How is one supposed to feel about a win over VMI?
On one hand, they aren’t very good, even for a 1-AA team. We knew that going into the game. Blowout wins over lower-level competition don’t prove very much, and they don’t do anything to inspire confidence in how Navy will perform against the rest of their schedule. A win is a win, but classes weren’t cancelled on Monday because of it.
On the other hand, we’re talking about a Navy team that was 0-2 after a pair of blowouts to start the season. They needed SOMETHING positive to happen, and winning by 38 points while outgaining the opposition 510-222 is certainly positive. Not that there weren’t issues– and we’ll get to those– but even wins like this can help build confidence. The sloppiest win is always better than a well-executed loss.
That’s how I see Saturday’s game, anyway. Not that I felt that way at the time; I was just as frustrated as I suspect you were. Nevertheless, it was a pretty thorough pounding, and it felt good to see Navy get into the win column.
The offensive game plan was pretty simple. VMI spent the game in a 5-man front, which meant that we saw a lot of zone dives and zone options. The coaches like to run the zone dive against odd fronts– or any front where the defense has someone lined up directly across from the center– because it’s an easy read for the fullback. The fullback reads the DT and runs to the opposite side of the center that the DT plays. It’s where Noah Copeland got a good chunk of his 126 yards. The rest of those yards came primarily on the FB trap.
Because of what VMI was doing, Navy didn’t run very much true triple option in this game. When they did, the DE that was #1 in the count usually squatted. A squat, you’ll recall, is when #1 doesn’t commit to either the dive or the quarterback; he tries to read the quarterback just as the quarterback is reading him:
When #1 squats, that opens up the FB trap. He’s left unblocked again, but when he turns to make a play after the FB gets the ball, he’s met by a pulling guard:
The other thing to notice in that first video is that the safeties were lined up a mile deep, probably to keep Navy’s slotbacks from breaking a big play. Lining the safeties up that far back meant that they were too deep to be included in the count. That gave the Navy offense a numbers advantage. To take advantage of this, Coach Jasper ran a play that looked like the triple option, but was really designed to get the ball outside. Instead of leaving #1 unblocked, the playside tackle would block him and force him inside, basically manufacturing a “keep” read for the quarterback. The fullback still followed his normal path, and because Copeland was so effective on those zone dives and trap plays, it didn’t matter that the tackle didn’t block the ILBs. They were focused on the fullback almost every time.
The ILB only recognized the play twice, and only one of those times were they able to stop it, which we’ll see in the next clip. That isn’t the important part of this play, though. The adjustment that VMI made was to shoot the #2 outside linebacker, hoping to force Trey into making a bad decision:
The reason why that is important is because it directly led to a turnover. On the next play, Coach Jasper called a counter option. The problem with the counter is that the quarterback starts the play with his back in the direction that he is going to run. Because #2 is unblocked, if he blitzes, the quarterback won’t see him coming. That’s exactly what happened to Trey; the moment he turned around, there was a linebacker in his face.
The same thing happened to Kaipo against Wake Forest in 2007, knocking him out of the game with a neck injury. Fortunately, nothing like that happened here. While Trey obviously needs to hold onto the ball, this play shouldn’t have been called, and wasn’t for the rest of the game.
Instead, Navy kept running that same triple-but-not-triple play. With #2 blitzing, that just meant that Trey had to make a faster pitch read, which he did without a problem:
Thanks to the zone dive and the FB trap, Noah Copeland ran for 126 yards. With the numbers advantage outside, the slotbacks combined for 134. Trey Miller ran for 116, with 40 of them coming on one run early in the 4th quarter. Strangely enough, it came on a missed read. Well, sort of. This was one of the few times that Navy ran an actual triple option play. The DE looks like he wanted to squat again, only this time he tripped and stumbled forward. Technically, doing so is a “give” read for the quarterback. When the QB misses a give read, he’s taught to follow the fullback through the hole. That’s exactly what Trey did, with spectacular results:
(Side note: Someone’s head always gets in the way whenever there’s an exciting play in that part of the field. I assume fixing this is NAAA’s #1 priority, right?)
