OK, so I admit I was a bit greedy with the whole bye week thing. I know the Delaware game was a long time ago, and you’ve already moved on to Hawaii and Army and the Texas Bowl. If you don’t really want to read about Delaware, I don’t blame you. Actually, maybe it’s for the best. All that time off can help you quit this lousy blog cold turkey. Here’s your chance to escape! Oh, but you can quit any time, right? Yeah, I’ve been telling myself the same thing for the last three years. Anyway, there was indeed a game in Annapolis two weekends ago. I’m sort of glad I went a whole week before watching it again. I know I’ve said it before, but it really is helpful to watch a game without the baggage of emotional attachment that comes when watching it live (or soon thereafter). Ricky Dobbs led the Mids to a 35-18 win on Senior Day, running for 100 yards and a stadium-record 5 touchdowns. Alex Teich averaged more than 6 yards per carry, and Marcus Curry and Gee Gee Greene combined for 90 yards of their own. Pretty decent output for a game that seemed so frustrating at the time, but wasn’t quite as bad upon further review.
You wouldn’t believe it at the end of the second quarter, as the Blue Hens went into the locker room with a 9-7 lead. Delaware came in with what I thought was a very good offensive game plan. They spent the first half basically out-Navying Navy, controlling the ball and limiting the number of possessions for both teams. They did this by altering their normally pass-happy attack to instead hit Navy in their one defensive weakness– zone blocking. It worked. The Blue Hens, owners of the 91st-ranked rushing offense in I-AA, went into halftime with more rushing yards than the team that led I-A in the same category for the last four years. Navy had only three drives in the first half. The problem for Delaware was that their drives ended in field goals instead of touchdowns. They did have a colossal 18-play marathon that ran out the last 8:39 of the second quarter, but an apparent touchdown to end it was called back by a somewhat stupid play by a Delaware receiver. Blake Carter had slipped and fallen in the end zone. When he tried to get back up, a Blue Hen tackled him. It was offensive pass interference, and Delaware had to settle for yet another field goal.
The Mids came out in the second half and retook the lead with an 11-play, 64-yard touchdown drive. Delaware kept running the ball and answered on the next drive with another field goal. The two teams then traded punts to end the third quarter. On Navy’s first drive of the fourth quarter, Ricky escaped for a 46-yard run, setting up another touchdown two plays later. On the ensuing Delaware drive, Jabaree Tuani slapped the ball out of Delaware QB Pat Devlin’s hand to give Navy the ball on the Blue Hens’ 37. Four plays later, Navy scored again, and all of a sudden it was 28-12. At that point, with 10:39 left in the game, the Delaware game plan of running the ball and milking the clock had to be scrapped. They finally punched the ball into the end zone on their next drive, but it was too little, too late.
As good as Delaware’s offensive strategy was, their defensive plan was questionable. In an erroneous assumption that has become an unfortunate trend for me lately, I said before the game that there was no way that Delaware would come out running the same defense that gave up 52 points to Navy in 2007. Yet there it was that Saturday, the same cover 3, safety-takes-the-pitch plan we saw two years ago. Instead of changing up the secondary, Delaware’s coaches decided to tinker with their front seven. Their plan was somewhat similar to Temple’s, alternating between 4- and 6-man fronts. Despite only giving up 7 points in the first half, it wasn’t very effective. Navy had 8 possessions in the game, and scored touchdowns on 5 of them. The other three drives were doomed not by a schematic deficiency, but by a fumble, a sack, and a bad pitch.
At the beginning of the game, Coach Jasper changed his blocking schemes to account for Delaware’s 6-2 look. Against the 6-man front, you leave the two down linemen on the play side unblocked as the quarterback’s keys. The outside linebacker that is usually the pitch key is instead blocked by the playside slotback. The Blue Hens alternated between a 6-2 and a 4-4, but the Mids used the same blocking scheme on the triple option for both.
It sort of looks like the midline option in the sense that the playside guard leaves an interior lineman unblocked, but in the midline, the playside tackle would block the defensive end. Here, the playside tackle load blocks from the ILBs to the safety. Not that there wasn’t plenty of midline run, too.
The Mids stuck with this until the 4th quarter, when Coach Jasper switched to a more conventional blocking scheme. Even though Delaware showed a 6-man front, they would always drop one middle linebacker back instead of rushing him. It looked like a 6-man front, but played like a 5-man front. Jasper adjusted, making the two defenders outside the B-gap the quarterback’s keys like they usually are. The results were immediate. The dive key and the pitch key both played the fullback; since the free safety was spying the pitch man, there was nobody to take the quarterback. Ricky ran for 46 yards. The Mids used this scheme on triple option plays for the rest of the game.
There was more to the Navy offense than just the option, though. Not surprisingly, Delaware focused on taking away the fullback, with the dive key consistently giving Ricky a “keep” read. Doing so opened up the toss sweep in the first half. In the second half, the defensive end started catching on. Remember how we’ve talked about how toss sweeps work best when players are either stepping inside or into the backfield? This is why:
The defensive end recognized the tail motion and started cheating outside. It stopped the toss sweep, but it opened up room for the fullback. Coach Jasper took advantage by showing toss sweep motion, but handing the ball off to Alex Teich.
That last run was especially noteworthy, with Alex showing great vision on the cutback. Since the safety followed the tail motion, there was nobody in the middle of the field to stop the fullback when he broke through the linebackers.
Maybe it looked a little ugly to be trailing at halftime, but I didn’t really care. Coming after such an emotional game, and playing for the 11th-straight week without a bye, I was just happy for the win. All in all, it really wasn’t an “ugly” win, anyway. It just got off to a slow start. But the Mids prevailed, and took a much-needed week off having clinched the 7th consecutive 8-win season.