Saturday’s game between Navy and Temple was a matchup between a seasoned team with a 3rd-year starter at quarterback against another squad with a roster full of freshmen and sophomores. Unfortunately for Navy, there were moments where you couldn’t tell which description applied to which team.
By almost every statistical measure, Navy was far and away the better team. Navy rolled up 487 rushing yards while outgaining the Owls in total yards, 517-396. The Mids held Temple to 7 of 18 third down conversions, dominated time of possession, and were called for only 1 bogus penalty as opposed to Temple’s 6. This game should have been a rout. Yet there we were, sweating out a last-minute drive that could have potentially sent the game to overtime. How did this happen?
Navy might have dominated the stat sheet, but they also committed far too many mistakes. Temple was only able to put together two extended drives longer than 38 yards, scoring two TDs on those possessions. Their other 10 points were the direct result of Navy turnovers; one fumble that was recovered for a touchdown, and a whopping 12-yard drive that led to a field goal following another fumble. The Mids coughed the ball up 3 times, but those weren’t the only mistakes. For the second game in a row there was a botched mesh, with Keenan getting his feet tangled up with the fullback and slipping in the backfield. Pass protection was also shaky, as Keenan was forced to scramble seemingly every time he dropped back to throw. And then there were assignment mixups. On these plays, you can see the wide receiver and playside slotback both blocking the same man. Meanwhile, an unblocked man makes the tackle:
On that last play you could argue that the slotback just panicked when he saw that the WR wasn’t able to block his man, but by leaving his own guy unblocked, the play is just as doomed.
Plays like these are what turn a would-be blowout into a nail-biter. Don’t get me wrong; a win is a win, and I’ll take them however they come. Some challenging games lie ahead, though, and if Navy’s going to continue this whole winning thing, the offense will have to be firing on all cylinders. After two games, we haven’t seen that yet.
Fortunately, the Mids were able to generate plenty of offense to overcome the rough patches. Temple spent the majority of the game switching between two defensive alignments. There was the “Western Kentucky look,” with only two down linemen and the nose guard replaced with an additional inside linebacker. Then there was the ol’ standby, the 3-deep 4-4 that we’ve seen so often over the years. Temple tried to give the Navy offense a different look on every play, presumably to confuse the quarterback and mix up blocking assignments. on occasion they would even line up one way, then change alignments after the Mids looked over to the sideline for the play call:
It didn’t work. With a little bit of communication before the snap, a well-coached offensive line will know who to block regardless of how the defense lines up.
Even though Temple lined up with a few different looks, their basic plan was always the same: have the free safety follow tail motion to play the quarterback or the pitch man. Just as the Ohio State game was all about managing the middle linebacker, this game’s playcalling revolved around managing the safety. And just like the Ohio State game, pretty much everything worked.
With the safety following the motion slotback, a lot of what Coach Jasper called involved getting the safety moving one way while running the play the other way. To do this, he used:
1. Twirl motion on most triple option plays. In case you don’t remember, twirl motion is where the motion slotback is actually the PSA and not the pitch man. He goes into motion, reverse pivots, and carries out his block. The other a-back becomes the pitch man.
2. Counter option:
3. Fake toss with inside handoff to the slotback:
4. Fake toss with the double option:
5. Motion one way, then throw to the WR running a little hitch pattern the other way:
By getting the safety’s first step or two going in the wrong direction, he becomes easier to block. Temple usually had their linebackers trying to time Keenan’s snap count and shoot the gaps, so they weren’t usually a concern in inside-out pursuit. That freed up the playside tackle to take on the job of blocking the safety in the triple option. On Keenan’s first touchdown run, you can see Joey Gaston fighting through traffic to make a terrific block on the safety that was the key to the play. #2 in the count played outside, giving Keenan a keep read.
On this play, Gaston released inside of #1, which is the norm in the triple because if makes the quarterback’s first read a little easier. As the game progressed, though, Coach Jasper had the tackles release outside of #1 to make it easier for them to run upfield to make the block on the safety:
That last play was actually a wide receiver lined up at tackle in a heavy formation, but functionally he’s the same as a tackle. These plays highlight just how athletic Navy’s offensive linemen have to be. When we say that Navy linemen have to be able to run, this is why.
These plays all highlight runs to the outside, but the fullbacks had a big day too. Noah Copeland and Chris Swain combined for 154 rushing yards, with both averaging more than 6 yards per carry. The bulk of those yards came in the second half, when Temple made a bit of an adjustment. Rather than have the safety follow the motion on every play, Temple started having a linebacker do it instead. When Coach Jasper saw this, he had the fullbacks run off tackle. The playside tackle would squeeze the defensive end inside, and the fullback would run to the space that the linebacker abandoned when he cheated outside:
When that didn’t work, Temple tried using yet another player to cheat outside, this time the defensive end. When this happened, the offense changed the quarterback’s reads. The DE became #2 in the count, and the inside linebacker became #1. You can tell that the count changed because the PSA blocked the player that would usually be #2:
After the count change, the Mids still ran the same off-tackle play. Instead of blocking the DE, the tackle just blocked the LB instead:
Coach Jasper also used different formations in key situations to get a numbers advantage. Early in the game, when Navy would load one side of the formation with receivers, Temple gave the Mids a numbers advantage on the weak side:
Once Temple saw this happening, they adjusted. But that just left Navy with a numbers advantage on the strong side:
Coach Jasper had an answer for everything that Temple tried to slow down the Navy offense.
Defensively, it was another solid performance. Parrish Gaines had another spectacular interception, but other than that, it wasn’t really about big plays as much as it was consistency and guys doing their jobs. The defensive line had another big day. They didn’t get to PJ Walker for any sacks, their constant pressure led to a lot of incomplete passes. Three out Navy’s four leading tacklers were linebackers, which is usually a pretty good sign that the line is doing enough up front to keep blockers occupied. While PJ Walker completed 29 of 49 pass attempts, he was limited to only 240 yards. That’s because the defensive backs did a good job keeping receivers in front of them and making tackles to prevent yards after the catch. It was another encouraging performance and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Despite my criticism of the offense, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Navy did win the game, and there were a lot of positives. The Mids’ 487 rushing yards were the most since the 2012 blowout of East Carolina. Navy has topped 300 yards of rushing for 8 consecutive games. The potential is obviously there for a big year offensively. There comes a point, though, where potential becomes a bad word. Until these mistakes are corrected, the full potential of the offense will never be realized. It’s only two games, so there’s plenty of season left to correct the things that went wrong. Hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.