Trey’s passing was sort of hit-or-miss. One play that worked well was when the Mids lined up in a flex formation, where a wide receiver is brought in closer to the tackle. When they did so, the CB covering that WR lost sight of his pass responsibility and overplayed the run, leaving the safety to cover two receivers on a wheel-post:
Those are the things that went right for the offense, and I think most people expected them to put up some big numbers in this game. What has people worried is how much went wrong.
First, there were the penalties. Navy was penalized seven times on Saturday, a number they can ill afford to replicate as the season wears on. All penalties are not the same, though. There’s a difference between “effort” penalties that occur in the run of play, and bonehead mental mistakes. If a guy gets flagged for holding, well, it happens when you’re playing hard. The bigger problems are those penalties that just don’t need to happen, like lining up in an illegal formation when you’re punting the ball. False starts were an issue too, although I have a bone to pick with the refs on a couple of those.
Noah Copeland was flagged for one false start that shouldn’t have been called. It appeared that the play called was a fullback option, and Noah started running to the outside before the snap. But he’s a back lined up in the backfield– he’s allowed to go into motion before the snap. In fact, one of the variants of the play Navy uses to try to draw defenses offside has the fullback doing just that– sprinting outside after the two slots go into tail motion and stop in the backfield. That was a bogus penalty, and the flag shouldn’t have been thrown.
Another bogus false start was called on this play:
Can someone point out where the false start was on that play? It was called on the right tackle, but he moved at the same time the ball was snapped. They all did. The only difference was that he stood up in pass protection, which, while perfectly legal, apparently looked strange to the referee. This was basically a 5-yard penalty for illegal posture. So while penalties are still a concern, I don’t think this game was as bad as it looks on paper.
Another problem was at center, where Thomas Stone was Navy’s third starter in as many games. It didn’t go well. First, there was the fumbled snap. It could have been Trey’s fault just as much as his, but this stuff simply cannot be happening anymore either way. That wasn’t all, though. Take a look at these plays. In the first, the offense is trying to run a FB trap. The play doesn’t succeed, though, because Stone gets pushed into the backfield, keeping the pulling guard from getting to his block. In the second play, both Stone and Jake Zuzek whiff on the nose tackle, who runs Trey down from behind. On the very next play, Stone is beaten badly by the NT again, who hits Trey immediately as he turns around after carrying out play action and forces a fumble.
After that, Coach Niumatalolo told Thomas how that made him feel. That would be Stone’s last series, and he was replaced by Tanner Fleming. Fleming played well against Penn State when he wasn’t screwing up the snap count. That wasn’t an issue for him against VMI, and I suspect that we’ll be seeing him start from here on out.
The last problem that the offense had was with putting the ball on the ground. The botched snap was the worst of the three fumbles in my opinion, but that should hopefully become less of an issue if Fleming solidifies himself as the starting center. The other two fumbles came when Trey was more or less blindsided. It’s hard for me to fault him too much in those situations; he isn’t the only one who would fumble after being unexpectedly clocked like that. Again, I don’t think this is something we’ll be seeing every week. While these are still problems, they aren’t quite as bad as it seemed during the game.
As for the defense, I’m not sure how much there is to be said. They held VMI to only two drives that went more than 30 yards, all while keeping things fairly vanilla. I doubt Coach Green wanted to put anything on tape that he didn’t have to. Keegan Wetzel played very well, recording five tackles and a sack while getting held on almost every play. Matt Warrick had an INT for a touchdown, and Quincy Adams’ INT will make for some fine highlight reel material for this week’s motivational video. The defense did what they were supposed to do.
In the end, the mistakes don’t make anyone feel good, but there isn’t much that Navy could do against VMI that would make us feel any better about the rest of the schedule. The one thing that is certain is that Navy won’t win any other games 41-3 if they make these same mistakes. Fortunately, I don’t think they were as bad as they first appeared. Time will tell.