Once again I find myself apologizing for a lack of posting. Not only did I not even bother to post a game preview for Hawaii, but only now, in the middle of Army week, am I getting the Hawaii recap out. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to be doing this blog. I’m just not able to post as regularly as I want to. Of course, now that I say that, Army will bring back the Alternative Service Option and I’ll start spittin’ hellfire and brimstone again. Short of a train wreck of that magnitude, though, The Birddog’s days might be numbered. We’ll see.
SEEMINGLY IRRELEVANT ANECDOTE TIME
Despite my staggering blogger cashflow, I’m way too cheap to spring for the NFL Sunday Ticket. My brother isn’t, though, so when the Chargers have a big game, I’ll sometimes make my way over to his house to watch. It can be an interesting experience. My brother has the ability to tell if the Chargers will lose after watching only one or two drives. If he doesn’t like what he sees, he gets up, says something along the lines of “I can’t stand to watch the Chargers fail,” and leaves. Meanwhile, I’ll sit on his couch and watch the horror unfold for the next three hours. He just has a way of telling when a team’s collective head simply isn’t in the game.
It didn’t take my brother’s sixth sense to see that the Mids were going to lose to Hawaii. For me it took one play on their second drive. We’ll get to that later, but first I want to talk about the other side of the ball.
Hawaii isn’t the first run & shoot team that the Mids have faced this year. June Jones took the offense with him from the Islands to SMU, where he gave the Mids all they could handle back in October. Despite the similar defensive approach that Buddy Green took in both games, the two keepers of the run & shoot faith differed in their ability to throw the ball against the Mids. SMU quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was held to a meager 19 of 41 passing for only 200 yards. On the other hand, Bryant Moniz led the Warriors with 366 yards and three touchdowns on 32-44 passing. Moniz could simply make throws that Mitchell couldn’t.
Take a look at Hawaii’s first touchdown. Navy is playing cover 2, maximizing coverage of underneath routes. When you play cover 2, there’s a soft area in the zone behind the cornerback, between the safety and the sideline. That isn’t a problem when playing against some quarterbacks, since they would need to get some air under the ball to throw that deep. That would give the safety time to get under the ball and make a play. Moniz, on the other hand, has the arm strength to deliver the deep ball with a flatter trajectory, getting the ball to his receiver before the safety is able to reach him. On this play, the slot receiver runs an out, preventing Kevin Edwards from dropping too deep into coverage. Kealoha Pilares, split wide, runs a simple fly pattern. Moniz throws him a frozen rope:
Emmett Merchant had no chance. Pilares and Greg Salas would combine for 18 catches for 249 yards.
Ricky Dobbs had a fine day of his own statistically, running for 127 yards and a touchdown. Stats only tell you so much, though. In reality, nobody on the Navy offense played very well. For all the talk of how important the bye week would be, it may have done the team more harm than good. At least when Navy was playing every weekend, players remained focused. There was nothing resembling focus on the field for the Navy offense that night.
In an uncharacteristic move, Navy won the toss and elected to receive the kickoff. Right away, Hawaii’s coaches showed a better understanding of the Navy offense than most of the Mids’ opponents. Over the course of the game, they frequently changed alignments in an attempt to confuse Navy’s blockers. On the first drive, though, their methods were a bit more shady. Knowing that the playside tackle would leave them unblocked to get to a linebacker, Hawaii’s defensive ends actually held them by hooking their right arm over the tackle’s shoulder. It keeps the tackle off the linebackers, and it gives the quarterback a read to keep the ball when the DE’s shoulders square up to the inside. It also happens to be illegal.
Ricky gets a read to keep, but since the DE isn’t actually playing the fullback, he just steps into the backfield. On the first play, Ricky pitched off of him. But the DE isn’t the pitch key; the linebacker is. Since the pitch key was playing the slotback, the play is blown up. On the second play, Ricky doesn’t pitch, but nearly has his head taken off anyway.
On Navy’s second drive, Coach Jasper called a toss sweep. The inside linebackers did a good job recognizing the play and carrying out their inside-out pursuit. What that should do is open up a nice cutback lane for the fullback the next time the offense showed toss sweep motion. But when Coach Jasper called Vince Murray’s number, it didn’t materialize. Instead, we got a play where all five offensive linemen missed their block.
Yeah, that’s a good sign that it’s probably not going to be your day. I wasn’t sure something like that was even possible.
After that, the Mids started running the midline. Coach Jasper added an extra tackle, which forced the Hawaii defensive line to shift to account for the strong side of the formation. That shift gave the tackle a better angle in blocking the DE. The extra tackle passed inside and blocked a linebacker. The first midline Navy ran was Ricky’s long touchdown. The safeties overplayed the tail motion and were blocked by the slot, giving Ricky a path to the end zone. The midline was Navy’s most consistently successful play all night.
Unfortunately, the offense cannot live on the midline alone, and when the Mids tried anything else, they were a mess. Navy was shut out in the second half. Their best scoring chance came in the third quarter after a pair of midline runs brought them inside the Hawaii 35 yard line. But the drive stalled when Ricky made the wrong read on three straight plays.
The mistakes don’t end there. For example, we have:
1. The slotback missing his assignment. The playside safety came down in run support and should have been blocked. Instead, the A-back blocks the safety running over from the other side of the field.
2. A fumble. It probably wouldn’t have mattered even if Marcus held onto the ball, since the playside slot whiffed on his block.
3. Another missed assignment. This time, the cornerback entered the count as #3, but instead of blocking him, the slot blocked the safety he should’ve taken on the first play.
4. This last one is all kinds of messed up. It’s a double option; the fullback is supposed to block the defensive end, while the slot takes the corner. Neither could connect.
Those last three came on the game’s final drive. The plays were there, but the Mids couldn’t execute.
There were plenty of other mistakes. This was just a representative sample. The bottom line was that this game meant a lot more to Hawaii than it did to Navy, and both teams played like it. It’s no wonder that Coach Niumatalolo didn’t even bother to show the game film to the team.