Mid­ship­men fix op­tion at­tack, and just in time

Loss to Air Force leads to of­fen­sive turn­around, up­set

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ivin Jasper took full re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Navy foot­ball team’s poor per­for­mance Oct. 1 at Air Force. The Mid­ship­men gained just 57 rush­ing yards in a 28-14 loss, their worst out­put in 14 years.

Jasper faulted him­self for a game plan that did not put the Mid­ship­men in po­si­tions to suc­ceed. Quar­ter­back Will Worth strug­gled in the de­feat, fail­ing to rec­og­nize some Air Force de­fenses and miss­ing some reads as a re­sult. The vet­eran of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor and quar­ter­backs coach, in his 17th sea­son at Navy, vowed im­prove­ment.

It didn’t take long for the Mids to turn things around, re­bound­ing one week later with an al­most flaw­less of­fen­sive ef­fort. Worth did a mag­nif­i­cent job of or­ches­trat­ing the triple-op­tion of­fense as Navy rolled up 382 to­tal yards to key a 46-40 up­set of then-No. 6 Hous­ton on Satur­day at Navy- Ma­rine Corps Me­mo­rial Sta­dium.

“For this unit, the big­gest thing was to build some con­fi­dence. A win like that re­ally gives you con­fi­dence,” Jasper said this week. “We played well and ex­e­cuted. Hope­fully, that per­for­mance will re­ally pro­pel us and help us get our groove go­ing.”

Hous­ton did a solid job of de­fend­ing Navy’s ground at­tack in last year’s meet­ing. De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Or­lando em­ployed a 5-1-5 align­ment to limit the Mids to 147 rush­ing yards. Or­lando played three safeties, two of whom were used in run sup­port.

Jasper had a feel­ing Hous­ton would use the same de­fen­sive strat­egy Satur­day, and

“Prac­tice is like re­hearsal, and the game is the live per­for­mance. I was happy to see that we were able to ex­e­cute all the things we had been work­ing on.” Navy of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ivin Jasper

Navy’s open­ing se­ries con­firmed as much. Dur­ing spring and sum­mer camp, the Mids had worked on wrin­kles de­signed to counter the 5-1-5 look and take ad­van­tage of the safeties’ ag­gres­sive­ness at the line of scrim­mage.

“When you put a game plan in, you in­vest in it and you be­lieve in it. So it’s al­ways nice to go out there and see it come to­gether the way you prac­ticed,” Jasper said. “Prac­tice is like re­hearsal, and the game is the live per­for­mance. I was happy to see that we were able to ex­e­cute all the things we had been work­ing on.”

Bounc­ing back from the de­ba­cle in Colorado Springs was not go­ing to be easy against Hous­ton, which had the na­tion’s top-ranked rush­ing de­fense. The Cougars came to An­napo­lis al­low­ing just 47 yards per game on the ground.

Worth led the way as the Mids amassed 306 rush­ing yards with ev­ery el­e­ment of the triple op­tion con­tribut­ing. Worth ran for 115 yards and a touch­down, while start­ing slot­backs To­neo Gul­ley and Dis­han Romine com­bined for 103 yards. Full­backs Chris High and Shawn White added 63 yards and forced the Cougars to re­spect the dive.

“To come back the very next week and find a way to move the foot­ball was re­ward­ing. It’s our job as coaches to put the play­ers in po­si­tion to be suc­cess­ful. I think the whole of­fen­sive staff did a great job of that last week,” Jasper said. “Dur­ing the game, we had great feed­back from the coaches on the side­line and up in the box. It’s def­i­nitely a team ef­fort.”

For Navy’s of­fense to op­er­ate as de­signed, the quar­ter­back must be a run­ning threat. Worth had proved he could gain tough yards between the tack­les, but he had not been much of a threat on the perime­ter.

Worth does not have the speed, quick­ness or change of di­rec­tion of pre­de­ces­sors Keenan Reynolds and Tago Smith (torn ACL), but nonethe­less must be a le­git­i­mate threat out­side. That was the case Satur­day, as Worth helped set up the quar­ter­back keeper-slot­back pitch. He made nice pitchouts on the perime­ter and also kept the ball him­self for sig­nif­i­cant gains.

“Will came out on Satur­day and played a great game. He scratched and clawed and re­ally fought,” Jasper said. “I thought Will played smart and took care of the foot­ball. He made a cou­ple nice throws when we needed them and also ran the ball hard. Put his pads down and ran through some peo­ple.”

