Navy’s coaches make little tweaks to the offense every year. Most of the time, they’re too subtle for any of us to really notice. Over the last two years, though, we’ve seen some changes that even those of us in the oblivious masses were able to pick out.
The first is the introduction of a lot more zone plays. The zone dive has always been a staple of the offense, but over the last few years we’ve seen a lot more zone blocking in the option game as well. Coach Jasper started using it a lot in goalline situations in 2010, and last year we saw it extensively against both Air Force and Army. It was effective in both games, and I’m sure we’ll see more of it as this season rolls on.
The other obvious thing that we’ve started seeing more and more is the shotgun. Last year we saw it once or twice in hail mary situations. Against Notre Dame the Mids used it mostly in the passing game, with one or two runs mixed in for good measure. Last week it was featured much more extensively, with triple option plays being run out of the gun as well. It’s clear that this is becoming a bigger part of what Navy does, so let’s take a closer look at it.
When I first heard that the shotgun was being worked into the offense, I was a little nervous. One of the things we’ve heard for years about the Navy offense is the importance of repetition, especially when it comes to the quarterback learning all of his option reads. You don’t have time to think about where to go with the ball after the snap. Your decisions have to be made so quickly that they aren’t really decisions at all; they’re more like reflexes. In order to get to that point, the quarterback needs to have each of these reads thrown at him over and over again until the right read becomes second nature. By adding the shotgun, I was concerned that Trey wouldn’t get the reps he needed, especially considering that he was only a rising junior to begin with.
As it turns out, it was much ado about nothing. I pointed out in the Notre Dame postgame thread that the shotgun passes that Navy used were pretty much the same plays that they already run, just with the quarterback 5 yards further back. The option runs out of the shotgun are no different. Take a look at the video. Here are a couple of triple option runs out of the shotgun. As you can see, the count is the same. More importantly, Trey’s read is, too:
(You can see the defensive end squatting in the first clip, which can lead to trap plays being called in the future as the shotgun becomes more integrated into the playbook).
The differences between these plays and Navy’s usual option plays are the QB-center exchange, some of the technique by the linemen (although it’s nothing they don’t already practice), and the path of the running backs. It’s basically the same as any other triple option play as far as the quarterback is concerned. He isn’t missing out on any valuable reps when he practices the shotgun.
Running the triple option out of the shotgun brings a few advantages with it. The first is that it almost completely negates the mesh charge. You’ll recall that the mesh charge is a tactic used by #1 in the count that attempts to trick the quarterback into keeping the ball. The defender will square his shoulders to the fullback and run at the mesh point, making it look like he’s playing the dive. But when the quarterback reads that and keeps the ball, the defender sidesteps into the QB’s path. Like so:
The shotgun takes away the mesh charge by moving the mesh point farther into the backfield. Doing so makes it much more difficult for the defender to disguise his intention; the harder he runs to the mesh point, the harder it will be for him to stop and reverse his momentum if the quarterback keeps the ball. Kaipo was the last Navy quarterback to read the mesh charge with any consistency. Ricky had his struggles with it (as you can see), and Kriss missed it every. single. time. If this is something that the coaches can do to continue to run the option even when the QB is struggling with a particular read, then it can be an important addition to the Navy arsenal.
Something else that the shotgun brings to the table is the ability to get the ball to different players in different ways. The second clip shows what Gee Gee can do when he has a chance to run the ball up the middle. While there are a few plays that Navy runs where an A-back gets an inside handoff, that would never happen on an option play. This is one more way to take advantage of Gee Gee’s skill set. The same can also be said about finding ways to get more nimble fullbacks out onto the perimeter as well.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t trade-offs, of course. There’s something a bit off logically when it comes to snapping the ball backwards 5 yards when you want to run the ball forward. If the QB misses his read, it’s that much bigger of a loss. There’s also the added risk of a bad snap. If the center isn’t on target, it can completely screw up the timing of the play.
I think the most important thing, though, is that the shotgun is just one more thing for defenses to adjust to. Navy’s coaches will frequently use different formations not necessarily as an adjustment for what the defense is doing, but to see how the defense will react. They might line up in the heavy formation, for example, to see if the defense will overcompensate when it shifts to cover the strong side of the formation. That can lead to a numbers advantage on the other side. The same can be said for the shotgun. It gives defenses new looks to react to, especially when you factor in all the motion possibilities before the snap. If the coaches can use that to gain a numbers advantage, then the Mids will just be that much more effective.
It’s only natural to feel uneasy about change, especially when we’ve had so much success doing things a particular way. Not fixing things that ain’t broke is usually pretty sound advice. However, I don’t think that’s what is happening here. This isn’t a case of “getting away from what we do,” as we’ve been warned about in the past. These are still fundamentally the same plays that we’ve always seen. It’s really just another tweak. This one’s just a little easier for us to recognize.