It’s never as good or as bad as it seems.
I don’t like to dwell too much on Paul Johnson for obvious reasons, but that mantra of his is a nugget of simple wisdom that can serve fans just as much as it serves any team he’s coached. We’ve rolled it out in the past when we’ve tried to convince ourselves to back away from the ledge after a loss. Sometimes, though, it can be just as important to remember those words after a win, even one as convincing as Saturday’s 40-17 rout of Delaware.
And man, it sure seemed pretty good. Navy rolled up 391 yards rushing, with 176 of those yards (and 3 TDs) coming from Kriss Proctor. The senior lived up to his billing as Navy’s fastest option quarterback, running for a 75-yard touchdown on the Mids’ third play from scrimmage. The slotbacks combined to run for 126 yards and a touchdown. Navy only had to punt once all day, and even that was a beauty. Defensively, the Mids held Delaware to only 10 points before the reserves came in. It’s hard to imagine things going any better.
Upon further review, though, the Mids had some issues. They weren’t showstoppers against Delaware, but they would have been against the meatier parts of Navy’s schedule. Kriss made some great reads (more on that in a moment), but he also missed a few more than you would expect after looking at the stat sheet. There were a couple plays where either he or someone else was mixed up coming out of the huddle and ran the wrong way after the snap. On another play, it looked like both sides of the offensive line thought that the option was going to be run their way, so nobody on the defensive line was blocked. I don’t mean to be full of doom & gloom; it was a 40-17 win, after all. These are all correctable mistakes. But they were mistakes, and if the coaches wanted something to yell about at practice on Monday, they had plenty of ammunition.
The most sobering thing about the game, though, wasn’t anything that Navy did wrong; it was that Delaware’s defensive game plan just wasn’t that good. I said as much before the game. I don’t always get things right on this lousy blog, but Delaware’s game plan was pretty easy to guess. And if I could figure it out, then Coach Jasper could see it coming a mile away. He was ready for it.
Before the game we talked about two things that Delaware would do against the Navy offense: the cross charge, and having the free safety cover the pitch. We’ll start with the former. The cross charge, you’ll remember, is a stunt where #1 and #2 in the count switch their expected responsibilities. In Delaware’s case the defensive end (#1) would run wide to play the pitch, fooling the quarterback into giving the ball to the fullback who is then met by the outside linebacker (#2). It’s a tough read, and as we talked about last week, Jaybo Shaw had a lot of difficulty with it for Georgia Southern in the I-AA playoffs last year. Kriss Proctor, who was prepared for it, had no such problem:
Getting his quarterback ready was only part of what Jasper did to plan for this defense. The biggest adjustment that he made was to install the midline triple into his game plan. With the midline, you’re optioning off of an interior lineman instead of whoever is lined up outside the B gap; that guy now gets blocked by the playside tackle. If he’s already running outside to cover the pitch, that makes it a pretty easy block to make. Meanwhile, the playside slotback blocks the linebacker assigned to the fullback.
Navy didn’t just run the midline triple out of the spread. Jasper switched to a heavy trips formation on the first drive, with both tackles on one side of the formation and a receiver coming in tight to assume the tackle position on the other side. When Delaware shifted their alignment to compensate, they had seven players on the strong side and only four on the weak side:
That gave the Mids a numbers advantage on the weak side that they exploited for most of the game, again using the midline triple.
(By the way, Kriss might want to cool it with the little “let me hear it” thing he did after that first touchdown. The refs are all flag-happy about that stuff this year. Air Force even had a touchdown called back against South Dakota because one of their players was strutting his stuff as he ran into the end zone. Kriss’ run wouldn’t have been called back since his “celebration” came after he had already scored, but we don’t need any penalties on kickoffs either.)
The other main element of the Delaware defensive game plan that we knew was coming was the cover 3 free safety having pitch responsibility.The Blue Hens didn’t disappoint:
We’ve seen this defense a million times, and there are almost as many ways to beat it. Navy used most of them over the course of the game. A sample:
Block the safety with a wide or slot receiver!
Block him with the playside A-back!
Throw over his head!
Just make him miss!
And if you go back to the third video in this post (heavy/midline triple), you’ll see the receiver lined up in the tackle spot going back to block the safety after running his first assignment away from the play.
Towards the end of the first half, Delaware tried to adjust by having the free safety come up to take the quarterback instead.
Coach Jasper responded by running the midline; not the midline triple, but the regular midline QB/FB double option. Now the tail-motion slotback could get just enough of the safety to spring the quarterback. The result was, shall we say, favorable.
The other thing that Jasper did to keep the safety from getting a jump on the play was to put a man in motion, then run the play away from the motion. I’m not sure if even our esteemed coordinator knew how much Delaware would spaz out over it, though. The Mids would send one guy in motion, but Delaware would overreact with two or even three players adjusting their alignment because of it. Once again, that gave Navy a numbers advantage as they ran plays to the weak side of the formation:
Even the busted play went for 20 yards! I mean, come on. That isn’t going to happen against South Carolina. Or WKU for that matter if their defensive performance last week is any indication. It’s not that the offense didn’t have a good game. They played well enough. It’s just that they were playing against a defensive game plan that wasn’t going to make them pay for the mistakes that they did make. After reading some of the headlines about the game, I think people might want to slow down some of the “OMG greatest offense ever” talk until after the Mids face a more sound defense. You won’t have to wait long.
One great thing that stood out to me was how well the slotbacks blocked. I’ve been a little disappointed in that part of the offense for the last couple of years, but on Saturday they were fantastic. That’s crucial considering how many of Coach Jasper’s adjustments depended on who the A-backs were blocking.
While I might have been a bit less euphoric about the offense after re-watching the game a couple times, I came away a little more impressed with the defense. Again, the stat sheet would seem to tell a different story; Andrew Pierce ran for 119 yards and a score, while Delaware ran for a whopping 220 as a team. Trevor Sasek and Tim Donnelly only combined for only 143 yards through the air, but that was in part because of several dropped passes by their receivers, especially early in the game. They could have passed for more fairly easily; but they didn’t, and Delaware could manage only 10 points against Navy’s starters while giving up two turnovers. That’s impressive to me because Navy played a very conservative defense even by Coach Green’s standards. They rarely rushed more than four players. The safeties consistently lined up 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage, opening up passes underneath and making run support next to impossible. Nevertheless, they were still able to get some pressure on the quarterback, with Jabaree Tuani knocking down two passes and Mason Graham hitting the QB as he threw the ball. Kwesi Mitchell, who looked very comfortable at safety, recorded six tackles, broke up two passes, and intercepted a third. Tra’ves Bush and David Wright both made outstanding tackles. Even if the overall defense was conservative, there were enough outstanding individual plays to feel pretty good about the group’s performance. The only real disappointment I had was on Delaware’s first touchdown drive, since the Mids gave up a first down on 3rd & 15.
So why such a conservative approach to begin with? With the bevy of similar offenses that Navy will face this season, I don’t think the coaches wanted to put too much on film. Not that they didn’t respect the Delaware offense; to the contrary, I think they had tremendous respect for it. But I also think that the coaching staff felt pretty confident that they’d be able to score some points this week, so there didn’t seem to be much of a reason to take chances on the other side of the ball. The dropped passes and turnovers just reinforced that strategy.
All in all, it was a good opener for the Mids. Maybe not the near-perfection that some seem to think it was, but something positive to build on for the long season ahead.