Mids stay in at­tack mode

De­fense will try to re­bound af­ter giv­ing up 32 points, 439 yards against Cincin­nati

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner bwag­ner@capgaznews.com twit­ter.com/BWag­n­er_CapGaz

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.”

MATTHEW COLE/CAP­I­TAL GAZETTE

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