Seriously guys, I mean it. It’s never as good or as bad as it seems.
It’s going to be even harder to convince people of that now. For the second straight week, the Navy offense was a juggernaut. This time they dropped 51 points on a shell-shocked Delaware squad while generating 589 yards of offense. Just to make things confusing for everyone, 237 of those yards came through the air. The Mids only had to punt once, and even that punt was a work of art. Kickoff coverage picked up where it left off against Indiana, holding the Blue Hens to another better-than-a-touchback average of 23.3 yards per return. The defense only gave up 7 points. It was a the mythical “complete game” we’ve always dreamed of.
SHUT UP I CAN’T HEAR YOU WITH YOUR MISSED EXTRA POINT LA LA LA LA LA LA
If things aren’t as good as they seem, that’s too bad because they sure seem pretty great right now.
Defensively, the game went about the way we expected it would. Delaware tried to maintain a fast tempo similar to what we saw against Indiana. In the first half, they had a bit of success, too, with 238 total yards and 16 first downs (to Navy’s 12). For all those yards, though, they only managed to score 7 points. The Blue Hens used a lot of zone running plays to force linebackers to play gap control, then used that to set up the passing game with bootlegs and short passes designed to get behind those run-focused LBs. It was a sound plan that we’ll probably see all year. Delaware was able to pick up a few yards, but they were forced into too many mistakes to be able to finish drives. The Navy front seven was just too good, with the defensive line and linebackers combining for 4 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble, two sacks, and five hurries. That pressure led to a few drive-killing bad decisions by Delaware’s quarterbacks, including two interceptions. When Delaware tried to run for first downs instead, ILBs Cody Peterson and DJ Sargenti answered the call, combining for 20 tackles. Delaware was held to only 2 of 13 third down conversions, and could only gain 98 yards in the second half.
It was a pretty convincing performance by the defense. More so than the offense in my opinion, which I know seems ridiculous to say after they scored 51 points and could do no wrong all afternoon. It isn’t that they aren’t doing everything that they’re supposed to, because they are. It’s just that they still haven’t really been challenged yet, at least not to the level that they were the last two years. If you’re like me, the real joy in football comes from the chess match, with coaches making constant adjustments throughout the game to outmaneuver their counterparts on the other sideline. So far this season it’s been like watching a Porsche outmaneuver a dump truck. It just hasn’t been that hard.
Usually when you see an offense go wild like this, it’s about what the defense did (or didn’t do) as much as the offense. This game was no exception. Last season we saw defenses try all kinds of complex stunts and unusual formations to try to give the coaches (and quarterbacks) something to think about and adjust to. Delaware did none of that. Instead, they played their base 4-3 and tried to stop the option just by having players run to the ball. Remember this quote from the game preview?
“Gap assignments don’t matter as much as just playing football. That’s what I really love about our defense,” he said.
That guy wasn’t kidding. As a result, the adjustments that Coach Jasper made were more in response to the Delaware players’ bad habits than anything their coaches had cooked up.
Take, for example, the triple option. The reads here are pretty simple for the quarterback. The backside defensive end, though, is very aggressive in chasing the play down from behind:
Whenever the backside DE cheats inside like that, it sets up the counter option. He’s blocked by a pulling guard, and the play runs right by him:
The defensive end wasn’t the only defender on the backside of the play that was following the ball. They all were, which set up the reverse we saw in the 3rd quarter:
And that was really it as far as the bread & butter goes.
The buzz around this game, though, was about everything we saw beyond the basics, especially in the passing game. It seemed like the Mids were throwing the ball all over the place, but statistically it wasn’t that unusual. Granted, Navy only threw twice after John Hendrick came into the game, so they might’ve kept slinging the ball around if the game was closer. Ultimately, though, the Mids only threw 15 times. Two of those were actually option pitches that went forward instead of backward. That left 13 plays that were actual drop-back passes; certainly higher than usual, but not a number we haven’t seen before. The difference on Saturday was with how efficient the passing game was.
Part of that can be attributed to the same reckless defending we saw against the option. Shawn Lynch’s TD catch came off of toss sweep play action. Both the middle and outside linebackers bit the cheese hard and ignored the possibility of a pass. That left two Delaware defenders to cover three Navy receivers. Keenan just had to deliver the ball before the opposite safety could run over from the other side of the field:
DeBrandon Sanders’ TD reception was due in part to blown coverage. One safety played a shallow zone, as if he was playing robber. The other safety went to cover the wide receiver. That left nobody in the deep middle third of the field, which is exactly where Keenan delivered the ball:
One of those safeties was in the wrong place.
