No real option when it comes to stopping ‘O’
Midshipmen’s attack always a huge problem for East Carolina
No opponent has struggled to stop Navy’s triple-option offense more than East Carolina.
The Midshipmen have run roughshod over the Pirates, piling up yards and points at an astounding rate en route to winning six of seven meetings.
By far the most eye-popping performance came in 2010, when quarterback Ricky Dobbs directed a 76-35 destruction of East Carolina at DowdyFicklen Stadium.
It was a single-game school record for points by the Midshipmen, who amassed 596 yards of total offense.
Fullback Alexander Teich rushed for 157 yards and Dobbs added 100 as Navy scored on 12 of 14 possessions. Backup quarterback Kriss Proctor and
backup fullback Vince Murray came on to score four touchdowns for the Mids, who finished with 521 rushing yards.
That was first of many blowouts by Navy in the
lopsided series, which resumes Saturday in Greenville.
In 2012, Navy returned to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and routed East Carolina. This time, record-setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds rushed for three touchdowns and threw for two moreas the Midshipmen sank the Pirates 56-28.
Slotback Gee Gee Greene rushed for 131 yards and Reynolds added 81for Navy, which scored on nine of 10 possessions. The Midshipmen rolled up 563 total yards, 512 of which came on the ground.
Navy and East Carolina met for the first time as members of the American Athletic Conference in 2015. Reynolds ran for 142 yards and five touchdowns as the Mids rolled 45-21. Fullback Chris Swain (123 yards and a touchdown) also had a big day as the triple option produced 415 rushing yards.
The Midshipmen were rude guests once again in 2017, the last time they traveled to Greenville. Quarterback Will Worth and fullback Shawn White combined for 309 rushing yards and seven touchdowns to lead a 66-31 destruction. Final offensive numbers for the Midshipmen that day were 593 total yards and 480 rushing yards.
For those keeping score at home, Navy has averaged 66 points on the strength of 584 yards of total offense in its last three visits to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Mike Houston became the fourth East
Carolina coach to get beaten badly by Navy since the series started in 2006. Last season, the Midshipmen amassed 468 total yards in a 42-10 pounding.
An inability to stop quarterback Malcolm Perry and Co. was particularly bothersome to Houston, who has an extensive background in triple-option football. Houston employed the offense during stints as coach at Lenoir-Rhyne and The Citadel.
However, Bob Trott served as defensive coordinator at East Carolina in 2019 and he was far less familiar with the tricky attack.
Houston decided to change defensive coordinators, and the hiring of Blake Harrell to replace Trott came with Navy in mind. Harrell served as Houston’s defensive coordinator for three seasons at The Citadel and was also on his staff at Lenoir-Rhyne.
“We’ve been preparing for this game as a staff since Coach Harrell was hired,” Houston said this week. “Certainly, a background and philosophy against the triple option was a big part of the process of the hiring of our new defensive coordinator. I respect Blake’s knowledge as it relates to defending the triple.”
Houston noted that two other defensive assistants — Roy Tesh and Tripp Weaver — also have extensive experience going against option offenses.
“We have more people in the room that have experience versus this style of offense and that’s proven valuable already,” he said.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo believes East Carolina will do a much better job defending because of the revamped coaching staff.
“I think Harrell is a really good defensive coordinator and he’s going to have a good plan,” Niumatalolo said this week. “Coach Houston has seen the option a ton. There’s no doubt those two guys will have their team ready. They know option football.”
Harrell served as defensive coordinator at Kennesaw State, which employs a tripleoption system similar to Navy’s. That’s because coach Brian Bohannon is another Paul Johnson disciple, having been his assistant at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech.
“Any time you get a chance to see a certain offense every day in practice, it helps you be familiar with how they’re trying to attack you,” Harrell said. “It’s all about understanding what they do and why they do it.”
Harrell was hired at Kennesaw State to replace Brian Newberry, who left to become defensive coordinator at Navy. Those two had a relationship after meeting at clinics and Newberry recommended Harrell.
“Coach Newberry is a great football coach, a great friend and an even better man,” Harrell said. “He’s been a great sounding board over the years, one of those guys you like to talk ball with. Coach Newberry was instrumental in helping me get the opportunity at Kennesaw State.”
Mychal Cooper and the Navy offense left East Carolina defenders grasping at air last season.