Sorry for being so late on this one. Real life has been time-consuming lately.
Wags weighed in on Navy football’s recent troubles, ending his piece with this bit:
Play-calling has also been an issue as the Midshipmen seem to get further away from their true identity with each passing week. It was understandable to throw the ball quite a bit after falling behind against Notre Dame and Penn State. Having Miller repeatedly drop back against a San Jose State squad that ranked fourth nationally in sacks made no sense. Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper called for a pass on first down three times in the first half alone on Saturday and the results were predictable — two sacks and a quarterback hurry.
Navy needs to get back to doing what made it so successful during a run of eight straight winning seasons, which means running the read triple-option. Of course, that’s easier said than done if the line can’t block it and Miller can’t read it.
After reading this, and seeing other comments here about how the Navy offense is “losing its identity” and whatnot, I think we need a little bit of Navy offense 101.
Glenn Ellison wrote his first book on the Run & Shoot offense in 1965. In it, he illustrated his offense’s base formation:
Look familiar? I hope so. We’ve discussed over and over on this blog how the Navy offense isn’t the wishbone. It isn’t entirely the Run & Shoot either, but its basic principles are very much the same. Navy’s is a spread offense. The wide receivers in the base spread formation line up 17 yards from the ball on either side. Instead of two halfbacks in the backfield, Navy puts their running backs in the slot so they can double as receivers. The goal is to make the defense cover the entire field, creating running lanes and putting ball carriers in space. The alignment of the WRs forces the defense to cover from sideline to sideline. Putting running backs in the slot means that there are four vertical threats at the line of scrimmage, which forces the defense to respect the pass.
It should force them too, anyway. But what happens when they don’t? Throwing the ball when the defense doesn’t respect the pass is not a change in philosophy. It’s the very core of this offense. You have to make the defense pay the price for parking its safeties only 7 yards deep like San Jose State was doing. If you don’t take what the defense gives you, that means you’re intentionally attacking the strength of their scheme. And that’s just dumb. Besides, isn’t this being a bit overblown? Navy threw the ball 13 times on Saturday. That’s hardly an unusual number.
Before the game, I said this about San Jose State’s defensive game plan:
MacIntyre was using the squeeze & scrape stunt, where #1 would squeeze the playside tackle (sometimes even holding him) to prevent him from making his block on the middle linebacker. With #1 pushing inside, the quarterback reads that as a keep. If #2 takes the pitch, then the QB keeps, and is tackled by the unblocked middle linebacker. There are ways to beat that stunt, such as with the toss sweep. That’s why Alexander Teich had only 11 carries for 49 yards, while Aaron Santiago and Gee Gee Greene combined for 13 carries and 109 yards. That’s where Baer’s influence took over.
Baer completely disregarded the threat of the pass, similar to what he did in 2003 against Craig Candeto. The safeties played almost exclusively in run support to stop the outside threat from the slotbacks.
That’s exactly what we saw on the second play of the game. You can see the defensive end squeezing the tackle pretty clearly. On this play, the guard is uncovered and able to get to the second level to block the MLB. Usually the guard and the center would double-team the DT playing the 1 technique, but Tanner Fleming is able to block him on his own.
I can’t pat myself on the back too hard for my prognostication skills, though, because that only lasted one play. For the rest of the game, SJSU tried to achieve the same thing but with a slightly different tactic. The Spartans defended the option from the inside-out, trying to force Navy into getting the ball to the pitch man. They did this by using the cross charge on every play. In case you don’t remember, the cross charge is where #1 and #2 in the count switch responsibilities. #2 plays the fullback, and #1 plays either the QB or the pitch. This is why Noah Copeland only had 8 carries; not because he couldn’t be “established,” but because the defense consistently ran a stunt that, when read correctly, tells the quarterback to keep or pitch.
If the quarterback made the right read and kept the ball, then #1 had two responsibilities: 1. run interference on the playside tackle, keeping him away from the MLB, and 2. play the QB to force a pitch read. The MLB would then play the pitch. With the safeties only 7 yards deep in run support, that meant that there were three defenders outside (MLB, safety, CB) vs. only two blockers (playside A-back, playside WR). Whichever defender was left unblocked would tackle the pitch man. The secondary would start with a cover 4 look, but roll to a cover 3 as they read the direction of the play.
