NAVY 63, RICE 14

I doubt we’ll see any people leaving comments on Wagner’s blog this week complaining about Navy’s offense.

The Mids cranked out 537 total yards, including 471 on the ground, to dismantle the Rice Owls on Saturday, 63-14. Fourteen players carried the ball for Ivin Jasper’s offense, led by Ricky Dobbs’ 104 yards and 4 touchdowns. Reserves got most of the carries in the second half, and #2 QB Kriss Proctor made the most of his playing time with 83 yards and 3 TDs of his own. Rice remains winless, while Navy moves to 4-2 and one step closer to a return trip to Houston for the Texas Bowl.

I probably should have seen this coming. Even in 2008, when Rice was a 10-game Texas Bowl winner, their defense still couldn’t handle the triple option. Army ran for 461 yards on the Owls last year, and Army’s offense was terrible. I’m not sure if it was that game or David Bailiff’s earlier experience with Georgia Southern and Cal Poly that tipped him off, but Ken Niumatalolo knew exactly what was coming. In his radio interview with Bob Socci before the game, Coach Niumat mentioned that Rice would be looking to force the ball outside, counting on the free safety to make the stop. Hmmm… Now where have we seen this before? Coach Jasper tested this on Navy’s first play from scrimmage, faking the toss sweep and throwing deep over the middle to Marcus Curry. The safety bit on the fake just enough to allow Curry to get behind him for a 51-yard gain. After the game, Bailiff commented on his defensive plan: “Every adjustment we made, everything we did, nothing worked. We will put the film on.”

Coach, at Rice, you never end a sentence with a preposition! But when he does put the film on, he’ll see that the defense did exactly what it was designed to do. Rice safety Andrew Sendejo had 17 tackles, more than twice as many as the next closest Owl. Rice switched between odd and even fronts, but the one constant was Sendejo following the tail motion and making a beeline for the pitch:

You can see in the clip how the tackle tried to make the block, but couldn’t. Over the course of the game, Coach Jasper went after the safety in a few ways. In the tight formation, he used the playside wide receiver to block the safety. This left the cornerback unblocked, but he was lined up so deep in the cover 3 that he couldn’t make the tackle until the ball carrier was already nine yards downfield. Next, he continued to use the tackle to block the safety, but instead of releasing inside of the quarterback’s read key, he had him release outside in order to give him a clearer path to his assignment. It worked well enough. Finally, he had the slotback take the safety, and Mike Stukel laid a textbook cut that carved a path for Ricky to get to the end zone.

Coach Jasper did other things too. There was the pass to open the game, of course. The counter option had some success as well. He also tinkered with the trips formation. Take a look at this next clip. In the first play, the tackle releases inside and isn’t able to get to the next level of the defense. The playside linebacker and safety are both unblocked; one takes the quarterback, the other takes the pitch, and the play is blown up. The second play is the same, only this time the safety is blocked by the wide receiver. The tackle arc blocks the cornerback, and Bobby Doyle runs for a first down:

Despite the considerable output, it was hardly a flawless performance by the offense. There were missed blocks, mixed assignments, and missed reads, although they still turned into 2-3 yard gains against the Rice defense. On the flip side, there were also some immediate improvements in the wake of the Air Force game. In the next clip, you’ll see Ricky make a tough– and correct– read against a mesh charge. You’ll also see Vince Murray make two great runs. In the first, Murray makes a nifty move to take advantage of his blockers and find some open field. The second play is a designed handoff to the fullback. Instead of trying to plow through an unblocked linebacker, Vince runs around him. Against Air Force, that play is a 2-yard gain. This week, it’s a touchdown.

Perhaps an Air Force linebacker makes that play. Still, you have to appreciate the progress.

The pyroclastic flow of offensive destruction is the most eye-popping item from the Rice game, but don’t let it overshadow another excellent performance by the Navy defense. The Mids are 29th in the country against the run after holding Rice to 21 rushing yards. Of course, 2009 Rice isn’t exactly 2004 Rice when it comes to running the ball, but after performances against Ohio State, Pitt, and Air Force, it’s clear that this ranking is no fluke. Naturally, Navy’s remaining schedule features four of the country’s top 16 passing offenses. Figures. Fortunately, the Mids got a good tune-up for these games on Saturday from a pass-happy Rice team and their sophomore quarterback.

