After laying an egg against Pittsburgh a week ago, the Navy football team was hoping to get that bad taste out of their mouths. The defense played well against the Panthers in a lot of ways, but gave up some big plays through the air; the offense didn’t do much of anything right. They could put that performance behind them by putting together a complete game against the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky. The Mids, led by Ricky Dobbs’ 143 rushing yards and 5 total touchdowns, won the game comfortably, 38-22. Whether that exorcised the demons of the previous week, however, is up for debate.
Offensively, it probably did. Ricky dominated the stat sheet, but he wasn’t the only Mid to have a good day. Bobby Doyle had 104 total yards from scrimmage, including a 24-yard streak down the sideline and a 47-yard pass reception. Marcus Curry chipped in 70 yards on only 5 carries, and Cory Finnerty added a touchdown reception. Vince Murray, who stepped in for an injured Alexander Teich, picked up 54 yards. Overall the Mids had a that’s-more-like-it 373 rushing yards, their highest total of the season. All is well, right?
We’ll see. Honestly, I’m not sure how much we really learned about the offense in this game. WKU is one of those rare teams that don’t physically outmatch the Mids, with players like a 5-11, 270-pound nose guard up front. Being smaller doesn’t mean that they can’t play, of course; it’s just not typical of what Navy is going to see for the rest of the season. On top of that, the WKU game plan wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be. Let’s take a look at Ricky’s first touchdown, a 29-yard option run. WKU came out in a similar double eagle-type look that we’ve seen all season. What that means is that they had 4 men on the line of scrimmage, but instead of being balanced on both sides of the center, they had a nose guard over the ball, two on one side of him, and one split wide on the other. Before the snap, one of the safeties comes down in run support and lines up within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. When he does so, he enters the count. This creates a numbers advantage on the other side of the formation. Ricky sees this, audibles, and runs the other way. The remaining safety spies the tail motion A-back, meaning there’s nobody to catch Ricky when he turns upfield.
WKU was doing this all afternoon. The safety biting on the tail motion is what made Cory Finnerty and Bobby Doyle so wide open on their pass plays. Eventually, the safety stopped spying the A-back and took the quarterback. He clocked Ricky, who might not have even seen him coming, but that left Marcus Curry free to run all over the field on the pitch. In the end, Navy’s offense had a big day… But they should have had a big day. The defense just wasn’t that good. Then again, after the Pitt game, a little confidence can’t hurt.
One can only hope that the defense doesn’t lose any. After being the strength of the team for the first three games, the unit did not exactly impress. Western Kentucky entered the game having a hard time moving the ball on anyone. I mean, Central Arkansas held them to 287 yards, so for the Mids to give up 434 yards to the Hilltoppers is a bit disturbing. Fortunately, with a fumble at the goal line, a missed field goal, and 10 (!) penalties, WKU did a pretty good job stopping themselves, and in the process demonstrated why they are 0-4.
The most troubling thing, given Navy’s next opponent, is that the play that the defense struggled the most against was the option. When WKU was running north-south, the Mids were their usual, immovable selves. When the Hilltoppers started running the zone read, though, the defense looked lost.
I say “zone read” because I’m not sure what else to call it. On the usual zone read play, the last down lineman on the back side of the play is left unblocked. If he heads for the mesh, the QB hands the ball off to the running back. If he starts running down the line to take the running back, the QB keeps and runs towards the space that his read vacated. That’s not really what WKU was doing, though. They blocked everyone at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback read a middle linebacker, and simply sent the ball wherever the ILB didn’t go:
This left the linebackers so preoccupied with the run that they bit hard on every run fake. Notice on this next play how the linebackers play the run. By moving to the line of scrimmage instead of dropping into coverage, it leaves a huge gap in coverage between the LBs and the secondary. The primary beneficiary was the tight end, Jack Doyle, who not only caught this pass, but five more for 80 yards. The TE would usually be covered by a linebacker.
Opposing quarterbacks looking like the second coming of John Hadl have been an all-too-frustrating trademark of the Navy defense over the last two years. Kawaun Jakes is a freshman, but against the Mids you wouldn’t have known. Now, you can’t mention the performance of the defense without also mentioning how depleted the unit was. Ram Vela, Clint Sovie, and Jabaree Tuani all either played sparingly, or played hurt. That forced Wyatt Middleton to play out of position, and he did not look comfortable at all at linebacker. If you asked me if this was just a bad day or if it was a sign of things to come for the defense, I’d take the former. And Blake Carter is still awesome on wheels.
Still, it’s not really a note of confidence on which to head into the Air Force game. That doesn’t mean it’s time to panic, either. Yes, the Mids stunk on option plays, but that’s not really the kind of stuff that Air Force runs. Actually, you could say there is a bit of silver lining in all this. We’ve seen the defense pick up the slack to help carry the team until the offense got in gear. We sort of expected that this year. But now we’ve seen the offense carry the game when the defense struggled, which can only boost that unit’s morale. Yeah, it was only Western Kentucky. But we should know by now that any win at Navy is a good win. I’ll take it.