It’s a good scheme, and shows that the San Jose State staff actually understands how the option works. It’s not unbeatable by any stretch, but it puts a lot of pressure on the offense, particularly the quarterback.
So let’s take a look at that defense in action. On the first play, Trey sees the defensive end playing outside and mistakes that for a “give” read. The #2 OLB makes the tackle.
After seeing what happened, Trey recognized the stunt and made the right read on the next play. The reason why this play succeeds is because the MLB takes a bad path to the ball and gets caught up in traffic, while the WR and slotbacks both execute their blocks well.
After that, Trey completed a nice pass out of the pistol formation to set up a 3rd & 2, which Noah picked up on the next play. Navy then ran a wheel-post play which drew a 15-yard penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit (and an unrelated horrible injury).
Once in the red zone, the Mids ran another triple option, and sure enough, San Jose State ran the same stunt again. (The play would’ve gone for a few more yards but Gee Gee whiffed pretty badly on his block). After seeing that the stunt was a featured part of the SJSU game plan, Coach Jasper made his first adjustment. On the next play, he ran a double option that used a short trap. The playside guard would kick out to block #1, while the slotback blocked #3. The quarterback would option off of #2. If the defense was running a cross charge, #2 would be somewhere in the middle of the line and the quarterback would have a big gain. Unfortunately, they didn’t run the cross charge here, and Trey missed the read. If he pitched, this would’ve been a touchdown.
Maybe Trey was anticipating the stunt instead of reading the defense. It looks to me like he might not have been able to see the #2 OLB coming from behind the pulling guard and the DE. Whatever the reason, that was a missed opportunity.
The next play was Trey’s fumble, which was pretty bad. He wasn’t even hit that hard; he was just carrying the ball at his waist instead of tucked high like it should have been:
Looking at how he carried the ball the rest of the game, I think that lesson has been learned. Too little too late for this game, obviously, but hopefully not for the rest of the season.
Navy’s second drive started with a counter option (more on that later). After a FB screen picked up a first down, the Mids ran the triple again. SJSU went back to the cross charge, and you can see how the DE kept the playside tackle from blocking the MLB.
On the next play, Coach Jasper went back to the counter option, but with a twist. Usually, the pulling guard blocks #1, the quarterback options off of #2, and the playside tackle blocks the middle linebacker. On this play, the blocking assignments were changed. With SJSU running the cross charge, the playside tackle blocked the blitzing #2 instead. The pulling guard blocked the middle linebacker, and the quarterback optioned off of #1. Trey made the right read, but Travis Johnson made a very athletic play to get to the pitch:
The problem with that play is that the pitch relationship is more shallow on counter options. The pitch man doesn’t go into tail motion before the play; instead, the blocking slotback goes into twirl motion to get the defense going the other way. A lesser DE probably wouldn’t be able to make that play.
Navy’s third drive started with a sack caused by very good SJSU coverage.
Trey might need to sell his play-action fakes a little better.
The Mids followed that up with a couple of midline option plays from the heavy formation. I highlighted the DT that the offense was optioning off of on these plays, and Trey made the right reads. The second tackle blocks the middle linebacker, and the playside guard blocks the outside linebacker. It worked great on the first play, but on the second play, the DT squeezed the guard and kept him from getting to the OLB, who makes the tackle:
This is one of those plays that looks like a wrong read, but was really just an alert defensive play.
Navy ran the midline one other time, on the first drive of the second half. This is a good example of how Coach Jasper uses formation to spread the defense. By lining up in a trips formation, Navy forced SJSU to use one of their safeties to cover the slot receiver lined up on the opposite hash mark. The other safety shaded outside with the motion of the slotback. That left the middle of the field wide open. If Trey made the right read, and if the offensive line could get to the second level and block the LBs, it would be a huge gain. Well, Trey made the right read and the OL made those blocks. Unfortunately, even though Tanner Fleming was able to get his man on the ground, the DT was able to get his arm out and grab Noah’s leg. It was excellent defense (maybe a little lucky), and could have been a touchdown-saving play:
Again, this can look like a play that was a missed read, but it wasn’t.
