Mids stay in attack mode
Defense will try to rebound after giving up 32 points, 439 yards against Cincinnati
Navy is not backing off. That was the message delivered by defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson and standout inside linebacker Micah Thomas this week in the wake of a disappointing performance against Cincinnati.
Navy’s new aggressive approach on defense proved quite effective against Florida Atlantic and Tulane, which were limited to 326 and 262 total yards, respectively. Both the Owls and Green Wave were held to just two offensive touchdowns.
However, t he Midshipmen reverted to their 2016 form versus the Bearcats, allowing 32 points and 439 yards of offense.
It is no secret to opponents that Navy has changed its defensive philosophy, switching from zone pass coverage to man-to-man. Head coach Ken Niumatalolo wanted to create a more attacking unit that pressured the quarterback and forced quick decisions.
“They’ve changed some things up defensively this year and are giving some different looks,” noted Tulsa coach Phil Montgomery.
Navy’s ability to rush more defenders combined with Pehrson’s penchant for blitzes from different angles worked well in the first couple games. Cincinnati offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock solved that scheme last Saturday with quarterback Hayden Moore completing 28 of 46 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns.
Unable to get pressure on Moore and being beaten in press coverage, the Midshipmen backed off a bit in the second half — playing a more loose style of man-to-man pass coverage. Niumatalolo said that was a normal response on a day the pass rush just wasn’t working.
“You always look at things you have to adjust. You can’t be bullheaded. We have to look at everything and see what we can do better,” he said. “We still want to be aggressive. It doesn’t mean we’re not going NAVY @TULSA Today, 3:30 p.m. TV: ESPNU RADIO: 1090 AM; 1430 AM LINE: Navy by 8 Navy linebacker Micah Thomas chases Cincinnati's Kahill Lewis as he drives to the end zone for a 31-yard reception on a slant pass during Saturday’s game. to adjust during the game.”
That does not mean Navy is backing away from its determination to be more aggressive. Asked if Cincinnati’s offensive output gave him pause, Pehrson shook his head.
“No not at all. We just have to keep better at what we’re doing,” he said. “We probably have to mix it up a little more. It’s always a growing process. You always have to change and adjust.”
Cincinnati scored its first touchdown off a jailbreak screen with speedy wideout Devin Gray breaking out of a bunch set and racing 46 yards. Navy defenders were a bit slow to react and took bad angles.
Later, JJ Pinckney got behind the secondary and hauled in a 46-yard pass that set up a score.
“We had a missed tackle on the screen and the long ball was just bad coverage,” Pehrson said. “We had some coverage mixups and some missed tackles. We just have to clean that stuff up. You can’t make those type of mistakes.”
Cincinnati succeeded in isolating its best receiver, Khalil Lewis, in the slot against Navy linebackers. Lewis beat Thomas, a 241-pound inside backer, on an inside slant for a 31-yard completion. He later got past outside linebacker Jerry Thompson, who is actually a converted safety, but has bulked up to almost 200 pounds.
“Definitely, if you’re going to play man you have to be able to adjust those kinds of things,” Pehrson said of having bigger, slower defenders covering smaller, faster receivers one-on-one. “For the most part, Micah has covered everybody pretty well. Yes, you definitely need to watch out for mismatches.”
Cincinnati went three-and-out on its opening two possessions, helping Navy jump out to a 14-0 lead. Thomas thinks the defense might have gotten a bit complacent after the successful start.
“Wecameout strong then didn’t keep our foot on the throat. We reverted back to some of the stuff we did last year,” he said. “We didn’t do well all around last week. We have to improve. We had a good week of practice and we’re going to get after it on Saturday.”