Throwback Thursday, and Spread Option Appreciation

1954

John Hopkins recovered a fumble, and Bob Craig followed it up with a touchdown run of 65 yards as the group that would become the “Team Named Desire” opened up their season at Thompson Stadium against William and Mary:

Runs like that helped Craig set a school record by averaging 5.7 yards per carry over the course of his career.

That record is a great way to demonstrate just how revolutionary today’s Navy offense is. Last year I wrote about the 1995 Navy-SMU game and how it was a shock to the system of a moribund football program. That was the first time the spread option took the field in the Navy blue and gold, and its impact was immediate. The Mids reached offensive milestones that day that hadn’t been achieved in years, or in some cases, ever.

What began in 1995 hasn’t let up. Navy’s record books are rewritten each year, and Craig’s mark is no exception. He played from 1952-1954, and his record stood for 50 years. Number two on that list was his teammate, Joe Gattuso (the elder), who averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Ned Oldham (1955-1957) was next at 5.2. After that, nobody really came close. Think of all the great Navy runners in the decades that followed: Bellino, Donnelly, Cooper, Meyers, McCallum. None of those stars were able to challenge Craig’s number.

Almost immediately upon the return of the spread option in 2002, that record became toast. Tony Lane wrapped up his career in 2003 after averaging a mind-boggling 8.9 yards per carry. That’s over three yards per carry more than a record that stood for five decades. Since 2003, Craig’s once-untouchable average has been topped by seven different Navy slotbacks: Lane, Eric Roberts, Reggie Campbell, Shun White, Gee Gee Greene, Geoffery Whiteside, and DeBrandon Sanders. A fullback, Noah Copeland, almost matched the record himself at 5.6 ypc.

The production hasn’t been limited to the ground, either. Jim Stewart owned a school record after averaging 19.3 yards per catch from 1960-1962. He is now fifth on the list, having been topped by Tyree Barnes, Greg Jones, Campbell, and Roberts over the last dozen years.

Remember this the next time you hear that Navy’s isn’t a big-play offense, or that it’s only built for three yards and a cloud of dust. The spread option puts players in a position to make big plays at a rate that is unprecedented in Navy history.

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8 Responses

  1. HERESY! We have a nineteenth century offense! Don’t you forget it! /sarc off/

    I never heard these records before. While I’ve always been impressed by the slotback numbers, I think Noah’s is possibly the most impressive. As a Fullback, he’s runs into the teeth of an defense and not typically in open space until he’s gone through the second level.

    Either way…how do find these stats? Good stuff.

    • There are stats in the media guide, and also places like http://www.sports-reference.com/cfb/

  2. As a Youngster in the fall of 1954, I was privileged to watch that GREAT team play. The 1954 Army game remains in my memory as THE best one I’ve ever seen.

    1955 Sugar Bowl comes in second. I’m a native New Orleanian so having it in my hometown was a special treat.

    Navy kinda broke with tradition by the team’s staying in the Tulane dorms and practicing on Tulane’s practice field, just north of the Stadium. One cold, dank afternoon, I brought one of my boyhood friends who was on the roster as a tackle on LSU’s freshman team. His first comment was: “This is them???” HE was bigger than anybody on the Navy team. He tried to be polite, but he was sure that Ole Miss was going to murder us.

    We beat Ole Miss 21-0 — and it wasn’t that close. The zebras took a touchdown pass away from us. Ole Miss didn’t make a first down until there were just 5 minutes left in the second quarter. They managed to move out from their 5-yard line to their 16. ‘Twas a famous vict’ry for the mighty Rebs!

  3. The sweep they ran is very similar to the Single Wing off tackle play where you overpower the defense by outnumbering them. The main difference is that the QB lined up under center rather than lining up behind the right guard as a blocking back.

    Very interesting article as all your articles are outstanding. Thanks.

  4. Besides it’s fun as hell to watch! We don’t call ’em the Cardiac Kids for nuthin’… Each play is a betting game…which way are we going to go? So many…options…

  5. Mike–you missed Shun White when you listed the great running backs over the years. Shun averaged 8.85 yards per carry during his career and set the single game record of 348 yards that I am betting will never be broken. I believe he is the 6th or 7th leading rusher in Navy history. He is also and outstanding Surface Warfare Officer. Love you blog!
    VADM Ed Straw, Manhattan

  6. Mike,

    You missed Shun White when you listed the great running backs over the years. Shun averaged 8.85 yards per carry during his career and set the single game record of 348 yards that I am betting will never be broken. I believe he is the 6th or 7th leading rusher in Navy history. He is also and outstanding, young Surface Warfare Officer.

    Love your blog!

    VADM Ed Straw, Manhattan

    • Ha… Said seven, only listed six. I’ll edit when I get home.

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