The other big story on Saturday was the continued raising of the curtain on how the shotgun will be used in the Navy offense. I don’t think we’ve seen the full package yet, but we’re getting it in bits and pieces. One of the new elements we saw was the midline option. It worked pretty well the first time, but not the second time. On the midline, you option off of a lineman inside the B gap. Against a 4-3 defense, that’s usually a DT. It’s a very fast read for the quarterback, but it’s usually a pretty clear read too; either the DT turns his shoulders to take the fullback or he doesn’t. Things get a little muddier when you try to run the play out of the shotgun, though. When the mesh point is further in the backfield, it becomes more difficult to read whether the DT is taking the quarterback or the fullback. He doesn’t have to commit; by running straight at the mesh, be can basically cover both. Here are the two midline option plays that Navy ran out of the shotgun. On the first, the DT slipped, making it an easy read for the quarterback. On the second, the DT charges straight at the mesh point and tackles both the QB and FB.
That’s still a work in progress, I think. The midline did set up some good play action, though. Here you can see the linebackers collapse on what they think is the midline, but Keenan instead throws the ball outside to the slot receiver. Luring the linebackers inside leaves only the safety to make a play, and he’s lined up 12 yards away and backpedals on his first step:
Navy ran basically the same play out of a trips formation, only this time there were two blockers in front of the slot receiver instead of one. The result was about the same:
Coach Jasper also built on some things we saw last week against Indiana. You’ll recall that the most common run out of the shotgun in that game was a double option to 1-WR side of a 3-WR formation. The Mids ran that play against Delaware too, but then added play action off of it. When they did, they caught Delaware in a CB blitz. The safety had to rotate over to cover the WR. None of the linebackers picked up Darius Staten coming out of the backfield, leaving him wide open over the middle:
I mentioned in the Indiana game review that the book was still out on Keenan, at least from the peanut gallery perspective, because the Hoosiers didn’t really test him with his option reads. That’s still true as far as reads go, but there were a few plays against the Blue Hens that demonstrated how comfortable Keenan has become with running the offense. Here are a couple of audibles that Keenan called at the line. In the first, he recognized that the linebackers were cheating to the left, so he called an audible to run the triple to the right. In the second, Keenan saw that the OLBs were going to blitz. Keenan audibled to run the triple to the wide side of the field, since he knew before the play that the OLB (#2) would be taking the quarterback. That leaves a lot of room to run for the pitch man.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound youngster also launched a strike to slot Geoffrey Whiteside for a 61-yard gain that set up another score. Whiteside leaped and reached to snare the pass, which was a bit high but placed so that no one but the receiver could get it.
“I thought I overthrew him, but when he went up and grabbed it I was like ‘OK. Then he made a great run after the catch,” Reynolds said.
Niumatalolo said that play provided evidence of why Reynolds is special. Jasper saw a way to exploit something Delaware was doing defensively and designed a play that Navy has never practiced.
“We just put a spin on what we already had based on what the defense was doing,” Reynolds explained.
Niumatalolo said it wasn’t nearly that simple and was impressed that Reynolds could have an impromptu play explained to him on the headset then go out and execute it on the field moments later.
“Keenan was able to decipher that in fifteen seconds. He had to make a split-second decision and did it. He read the coverage and hit Geoffrey down the middle,” Niumatalolo said.
Navy ran a hook pattern with the inside slot receiver out of a trips formation just before the end of the 3rd quarter. On that play, Delaware’s backside safety cheated to the strong side of the formation before the pass was even thrown, and was very aggressive in running to the ball once it was. Coach Jasper wanted to take advantage of that, so he had Geoffrey Whiteside fake another hook, but then run a post pattern the other way. If the safety was as aggressive as he was on the previous play, then Whiteside would be wide open. Unfortunately, the safety dropped back into coverage. Whiteside ran a great route in front of him, though, and Keenan hit the pass anyway:
The important thing here, in my opinion, isn’t the execution of the play as much as it is the coaches having enough confidence in Keenan to be willing to give it a shot.
Navy is 2-0, and we’ll all take that any way we can get it. If we don’t know how good this offense truly is because they aren’t being tested as much as they could be, well, let’s hope we never learn. Looking at the schedule, though, I’m pretty sure that time is coming. Try not to freak out when it does.