Midshipmen fix option attack, and just in time
Loss to Air Force leads to offensive turnaround, upset
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.