“These kids are unbelievable. Just when you think they can’t one-up themselves, they pull out another big win. Our kids are very resilient. Our kids are fighters. Even when the odds are stacked against them, they continue to plug away.”
Ken Niumatalolo summed things up nicely following Saturday’s dramatic 38-35 comeback win over SMU in Dallas. The old Navy football cliche of “these kids will never give up” certainly rang true, as the Mids overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit. Vince Murray led the way on the ground with 141 yards and 2 TDs. Ricky Dobbs added 89 yards and 2 TDs of his own. Ram Vela and Tyler Simmons paced the defense with 7 tackles apiece. SMU running back Shawnbrey McNeal led the Mustangs with 131 yards rushing, while Bo Levi Mitchell completed only 19 of 41 passing attempts for 200 yards.
What would turn into a miserable first half started out well enough. The Navy defense held SMU’s run and shoot to a 3 & out on their first possession. The Mids took over at midfield, and six plays later had a 7-0 lead. On the Mustangs’ second drive they turned to their own ground game, marching 79 yards on ten plays, seven of which were running plays. Now tied at 7, the Mids started their second possession in good field position after the SMU kickoff went out of bounds. They were able to move the ball once again, driving to the SMU 27 before facing a 4th & 1. It was there that everything sort of went to hell.
Coach Niumatalolo decided to go for it, as he often does– usually successfully. Not this time, though. Ricky was stopped for no gain, and Navy turned the ball over on downs. When the offense got the ball back after an SMU punt, they were backed up to their own 11-yard line. Two straight false start penalties killed this drive, forcing Navy to punt and giving SMU the ball at midfield. Five plays later, it was 14-7 SMU. Yet another Navy penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced the Mids to start the next drive from their own 7. On the first play of the drive, Pete Fleps hit Bobby Doyle, forcing a fumble that was recovered by SMU in the end zone. It was a tie game 16 seconds earlier; now, it was 21-7 SMU.
It could have been worse. With the Mids unable to move the ball for the remainder of the second quarter, SMU’s next two drives started at the Navy 40 and their own 42, respectively. But good defense from Navy– and less than accurate passing from Bo Levi Mitchell– kept SMU from doing any more damage. Once again, the Navy defense was able to carry the load while the offense got its act together. Mercifully, the half ended.
It’s not as if SMU was doing anything unusual to stop the Navy offense. As suspected, the whole 4-man front, same-schemes-as-last-year crap was a total smokescreen. SMU came out with a 5-man front. On the first drive, they even looked a little bit like Air Force. Scheme-wise, anyway. The safeties played in a cover 2, with the playside safety stepping up in run support. At first, the pitch key also stepped into the backfield to cover the pitch.
This forced the quarterback inside, where he was met by a linebacker. That’s where SMU’s plan differed a bit. They had both inside linebackers dancing back and forth around the line of scrimmage on almost every play. Only one of them usually blitzed. The other would key on the quarterback. Coach Jasper called the counter option, with the pulling guard blocking the linebacker spying on the QB. On the first play, the WR blocks the run support safety. The playside A-back, Cory Finnerty, gets just enough of a cut on the cornerback to spring Marcus Curry. The second play in the clip is the same play, run during the doldrums of the second quarter. Here, the pulling guard misses the linebacker, and the play is blown up.
It was that kind of self-destruction that kept the Navy offense from gaining any momentum in the second quarter. The execution was much better after halftime. Here, you can see the playside tackle release outside of the give key to block the inside-out linebacker pursuit. The other inside linebacker gets caught up in traffic and can’t reach the pitch. The playside A-back blocks the run support safety. Notice in the second play how confused the pitch key looks.
As the second half progressed, the playside DE would vary between inside and outside techniques when lined up on the tackle. To counter this, Coach Jasper made a really cool blocking adjustment. He ran the triple option, but had the fullback run off tackle. The outside LB that was once the pitch key became the give key (#1), while the cornerback went unblocked as the pitch key (#2). The wide receiver would block the run support, while the playside A-back took care of linebacker pursuit.
Subtle changes and better execution helped the Mids generate 301 of their 399 yards of total offense in the second half.
Defensively, I think this was a better game than it might appear at first glance, with 35 points sitting on the scoreboard. Obviously, the defense wasn’t responsible for 7 of those points. They did give up 376 yards, but that is about average for SMU. Buddy Green’s game plan took away most of SMU’s short passing game, forcing them to either throw long– which Bo Levi Mitchell wasn’t able to do with any accuracy– or run. The Mustangs were able to run the ball a bit, thanks to Miami transfer Shawnbrey McNeal. But McNeal only had 15 carries. Consistently running the ball just isn’t what SMU’s offense was designed to do. If you’re forcing June Jones to run the ball, then you’ve won the battle.
Some stream of consciousness stuff–
— Matt Mike Walsh was dominating at nose guard against Rice, but had a much tougher go of things against a legitimate all-conference contender like SMU’s Mitch Enright. Hopefully one of the regular nose guards will be available to play against Wake Forest and their senior-laden group.
— The maturation of Vince Murray continues to happen right before our eyes. Murray’s career-high 141 yards rushing were highlighted by a 52-yard scamper in the second half off of a designed handoff. Take a lok at these plays. In the first, the playside guard was unable to lay a block on the linebacker, and the play looked like something out of the Air Force game. On the second play, the guard makes that block. With the safety keying on the motion slotback, it vacates the middle of the field, and Murray runs wild. It’s the third play that’s my favorite, though. Here, Murray keeps his head up and is able to cut back to avoid traffic and make his way to the end zone.
— The flag for a face mask was picked up at the end of Murray’s long run. Just one of several ridiculous calls by the officials on the day. After the whistle on this kickoff, an SMU player executes a throw on Bo Snelson that would be good enough to validate Judo class. The call? Personal foul on Snelson.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
— I’m fairly confident that the television broadcast was produced by the Hebron High School A/V club. Holy crap. I’ve seen better television productions of Slamball broadcasts. I can tolerate clueless homers in the booth up to a point, but when you’re cutting away from game action to show Bill the Goat in the front lean & rest, then you suck.
Another pet peeve… I own an HDTV, bought back when Navy signed their deal for home games to be shown on HDNet. The best part of owning an HDTV to me isn’t the clear picture– it’s the wide screen. It allows me to see all 11 players on each side of the ball. Now, there was obviously nothing remotely high definition about Saturday’s television coverage. Still, an unfortunate trend in football games recently, HD or not, has been to zoom in so tightly to the ball that you can’t see what is happening away from it. This wasn’t unique to this game; it has been a problem with CBS College Sports, too. There is so much more to football than just the ballcarrier. Good broadcasts try to make you feel like you’re at the game, not make you feel like you’re at the game with a telescope.
— Speaking of the horrible TV coverage, it’s time to retire another cliche. No more references to the lack of “quick strike” ability of the Navy offense, please. All 5 of Navy’s scoring drives in regulation took less than 4 minutes. The old myth of “just get up by a couple scores early on this offense and they can’t play catch-up” that people use as “analysis” gets disproven over and over again. Between Temple and Notre Dame last year, and Ohio State, Louisiana Tech, and SMU this year, Navy has shown a remarkable ability to put themselves in a position to win after falling behind. Then again, people still think this is the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust wishbone. Because they’re idiots.