New align­ment used to counter spread at­tacks

The Capital - - SPORTS ON TV - By Bill Wag­ner bwag­ twit­­n­er_CapGaz

OR­LANDO – Navy made a sig­nif­i­cant change on de­fense, coming out in a nickel pack­age with Juan Hai­ley as the ex­tra de­fen­sive back.

Head coach Ken Ni­u­mat­alolo said the Navy staff has been study­ing what teams around the coun­try have been do­ing to coun­ter­act the pro­lif­er­a­tion of spread of­fenses and the con­sen­sus was that a 3-3-5 align­ment was the most ef­fec­tive weapon.

Ni­u­mat­alolo said the idea of play­ing five de­fen­sive backs is to com­bat the run-pass op­tion plays.

“We’re try­ing any­thing,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said with a wry chuckle. “A lot of peo­ple are play­ing a 3-3 stack against spread of­fenses. It takes away some of the RPO win­dows.”

Nizaire Cro­mar­tie, who has been play­ing the out­side line­backer po­si­tion known as “raider” this en­tire sea­son, started at left de­fen­sive end in place of An­thony Vil­lalo­bos on Satur­day.

“We wanted to get some­body in the mid­dle to take away some of their RPO stuff,” Navy de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Dale Pehrson said. “We felt we could get three of our bet­ter play­ers on the field at once. That was the main rea­son.”

In­side line­backer Tyler He­flin liked the new align­ment be­cause it re­lieved him and run­ning mate Hud­son Sul­li­van from any type of pass cov­er­age re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“I think it was a re­ally good changeup for us. It al­lowed the in­side back­ers to just run around and be fast,” said He­flin, who led Navy with a ca­reer-high 14 tack­les. “I think last week against Cincin­nati we put a lot of stuff in and were kind of think­ing too much on ev­ery play.”

Un­for­tu­nately for Navy, the de­fen­sive game­plan took a big hit late in the first quar­ter when stand­out safety Sean Wil­liams got hurt. Wil­liams sus­tained some sort of up­per body in­jury while tack­ling tail­back Adrian Killins and did not re­turn.

“You put in a de­fense think­ing this will be a great de­fense for Sean and he gets hurt. It’s kind of been the na­ture of this year,” Ni­u­mat­alolo lamented. “It’s a new de­fense and that guy was huge in that scheme — like the most im­por­tant guy. He was go­ing to be a guy that was in­volved with the run and the pass.”

Se­nior Brady Peter­son and fresh­man Mitchell West teamed up to re­place Wil­liams at safety. Pehrson agreed the loss of Wil­liams re­ally hurt.

“He was a big part of it. He’s the rea­son why we went to it,” Pehrson said of Wil­liams. “I haven’t seen the tape, so I don’t know how the other guys did in there. I think West tried to fly around. I’m sure the game was fast for him. Le­high was the last time he’s played. I’ll just have to look at it and see kind of where we’re at now.”

Navy’s 3-3-5 look played to mixed re­sults. One pos­i­tive is that the down­field cov­er­age was de­cent enough at times that Cen­tral Florida quar­ter­back McKenzie Mil­ton could not find an open re­ceiver. On the down side, Mil­ton was able to scram­ble for big gains be­cause the Mid­ship­men were only rush­ing three de­fend­ers most of the time.

“When you’re only rush­ing three and have a lot of guys drop­ping back it gives him space to run,” ad­mit­ted He­flin, who re­vealed that as the game wore on Navy had a de­fender “spy­ing” Mil­ton.

Navy re­cruited Mil­ton very hard and he took an of­fi­cial visit to An­napo­lis be­fore ul­ti­mately choos­ing Cen­tral Florida. Ni­u­mat­alolo said his fel­low Hawai­ian would have made a su­perb triple-op­tion quar­ter­back be­cause he is such a dy­namic run­ner.

“We had a cou­ple guys chas­ing him, but he out­ran them. In the sec­ond half, we at least had a lit­tle bit of an an­gle and ran him out of bounds,” Pehrson said of Mil­ton’s speed and ath­leti­cism. “In the sec­ond half, we just put our line­backer on him. We just mir­rored him, and when he took off we tried to chase him out of bounds.”

Cen­tral Florida fin­ished with al­most 500 yards so it’s hard to say the 3-3-5 was ef­fec­tive. Ni­u­mat­alolo said the coach­ing staff will break down the film be­fore de­cid­ing whether to em­ploy that scheme again.

“We’ll take a look at it and see how this goes. There was some good and some bad,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said.

Navy once again could not get a stop when it re­ally needed one. Cen­tral Florida went 9-for-13 on third or fourth down con­ver­sions, con­tin­u­ing a neg­a­tive trend for the Navy de­fense. Pehrson be­lieves the 3-3-5 look holds prom­ise and may merely need to be tweaked a bit.

“We’ve got to take some men­tal thought off of it,” he said. “I think we can help them out by not hurt­ing them with a bunch of calls. Try to keep it sim­ple and let them go play. That was our in­tent this week.”

Hai­ley per­formed well in the ex­panded role and fin­ished with 10 tack­les, seven of which were solo. Sul­li­van and safety Ja­cob Springer also recorded 10 tack­les.

“To play that de­fense you have to tackle re­ally well in the se­condary and those guys were hard to tackle,” Ni­u­mat­alolo said of the UCF skill play­ers.

In ad­di­tion to Wil­liams, start­ing out­side line­backer Evan Focht­man and start­ing right end Jarvis Polu also left the game with in­juries.

Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ivin Jasper gave start­ing quar­ter­back Zach Abey mixed re­views for his per­for­mance on Satur­day.

Abey strug­gled in the first half and put the ball on the ground twice, but played much bet­ter in the sec­ond half and wound up lead­ing Navy in rush­ing with 85 yards and two touch­downs.

“I think Zach did a good job of op­er­at­ing the of­fense,” Jasper said. “We were able to string to­gether some nice gains and con­verted when we needed on third down.”

Ni­u­mat­alolo did not an­swer di­rectly when asked if Abey had so­lid­i­fied the start­ing job with what he did on Satur­day. Ni­u­mat­alolo noted that Gar­ret Lewis, who started against Tem­ple, Hous­ton and Cincin­nati, suf­fered a dis­lo­cated fin­ger dur­ing pre-game warm-ups.

Tail­back Greg McCrae led UCF in rush­ing with 101 yards and a touch­down. The Mi­ami na­tive ini­tially com­mit­ted to Navy and spent one year at the prep school… The Mid­ship­men have now lost 11 con­sec­u­tive con­tests away from Navy-Marine Corps Me­mo­rial Sta­dium… Navy did not of­fi­cially com­plete a pass on Satur­day. Abey did con­nect with Ryan Mitchell for a nice gain, but the Mids wound up ac­cept­ing a de­fen­sive hold­ing penalty and the com­ple­tion was negated. Abey fin­ished 0-for-2 pass­ing, the first time this sea­son the team did not have a sin­gle com­ple­tion.



Cen­tral Florida run­ning back Greg McCrae (30) rushes for yardage in front of Navy line­backer Elan Nash (8), safety Ja­cob Springer (1), safety Juan Hai­ley (13) and line­backer Nizaire Cro­mar­tie (56) dur­ing the first half.

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