Rice has high hopes for quarterback Nick Fanuzzi. The transfer from Alabama appeared to be turning a corner when, earlier this year, Rice actually outgained Oklahoma State in a 41-24 loss. A shoulder injury forced him to miss the last two games, but he was back in action against Navy. Fanuzzi finished with 242 yards passing and 2 TDs, including a pretty incredible toss to Patrick Randolph at the end of the first half. But the Mids were able to pick off two of Fanuzzi’s passes, and neither of Rice’s drives that started in Navy territory resulted in a score.

Fanuzzi could have blamed those fizzled drives on being rusty after being hurt for two weeks, and I don’t think anyone would have blamed him. To his credit, he didn’t:

“I felt great after this week of practice. I was confident with what I could do with my arm. I’m not putting how I played based on my shoulder hurting, that’s not the case today. I think we just had missed opportunities and we’ve just got to fix them and look forward to next week. I felt prepared, I thought we were ready to go out and play Navy this week, but I give them all the credit. They played a great game offensively and defensively. We’ve just to keep grinding.”

One of Fanuzzi’s two interceptions went to Ram Vela, who had a stellar game. On top of the interception, Ram also led the team with 5 tackles, two of which were made behind the line of scrimmage. Kevin Edwards grabbed the other interception and broke up another pass. Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day came from Michael Walsh, who filled in at nose guard while Jordan Stephens, Chase Burge, and Shane Bothel were out with injuries. Walsh usually plays defensive end, and at 251 pounds, is a bit undersized when compared to other nose guards. Someone forgot to tell him that on Saturday. Walsh consistently drew double-teams, but was still able to push himself into the backfield and even knocked down a pass. Rice’s sophomore linemen had their hands full– sometimes literally– with the Navy senior. Like the offense, Buddy Green was able to rotate in several reserves, with players like John Angelo, Max Blue, and Mason Graham making plays in the second half.

My favorite defensive play came in the first quarter, with Navy up 14-0. What looked like an option run in one direction became a pass to the tight end running in the other direction:

Clint Sovie didn’t overpursue the option look. Instead, he recognized the play action, recovered, and held the play to a minimal gain. One or two years ago, this kind of misdirection would’ve resulted in a big gain. Now, the Navy defense is much more disciplined.

As exciting as it was to see the offense explode the way it did, I’m not sure how much there is to learn from this game. When a team full of freshmen and sophomores carries out a mediocre game plan that the other side is prepared for, obliteration happens. By the end of it, Coach Jasper had to be thinking to himself, “We run the option, and our backups are in the game! How are we supposed to keep from running up the score? Pass?” But hey, there’s nothing like a good blowout to cleanse the soul. Just don’t let it go to your head.

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35 Responses

  1. finally! now you guys see that if we get it to the slots more, we have more “pyroclastic flow.” and soon the rushing title and gantz trophy will be home where they belong.

  2. Fun to watch and no doubt fun to play in. Any observations regarding special teams coverage?

  3. Not really. Navy gave up one big return, but that’s all. I think Rice’s average starting field position was their own 30. Pretty standard I would think.

  4. As ever, thanks for the analysis and remarks.

    I thought that I would have assessed this Navy team after watching them against Air Force, but I still have not figured out what I am looking at, with this Rice game just adding another question mark. All I can see for sure is that we do not have any home run hitters – Navy is not getting separation when it beats defenses like Navy enjoyed in the Campbell – White era and it is not getting the inside push from the BIg Fullback run we had. But the team keeps winning, apparently thanks to the defense and to reasonable control of turnovers.

    The jury will be out again for me against SMU. I think if we take SMU and Temple, I will finally reach my conclusion as to where they stack against the 2004 team, which is my benchmark. No matter what, it is hard to argue against a 10 win season.

  5. The 2004 team’s offense could be suspect at times. The defense was great. I think somebody said 2004 defense+2007 offense = GOAL!!!! Or maybe I said it. I don’t know.

    BTW, SMU looks decent this year. I am not sure what to make of the Stangs.

