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