Now that I have overcome my technical obstacles (sort of), we can get back to the Army game.
The Army game is the crown jewel of every Navy football season for obvious reasons. It carried an additional significance this year, though, from a football perspective. I had been looking forward to this game all season not only for the rivalry and all the hoopla that surrounds it, but also to see how Buddy Green would attack an offense that resembles Navy’s. One might argue that we saw that last year, but the one-man fullbackapalooza that Army called an offense wasn’t exactly a real spread option. This year’s Army offense wasn’t any more potent, but it was at least a bit more varied schematically. So maybe this year we’d get to compare Buddy’s approach to the other defensive coordinators we look at each week. And we did… Sort of.
Army didn’t really run much triple option, especially in the first half. When they did, Buddy would try to funnel the play outside, presumably counting on his team having enough speed to chase down the pitch man. He’d have the dive key take the fullback, the pitch key take the quarterback, then had the play side ILB attack the pitch.
On the first play, Tony Haberer strings the play out to the sideline where the runner is met by Blake Carter, who beat the block of Ali Villanueva. On the second play, Ross Pospisil forces the ball carrier back inside, allowing the inside-out pursuit to make the tackle.
To counter this, Army’s coaches first used a little misdirection. Patrick Mealy usually plays slotback, but as the team’s best running back, he has been used at fullback occasionally in an effort to get him the ball as much as possible. He lined up there quite a few times against Navy, and was the beneficiary of a well-designed fullback counter that was easily the most (only) effective play of the afternoon for the Army offense. Army allowed the ILB to take himself out of the play by following the pitch. The center would pull and block the defensive end, while play side guard would block the nose guard. It created a nice cutback lane for the fullback to run through:
The problem for Army is that no other play had any consistent success. After seeing it over and over again, it didn’t take long for the Mids to figure out how to stop it. First, it was Jabaree Tuani coming down the line to stop the fullback. Then Chase Burge started shedding his blocker to make the stop.
There were reports that Army QB Trent Steelman was actually tipping that play by grabbing his facemask. There appears to be some truth to that; not every time, but whenever he’d call an audible to check to that play. You can actually see it on a couple of these plays, although with this resolution it might be difficult.
When that well ran dry, Army tried a different adjustment. The started running a double option, with the fullback becoming a blocker assigned to stop that inside linebacker from getting outside to stop the pitch. It didn’t work:
The first two plays of that clip, in my opinion, highlight the difference in athleticism between the two teams. The first one probably could have been a touchdown; the play side ILB actually blitzes up the middle, taking himself out of the play. But Ross Pospisil comes from the other side of the formation, all the way across the field, and beats Patrick Mealy to the corner with a manly bit of tackling. That’s Army’s best running back, with a head start, unable to outrun a Navy linebacker. On the second play, Jabaree Tuani is able to accelerate at full speed, stop, turn around, and still catch Trent Steelman from behind. On the third play, Mealy just misses his block on Pospisil.
As a side note, Villanueva really didn’t have a good day as a blocker, which I suppose is somewhat ironic given that he’s a converted tackle. But blocking as a receiver is a different skill set, and one that he has struggled with for most of the year. Here, Ram Vela demonstrates how well he paid attention in film study by recognizing the toss sweep, getting himself in a better position before the snap, and simply running around the attempted block of Villanueva.
So did I get the chess match I was hoping for out of the Navy defense? Maybe a little. It really wasn’t Buddy vs. the Army scheme, though, as much as it was Buddy vs. the Army team. If the Woops had more speed, Coach Green might have had to take another approach. Instead, Army’s Jimmies & Joes were what dictated Buddy’s Xs & Os.