  6. If Marcus Curry wasn’t a home run hitter against Ohio State, then I don’t know what a home run hitter is.

    The fullbacks need to do less pushing and more avoiding.

  7. “pyroclastic”? Someone must have gotten some new word-of-the-day toilet paper!

  8. If you don’t know what a pyroclastic flow is, you don’t watch enough volcano disaster shows on the National Geographic Channel!

  9. Think the best thing from Saturday could be that, without a scheduled bye-week, the game served as a “down-week” in the physicality department.

  10. Mike, quick question. What is the “Freeze Option”? I hear the term and am not sure exactly what it is, or if we run it but call it something else. Thanks.

    Great write-up, by the way, as always. Thanks for pointing out Sovie’s play on that misdirection pass. He is the man.

  11. 53– It’s the counter/trap option.

  12. As a soph, Marcus has a 45 yard run and averages 7.6 ypc. He also has an 85 yd reception averages 41.2 ypc.

    At the end of his soph year, Shun had a higher average at 12 yards per carry and a long carry of 53 yards. But he only caught 2 passes for 24 yards.

    In his soph year, Reggie had a long run of 60 yards and averaged 9 ypc. He averaged 26 yards per catch and had a long reception of 55 yards.

    Marcus is also tracking along nicely with respect to seasonal yardage.

    At this point in his career, I think statistically at least he compares quite nicely to Reggie and Shun.

  13. …especially considering the schedule.

    All things considered, the team’s biggest home run threat this year might be Ricky’s arm.

  14. If you don’t know what a pyroclastic flow is, you don’t watch enough volcano disaster shows on the National Geographic Channel!

    Guilty. But I gotta set my priorities somewhere, and volcano disaster shows on NGC are pretty much near the bottom of the list.

  15. For Mike,

    Curry got in the end zone at OSU because the safety stumbled…Curry reminds me speed wise of Eric Roberts – good speed but not OMG speed. Campbell and White didn’t need anybody to stumble to take it to the house, those guys made many a defender around them look like they were standing still. Curry’s run against WKU is a run that was also Eric Roberts like; a great run but Curry did not get it in the end zone. This bunch looks more like the 2004 team speed wise, but missing the Hammer in the middle for a fullback.

  16. Wow, be more picky. I think you’ll find that most big plays are the result of something messed up on defense.

  17. One more thought….I took a look at the individual rushing stats and Ricky Dobbs leads the nation in total carries this week….not good….

  18. Why?

  19. durability of Dobbs

  20. He gets hit on almost every play whether he carries the ball or not.

  21. Why do some folks pick the hell out of statistical nits all day long hoping to find something good or bad?

  22. We have all been watching him since last year…his running style is a blend of Polanco and Hampton…

    Dobbs playing style is physical and he does not just go down; it takes half a platoon of bad guys to get him down when he carries the ball…way different than the hits is taking when he options off…

  23. On the team speed thing, I am also not so sure that home run hitting is the best mix anyway. Enough speed to keep the chains moving and wearing down opposing defenses, which is what we did to La Tech this year, keeps our defense fresher and maybe wins more games.

    That 2007 track team that we had was exciting but my guess is that our time of possession was down and the D had to deal with a lot more snaps.

    Just needed to keep turnovers down.

  24. Well the same could be said about pretty much every running back that ever lived. But if you need something to be afraid of, knock yourself out.

  25. Mike,

    Love the analysis and look forward to it every week.

    One of the big positives for the Navy D and a weakness they seem to have overcomed from previous years, is the susceptibility to a simple or bubble screen. The linebackers are playing much more disciplined and the corners are not providing as big a cushion. Combined with a quicker rush after the offensive line slip blocks, this provides less time and field space for the screen to develop as the wideouts attempt to take their defenders in man-to-man or zone looks deeper before blocking. It was old watching teams in past years get out of big holes with a screen pass that is of little risk to the offense.

  26. Blake Carter has a LOT to do with that. We’ll definitely find out just how improved the defense is on that play over the course of the next two weeks.

  27. Mike,

    Well done as always. I enjoyed revisiting your analysis of GA-GTech game. Digesting all your insights leads me to the conclusion that there’s not one TV analyst who communicates what Navy’s doing . I don’t ever recall them pointing out the nuances of the safety’s position or running away from the trips or any of that stuff. It’s all just “Triple option this ” or “Triple option that”.

