For Mids, best de­fense is their slow, me­thod­i­cal ground game

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Bill Wag­ner

In a con­fer­ence filled with high-pow­ered pass­ing of­fenses, Navy is an out­lier.

Most Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence games are track meets be­tween schools that use spread attacks.

Tulsa’s 43-40 vic­tory over South­ern Methodist was a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of an AAC matchup. The Golden Hur­ri­cane and Mus­tangs com­bined for 33 pos­ses­sions and 190 plays. That is what hap­pens when two teams with sim­i­lar of­fen­sive styles go up and down the field at break­neck speed, ei­ther scor­ing quickly or turn­ing the ball over even faster.

Navy brings a dif­fer­ent mind­set to the field. The Mid­ship­men op­er­ate a tripleop­tion of­fense that is de­signed to gain yardage in short in­cre­ments and take time off the clock.

That makes the Mids an anom­aly in the

AAC and a thorn in the side of the spread pass­ing schools. Navy tends to dom­i­nate pos­ses­sion, us­ing its ground-ori­ented of­fense to keep strong-armed quar­ter­backs and speedy re­ceivers on the side­line.

“That’s al­ways been our call­ing card. We try to limit pos­ses­sions,” Navy coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said af­ter the Mids held the ball for al­most 40 min­utes against Mem­phis. “All these up-tempo teams are used to get­ting a lot of pos­ses­sions, are used to other team’s go­ing fast. We want to be me­thod­i­cal and eat the clock.”

Be­ing dif­fer­ent from its league mem­bers has proved ben­e­fi­cial for Navy, which can clinch the West Divi­sion crown to­day at East Carolina. The Mids have a 12-2 con­fer­ence record since join­ing the AAC in 2015, and op­pos­ing coaches rou­tinely cite the unique­ness of the triple op­tion as a key to Navy’s suc­cess.

“They ex­e­cute their of­fense as well as any­body in this coun­try,” Tulsa coach Philip Mont­gomery said. “I think they’re max­i­miz­ing their pos­ses­sions. They very rarely give up a pos­ses­sion. They put so much stress on you to score ev­ery time.”

A clas­sic ex­am­ple of the Navy game plan came in its 28-27 vic­tory over Notre Dame on Nov. 5. The Fighting Ir­ish only got six pos­ses­sions the en­tire game, and set­tling for field goals on two of those proved de­ci­sive.

Navy’s abil­ity to shorten games has been a huge as­sist to its de­fense, which has strug­gled to slow pass­ing attacks in the AAC. De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dale Pehrson Quar­ter­back Will Worth said the Mid­ship­men rel­ish play­ing keep-away and know it frus­trates the op­po­si­tion. knows his unit needs only to force a cou­ple of punts or a few field goals for the Mids to gain sep­a­ra­tion.

Last week’s 42-40 de­feat of Tulsa was a per­fect ex­am­ple. The Golden Hur­ri­cane punted just once, but set­tled for a pair of field goals and turned the ball over once. Navy’s de­fense man­aged only two stops all day, but did just enough for the home team to pull out the win.

Of course, a key to that strat­egy in­volves Navy hold­ing serve, and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ivin Jasper has made sure that usu­ally hap­pens. Last Saturday, the Mids scored touch­downs on six of 10 pos­ses­sions — punt­ing once, turn­ing the ball over on downs and hold­ing the ball at the end of the first and sec­ond halves.

“I’ve said it many times be­fore: Our best de­fense is our of­fense. Ivin does a tremen­dous job of con­trol­ling the ball and scor­ing,” Pehrson said. “If some of these teams we’ve played had three or four more pos­ses­sions, who knows what would have hap­pened. It makes a tremen­dous dif­fer­ence. The more pos­ses­sions the op­po­si­tion gets, the more points they’re go­ing to put up.”

For East Carolina, which has been be­set by turnover prob­lems, Navy’s ball-hog­ging strat­egy is a con­cern. The Pi­rates rank 116th in the Foot­ball Bowl Sub­di­vi­sion with 22 turnovers lost and are 125th in turnover mar­gin at mi­nus-1.4.

“We know that each pos­ses­sion will be very, very im­por­tant. You can’t lose a pos­ses­sion, can’t have turnovers. Any­time you can cre­ate an ex­tra pos­ses­sion with a turnover or a stop is huge,” Mont­gomery said.

Navy holds an av­er­age time-of-pos­ses­sion ad­van­tage of al­most six min­utes this sea­son. Quar­ter­back Will Worth said the Mids rel­ish play­ing keep-away and know it frus­trates the op­po­si­tion.

“I think it throws de­fenses, and en­tire teams, off pace a lit­tle bit. To be able to con­trol the clock and keep the ball out of the other team’s hands is huge,” Worth said. “They can’t score as much as they want to if we don’t give them the ball back. It also gets them out of their rhythm. They’re not used to stand­ing on the side­line for so long. De­fenses are on the field longer, too. So we have that work­ing for us as well.”


Navy’s To­neo Gul­ley runs for a gain be­fore be­ing tack­led by Tulsa’s Jor­dan Mitchell, left, and Jerry Uwaezuoke. “We want to be me­thod­i­cal and eat the clock,” coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said.


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