Navy’s offensive execution looked better to me, including IMO the perimeter blocking. It wasn’t perfect, but it looked better. It kind of reminded me of the 2004 NM game, although Dobbs is not playing yet at Polanco’s level.

    This game was a solid overall upward performance vector for Navy going into Army this week.

  6. subsnstripes


    Absolutely outstanding analysis…. Really appreciate what you’ve done.

    From your examples though, they seemed to be running toward the numbers disadvantage…. was that because of the DE English?

    /R Ken

  7. The videos are blocked for me, so I’ll have to wait until I get home to take another look. I don’t think that’s the case, though. NIU played most of the game in your basic 4-3 and didn’t move the safeties into the count as far as I can remember.

  8. pills91

    I don’t mind us handing the ball off in that situation, IF, the coaches thought that the play called could be hit for a gainer that would have put us in FG range. Maybe IJ saw something, and, we just didn’t execute?

    I know I don’t have to remind you that our run game is more than capable of producing big plays.

  9. Big plays, yes, but time-consuming ones. If you throw an incomplete pass, you get another shot. If you don’t hit the running play, time runs out and you’re done. What you say works with 3 minutes on the clock, but not 30 seconds.

  10. jimbear

    Mike great job as usual. I was posting on the GT forum how your blog is definitive site for the spread option the other day (along with phils). I posted on the Navy game thread similar criticism of KN/IJ two minute non drive. Once at the 40 why not take a shot especially with RD at QB?
    Anyway, It was a “boring” game but after 25 years of Navy football and seeing far too manny losses there is no such thing as an “ugly” Navy win to me. Kudos to Buddy and the D.

  11. El Cid '85

    Mike thanks for the break down. I didn’t notice the D adjustments you highlighted the first time I watched the game. After watching here and again tonight on the DVR I (even though I’m not a Buddy Green fan) have to tip my hat to BG.

    As for the triple option, Ricky was pretty good and I can’t wait for Kiapo and him to take a shot at Army. Kiapo has not had a great performance reading Army’s D the last two years…

  12. hunkerdawg

    Great work as always – even if you are slacking and falling behind your deadlines… ha! I can’t help but play the “What If” game and think “What if we’d had this kind of defensive performance last year coupled with last year’s offensive production?” That would have been scary. Then again, maybe the offense would not have been as productive without the sense of urgency that they had to score on EVERY possession.

    Go Navy! Beat Army! Fans – don’t freeze!

  13. Jeff

    Thanks for all the insight (and the hard work!). I would be curious to see how Army has made it difficult for our offense the last couple years. Is it a good scheme or are they successful at confusing us with different looks which make it difficult for us to find a counter?

  14. EightyFiver

    Thanks, Mike. Nice work.

    Check out the lick Ricky delivers to the last defender who makes contact with him on the last play of the last clip (the second mid-line play; it starts on the 45). It’s helmet-to-helmet and the poor NIU defender clearly gets the worst of the encounter. (The defender stumbles a bit getting up.) Not a fun guy to tackle.

    Can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed sitting out in the cold watching a boring game more in my life! (Poor sentence construction, but you get the point.) Our guys were fired up and focused the entire evening.

  15. football dad dan

    EightyFiver, … a little better tackling by Navy (especially early-on) would have created less angst, & been better for my hbp, … but otherwise a solid game on all fronts, … and most satisfying “W”.
    BZ to the Navy Dee!

    BEAT ARMY!!!

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