Worth was Navy’s third-string quar­ter­back be­hind Reynolds and Smith as a sopho­more and ju­nior. Jasper was thrilled to see the se­nior re­bound from a dis­mal out­ing at Air Force by play­ing his best game of the sea­son. (The Mids’ game to­day at East Carolina was post­poned be­cause of con­cerns over ex­pected flood­ing in the area.)

“He hasn’t re­ally played foot­ball for four years while sit­ting be­hind Keenan and Tago. You root for a kid like Will. He’s been thrust into the start­ing role, and there’s go­ing to be some grow­ing pains,” Jasper said. “I think Will went out Satur­day and reaf­firmed that: ‘This is my of­fen­sive unit and I’m go­ing to do my part to help the team win.’ ”

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Worth does bring one el­e­ment to the of­fense that Reynolds and Smith did not. He pumped up his team­mates by throw­ing a fist in the air after one long run and cel­e­brat­ing after sev­eral other big plays.

“Will is dif­fer­ent. Keenan and Tago didn’t show much emo­tion. Will is a fiery kid and is very out­ward with it, and I think the other guys feed off that,” Jasper said. “I love the way the kid plays and I love the way he shows emo­tion, get­ting fired up and let­ting the whole sta­dium know when he does some­thing pos­i­tive.”

Navy took ad­van­tage of Hous­ton’s de­fen­sive game plan on its first touch­down. As was the case last sea­son, the two Cougars safeties in run sup­port fol­lowed the slot­back who went in mo­tion. That opened the other side of the field, and Jasper took ad­van­tage by call­ing for a quick pitch to the full­back. High raced 12 yards, un­touched, into the end zone.

High left the game in the first half with a hip in­jury and did not re­turn. He was re­placed by White, who en­tered the pre­sea­son as the starter but fell be­hind after miss­ing two weeks with an an­kle in­jury.

White is be­gin­ning to round into form and will con­tinue to push High for rep­e­ti­tions. The 6-foot-1, 255-pound se­nior pounded the ball up the mid­dle, forc­ing the Cougars to think twice about flow­ing lineback­ers to the out­side.

“Shawn has def­i­nitely stepped up,” Jasper said. “With Chris High go­ing down, Shawn had to carry the load for the bulk of the game and did a good job of that. He kept them hon­est. They were start­ing to run out of the box in order to push the perime­ter, and Shawn made them pay with some tough runs between the tack­les.”

Still, Jasper would like to see White lower his shoul­der and use his size more of­ten. He was stopped on a cru­cial fourth-and-inches play late in the game and also failed to score a touch­down when a de­fen­sive back stopped him.

“There were a cou­ple times on Satur­day when I wish he’d used that 255-pound frame and just run through some peo­ple,” Jasper said. “There was one de­fender left between him and the end zone, and Shawn should have run him over.”

Of­fen­sive line coach and run­ning-game co­or­di­na­tor Ash­ley In­gram made a cru­cial per­son­nel de­ci­sion be­fore the game, elect­ing to start Mau­rice Mor­ris at cen­ter. The 6-foot-2, 327-pound se­nior re­warded In­gram’s con­fi­dence by neu­tral­iz­ing Hous­ton nose tackle Ed Oliver.

Oliver, a highly touted re­cruit, had been a dis­rup­tive force this sea­son with his abil­ity to shed blocks and pen­e­trate the back­field. The quick and ath­letic 290pound fresh­man was con­trolled by Mor­ris and made most of his tack­les down­field.

“That kid was re­ally, re­ally good, and we had to find a way to get him blocked,” Jasper said of Oliver. “Coach In­gram has al­ways liked to have big-bod­ied cen­ters. They just don’t get knocked back, which al­lows you to get the play started. We’re a down­hill run­ning team and we’re try­ing to cre­ate a new line of scrim­mage. You can’t do that if you’re get­ting knocked back­wards.”

Ju­nior Parker Wade (6-2, 271) re­mains the team’s start­ing cen­ter but is more of a tech­ni­cian than a phys­i­cal force. Jasper said Mor­ris will be used against op­po­nents with more size at the tackle po­si­tion.

“It’s huge to have a kid in the mid­dle who is hold­ing the point of at­tack or get­ting some push is huge,” Jasper said. “Mo has re­ally stepped up and played pretty well lately. He had a tremen­dous game on Satur­day. Hope­fully, this will do a lot for his con­fi­dence, and he’ll keep im­prov­ing.”


Navy quar­ter­back Will Worth rolls into the end zone to score a touch­down against Hous­ton dur­ing the first half Satur­day at NavyMarine Corps Me­mo­rial Sta­dium. After gain­ing just 57 rush­ing yards Oct. 1 at Air Force, the Mid­ship­men had 306 against the Cougars.

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