    I think some of your loyal readers are trekking into the weeds. We’re wining. Sometimes it’s the O; sometimes it’s the D; sometimes it’s the special teams. Who the hell care as long as we are getting W’s.

  28. great breakdown.
    It’s so hard to see those missed blocks on the 5, 7, and 9 yard gains. You assume with a 9 yd gain we did things right.
    Puts a great win and the O’s production in perspective. Still a great win, but still work to be done.

    Also good to be reminded visually, as you tried to do after AF, that the coaches can make the right adjustment, but the players still have to execute (yes, i’m the master of the obvious).

    And using “pyroclastic flow” in a football blog? that’s unpossible!

  29. In addition to Blake Carter’s excellent tackling, the outside linebackers have stepped up their play and have been making far more tackles than in the previous two years.

  30. As many have pointed out before, the team speed all around has been significantly upgraded in the PJ era forward. In years past, an out route by the opposition, meant the offense needed to slip one tackle and gone for the checkerboard. These days, there are sometimes 5 and 6 guys in on a tackle; it is really remarkable! Even the screen route, as mentioned in this thread, would often result in 30 or 40 yard gains. Now, they still work, but they gain a modest amount of yardage by comparison, simply because there are 5 guys selling out at top speed to bring him down. We have far more superior athletes with far better speed by comparison.

    You simply cannot compare the D of today vs. team pre-2002. Closest comparison is D of old = Army D today. Not being unfair to the woops, just that they appear to be where we were; picture the FB running (and pulling away from) the multiple Army defenders in chase… They have not yet successfully transitioned to the team speed concept yet, or as successfully as we in my opinion.

    As we know, one of the many areas of emphasis has been overall team speed, and it shows on both sides of the ball. In the past, a single error was magnified. Today, that is not entirely true. We have found other ways of overcoming many of these mistakes. While I have not always been able to articulate the reason why a play was or was not successful, with Mike’s analysis, it has really helped me understand it more clearly. However, I also have to say that given the overall team speed of today vs. team speed of old (pre-PJ), that there is flat-out no comparison—on both sides of the ball! Yes, there are mistakes, but they are not magnified the same way as in the past. In short, that while these guys are still making mistakes, the penalty for those mistakes are not as severe as they used to be, because of the overall improvement in athleticism.

    Many people have been looking for the grey in the silver lined cloud. Frankly, to use an over-used PJ expression, things are never as good as they seem nor as bad as they seem. We are fortunate to be in the position of complaining about these little things when we forget just how recently we could find little good to say at all! We are blessed with great athletes, who on the whole represent themselves, the Brigade, and the Navy and Marine Corps extremely well. Our peers cannot say the same with a straight face. I am pleased with how well we do, die a little with each loss, and savor every win, and always pray that we never go back to the way it used to be! Don’t take it for granted, because it could go away, just as fast as it came.

    OK, I am now jumping off the soap box, and thank you for your indulgence. The naysayers can pile on if you wish. All I ask is that before you pile on, just remember how far we have come, and what we would have given in the past to be exactly where we are now.

    Fight hard boys (albeit imperfectly), and keep making us proud!

    ‘89

  31. Regarding several comments concerning the softness at the FB position, I am still waiting to see what #24 will do in the backfield. He is faster than his big brother, and by his senior year should weigh more too…… He has only played on a couple of occasions on special teams this year.

    And if you are a rabid Navy Fan as I am, you can get a “Ricky Dobbs for the Heisman Trophy” bumper sticker from my web site.. I have had one on my bumper since the Spring Game…

  32. This is what a cease and desist order waiting to happen looks like.

  33. Did it seem to anyone else that CBSCSTV was showing a wider field of view this week, trying to encompass the defensive backfield? I thought that was funny, given the comments on here after the AF game. Perhaps somebody on the production crew is a reader of TBD!!

  34. Mike, I agree about the fullbacks. Kettani was excellent at slipping past defenders much the same way as Murray did. The twisting and turning that Kettani did was what made him so successful.

  35. ’81 – It could be that Rice stadium is so absurdly large that the cameras have to be mounted way up there.

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