Navy pulled themselves back to .500 on Friday night with a solid 31-13 win over Central Michigan. It was a dominating performance by the defense, which held a fairly prolific Chippewa offense to only 221 total yards. As great as the defense was, the center of attention after the game was freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who performed well enough in his first start to earn the job going forward. The first freshman to start at QB for Navy since Jim Kubiak became the first quarterback since Chris McCoy to throw 3 TD passes in a single game. Tack on another 59 yards rushing, and it was a pretty good game for a first start. It wasn’t perfect (it rarely is), and Central Michigan didn’t do very much read-wise to confuse him, but Keenan handled everything put in front of him. You can’t ask for much else.
Navy won the coin toss and took the ball to open the game. Eight plays later, Keenan tossed his first TD pass to Brandon Turner to put the Mids up 7-0. Central Michigan returned the ensuing kickoff all the way to the Navy 22, but the defense held, giving up only a field goal. That would set the tone for the rest of the game.
Let’s take a look at the Mids’ first play from scrimmage. It was a play-action pass off of toss sweep motion. Right away you can see Central Michigan’s game plan: 1. shade the linebackers toward the wide side of the field, and 2. have the safeties 7 yards deep and roll from a cover 4 look to a cover 3, similar to what San Jose State’s DBs did:
Favoring the wide side of the field doesn’t do much against this offense. Not that it isn’t generally better to run where there’s more space; it’s just that it’s third on the list behind running where you have a numbers advantage and running where you have better blocking angles. Favoring the wide side of the field gave Navy a numbers advantage to the short side, which is where they ended up running almost every play.
The majority of Navy’s offense consisted of 4 plays. First was the toss sweep (I assume you know what that looks like). Next, of course, is the triple option. The option changed over the course of the game, though. In the first half, Coach Jasper used the run support safety as the pitch read, and had the playside A-back block the outside linebacker:
(Sorry for forgetting to highlight the pitch read there. I guess I was distracted when I made that clip. Just watch the safeties, you’ll get the idea).
In the second half , the offense switched back to more conventional blocking assignments:
You might notice on that first play, CMU used a cross charge. It was the only real stunt that they tried, and they only did it twice. Keenan read it correctly both times.
The Mids also ran a bit of midline option:
With the run support safety following the tail motion, it left the fullback almost untouched into the secondary when the play was blocked well. That wasn’t always the case, though (more on that later).
Another play we saw was a twist on the midline, where it wasn’t an actual option play. It looked like the midline, but the guard actually blocked the DL that would’ve been the quarterback’s read:
It acted as a way to keep the ball in Keenan’s hands, and he was able to pick up a few first downs with it.
There were some missed opportunities too. Take a look at the four plays in the next video.
1. The first play is a midline option. Since the run support safety was playing the tail motion, the playside slot’s job was to leave him unblocked and instead take the other safety. The problem is that here, the run support safety doesn’t cover the pitch, and has a clear path to the quarterback. This is one of those plays that looks like a blown read or a missed assignment, but really isn’t.
2. Play #2 is a triple option play where the playside slot just doesn’t block anyone.
3. The third play is another midline where the run support safety is left unblocked.
4. The last play is a triple option where the playside slot goes after the right man, but not aggressively enough.
For the most part, though, things went pretty well for the offense. It might not seem that way with only 238 rushing yards, but that’s a somewhat deceiving number. Like the San Jose State game, CMU’s secondary was very aggressive in run support. Unlike that game, Navy was able to take advantage with the pass.
One of the big missed opportunities in the SJSU game came on missing open receivers running post patterns. With the safeties only 7 yards deep, by the time they realized that it was a pass play, the receiver running the post was already wide open. The problem is that on those plays, the post was the secondary receiver; the slotback running the wheel route was the primary receiver, and he was also open (just not as much as the post receiver). Coach Jasper made things easy for Keenan by not running the wheel-post. Here’s Keenan’s first TD pass. While Brandon Turner runs the post, the slotback runs a crossing pattern underneath instead of the wheel. The WR running the post on this play is the primary receiver, so there’s no doubt who Keenan should throw to this time:
After that, Coach Jasper was basically trolling the safeties. On the second TD pass, the Mids put a slot in twirl motion. One safety sees the slot go in motion and thinks the play is going his way, so he steps up in run support. The other safety sees the direction of Keenan’s play action and thinks the play is going his way, so he steps up in run support. That left two safeties in run support and nobody deep, which left Gee Gee wide open:
The third TD pass was similar to that one. In the second half, the CMU defense had figured out that Navy was always running to the short side, so they moved the safety on that side up closer to the line of scrimmage. When the play action looked like an option being run to the wide side of the field, the safety on that side played run support too. Once again, there was nobody deep to cover Gee Gee running a fly pattern:
Navy only threw two fewer passes in this game than they did against SJSU, but I doubt anyone feels like Navy has “abandoned their identity” or anything now. Navy had 372 yards of total offense. We’re used to seeing 350 rushing yards and 22 rushing yards to make up that total, but 238/134 works just as well. You have to be able to throw if that’s what the defense is giving you.
Speaking of defense, I can’t say enough good things about how different this Navy defense looks compared to week 1. Sure, playing Central Michigan instead of Notre Dame has something to do with it, but it’s a lot more than that. Remember this video from the Notre Dame game?
The linebacker didn’t attack his gap. Instead, he let the OL attack him. Compare that to these plays:
Each of those are similar zone run plays, but you’d think it was a completely different defense playing against them. The linebackers attacked their gaps and didn’t wait to get blocked by the offensive linemen. This forced the running back to string his run out, giving other defenders the time to shed their blocks and make the tackle. That’s great, unselfish team defense, and what it means to do your job.
The big question on everyone’s mind is how did Keenan do. The answer is that he played well. Yes, he missed some reads, but it’s rare that a quarterback doesn’t miss a couple over the course of a game. Central Michigan didn’t do anything very complicated as far as reads go, and they let Navy’s receivers run free, so it’s hard to get too excited over Keenan’s performance since we know that won’t always be the case. Tougher challenges lie ahead. On the other hand, he did everything that he was asked to do. Just as importantly, outside of a fumble off of a botched mesh at the end of the first half, he didn’t make any costly mistakes, either. It’s all you can really ask for, and the way the defense played, that was more than enough.