A quick glance at the statistics from Navy’s 40-14 frogstomping of WKU on Saturday, and it’s hard not to be impressed. 510 yards of offense, including 410 on the ground. Two passing TDs. A 21-14 edge in first downs. The numbers say that the game was a blowout, and it was. It seems a little ridiculous, then, not to join with the chorus of headlines praising the Mids for their offensive production so far.
I just can’t do it yet.
The biggest problem that Navy had on offense against Delaware was simply getting the play right coming out of the huddle. You can come up with all kinds of excuses as to why it happened– opening day jitters, perhaps– but no matter what, you expect that issue to go away by week two. Yet there we were on the first play of the game, watching Alexander Teich running into Kriss Proctor’s back in an apparent miscommunication coming out of the huddle. It would be the first of several Navy mistakes. Some were small, like dropped passes and underthrown screens. Some weren’t so small, like the four fumbles. Most of them (but not all of them) were drive-killers, and against better defenses, that might have been a problem. It wasn’t, though, because WKU’s defensive gameplan was… inadequate.
It was a boom or bust day for the offense. If they weren’t making mistakes, they were making huge plays. Of the five touchdowns the offense scored on Saturday, four were on plays of 27 yards or more. Even the one that wasn’t, Aaron Santiago’s 4-yard pitch in the second quarter, was still set up by a 38-yard fullback dive from Teich. The reason for the big plays is that the WKU defense was giving Navy a numbers advantage all afternoon.
A numbers advantage, you’ll recall, simply means that the defense doesn’t have anyone in the secondary lined up in run support (#3) on one side of the formation. The first read is #1, which is the first down lineman on or outside the B gap. #2 is the next player out. #3 would be the next player outside #2 and within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, but WKU didn’t put anyone in that position. They alternated between a 5-2 and a 6-1 front the entire game, and left the secondary backed up in a cover 4. The DBs never entered the count. The playside slot and playside WR simply blocked the DBs in front of them. With so many defensive players packed inside the tackle box at the line of scrimmage, that meant that if the MLB played the fullback or if the backside safety wasn’t fast enough to cross the field to tackle the pitch man, the offense was going to end up with a big play.
WKU’s one and only adjustment was to shoot the corner. Or the safety. Or, inexplicably, both.
When the cornerback blitzes, you switch the slot and WR’s blocking assignments. Now it’s the slot who blocks the corner, and the wide receiver who blocks the safety. The same numbers advantage still applies.
In the passing game, shooting both DBs obviously means that nobody will be covered if you run two verticals, giving the quarterback a buffet of receiving options.
And when you switch the WR & slotback blocking assignments, it sets up the wheel-post.
Seriously, THAT’S IT. That’s all it took. When the offense wasn’t getting in its own way, it was ripping off huge plays. The WKU game plan just didn’t give them a chance.
That’s really why I’m having a hard time getting on the offense’s bandwagon. Their mistakes aren’t coming from a lack of talent. They’re coming from between the ears; something you still don’t want to see (especially by week two), but correctable nonetheless. They will be fixed. The real reason I’m not crowning Navy’s offense as the kings of football yet is because they just haven’t been challenged the way past offenses have been. We all love seeing the big numbers, but against Delaware and WKU I’m not sure they are a real measure of how the offense is doing. The truth is that we don’t really know yet.
There are a few things I do feel pretty good about on offense. One is Kriss Proctor’s passing; I don’t think anyone would call it good, but with three TD passes through two games it’s at least good enough. We probably don’t want to see him passing when the defense is expecting it, but he has shown that he can make play action work. That will do the job.
Another bright spot has been the perimeter blocking. The blocks thrown by the slots and wide receivers so far have ranged from the textbook to the spectacular. Losing Aaron Santiago hurts, although I saw a few blocks from Bo Snelson and John Howell on Saturday that give me confidence that this trend will continue.
WKU’s offense isn’t all that great, but I continue to feel good about the defense. Bobby Rainey got his yards, but it wasn’t enough to force Navy to do anything that would have freed up WKU’s receivers. The Hilltopper offense got a boost when Brandon Doughty came in at quarterback, but the Mids were able to adjust after one series. The most impressive thing about the defense’s performance was that there were two special teams mistakes that gave WKU the ball deep in Navy territory (muffed punt return and long kickoff return), but on those drives they came away with zero points. No matter how many problems WKU has, stopping them when they have a short field in front of them is a big deal. Maybe the defense hasn’t been tested any more than their teammates on the other side of the ball, but they’ve struggled against these kinds of offenses in the past. I like what I’ve seen so far.
The bottom line, though, is that Navy is 2-0 regardless of what their opponents have looked like. With the schedule that the Mids have in front of them, getting off to a quick start was critical. Now the real test begins. Anything we haven’t learned about this team yet won’t remain a mystery for very long.