Navy’s most successful plays were when they tried to take advantage of SJSU’s over-pursuit. That’s why we saw so many counters; Coach Jasper wanted to get the safeties and MLB moving one way so he could run the play the other way. We also saw some zone plays, designed to give the QB or FB a lane to cut back against the pursuit:
There were just too many missed opportunities. While Trey didn’t miss as many reads as you probably think he did, he did miss a few, which we saw here. On his last series, he missed another read on the 4th-down play that ended the drive. The Mids ran the triple out of the shotgun. San Jose State ran a cross charge again, but that didn’t really matter. On this play, the count was changed; the stunting LB wasn’t in the count and was blocked by the playside tackle. The defensive back lined up over the slot receiver was #2 and left unblocked. The defensive end stepped upfield, which should have given Trey a read to give to the FB. Instead, he kept the ball, and ended up pitching off of #1. You can’t do that, because #2 is free to make the tackle.
On the triple option, the fullback reads the first down lineman inside of #1. The FB runs in the opposite direction that the lineman goes. Here, the lineman went right, so Noah went left. There was a safety playing man-to-man on the pitch man, so when Gee Gee went into motion, the safety followed him. That left nobody on the entire left side of the field. If Trey made the right read, this would have been another huge gain. Instead, Noah just chips in to double-team a lineman and the play gets blown up:
There were other problems in the passing game. Let’s look at the wheel-post plays. On both, Trey threw to the slotback running the wheel route when he would’ve been better off throwing to the WR. Here’s the first one. You can see the far safety rolling to play the middle of the field in a cover 3. At the point I froze the video, that safety is already beaten by the WR. His momentum is at full speed toward the goal line, while the safety is running full speed to the sideline. At that point, there’s no way the safety would be able to change direction and get back to cover the receiver. To his credit, Trey made a great throw to Howell, but if he was that accurate to the WR then it would’ve been a TD.
I don’t think Trey recognized the coverage. I think he saw the CB shading inside with the WR and confused that for man coverage. If it was man coverage, then the wheel would’ve been uncovered since the safety on that side of the formation was in run support. Instead, the CB was in zone.
The same happened on the interception. Trey carried out his play fake, and when he turned around, you can see that the safety playing the middle of the field wasn’t even looking back for the ball. He was running all-out to cover the wheel. If Trey threw to the WR, again, this would’ve been a TD.
Here’s another pass play. This is the run & shoot “go” route. The outside WR just runs straight upfield. The inside slot receiver runs an out pattern to the flat. The primary receiver is Bo Snelson in the middle slot. His job is to read whether the safety or the linebacker is responsible for defending the flat. On this play, it’s the linebacker. Bo’s job is essentially to go where the flat defender doesn’t. With the linebacker going inside-out, the receiver goes outside-in underneath the safeties.
The problem here is that Trey rolled out way too far. The linebacker jammed the receiver; by the time he was free to run his route, Trey had rolled out so far that he would’ve had to throw across his body to get the ball to Bo. There were two things that should’ve happened here. Either Trey shouldn’t have rolled out so far, which would’ve allowed him to make the pass to Bo, or he should’ve passed to Gee Gee as soon as the LB jammed Bo. Gee Gee would’ve had enough space to get 2-3 yards after the catch and pick up the first down.
That was the game in a nutshell. San Jose State had a very good scheme, but Navy still had opportunities to make big plays. Some bad decisions and some outstanding effort on the part of a few individual defenders kept the Mids from taking advantage of those opportunities. It’s frustrating, because the defense played so well that it only would’ve taken one or two of those plays to completely change the game.
That’s why I’m still pretty optimistic. The defense played a great, great game, and has improved each week. I still feel that they will be able to keep the Mids in games as the offense matures. Once they capitalize on some of those missed opportunities, they’ll be a very good team.
I hope it happens soon, because 1-3 sucks.