There’s a small class of American Conference bloggers out there, but Michael James is one of the best. Previously at his independent TheBirdDogBlog.com and now at TheMidReport.com, he might be the smartest guy on the unusual quirks of how a service academy has to succeed at football in both recruiting, institutional commitment... and that offense.
You can find a ton of posts from Michael on triple-option football, but here’s a couple that give great explanations of parts of it: One on the numbering system (Nigel Harris, if the QB calls #3, that’s probably you), and one on the “midline” read (Deadrin Senat, that’s you who they’re gonna leave unblocked). That midline should look familiar to USF fans, as the Bulls use that principle via Flowers & Mack without the cut-blocking or other guys leading through the hole.
Michael was kind enough to answer some questions for us about the 5-1 & first place Middies in a game that might be for the right to host the American Conference Championship Game.
The USF rush defense is in the triple digits across the 128 FBS nationally by most measures. What's stopping Navy from rushing for 400 yards on Friday?
Struggling against the run doesn't necessarily mean that you'll struggle against the option. It doesn't help, obviously, and I'm sure there are things that Navy's coaches have seen on film that they'll want to exploit. For the most part, though, it just comes down to the game plan. If you find a stunt or two that the Mids aren't prepared for, then you might be able to make plays to kill a couple of drives. With their offense, that might be all that USF needs.
Were you surprised at how well Will Worth has stepped in and produced at QB?
No. It wasn't because of some brilliant foresight on my part, either. The coaches have been telling anyone who would listen for the last two years that they felt comfortable with Worth running the offense. I just believed them. He's a senior that's been learning from Ivin Jasper for four years. He won the Admiral Mack Award, which Navy gives to the player that shows the most improvement through spring practice. The signs were there.
USF has playmakers all over the field at the skill positions with speed to spare. What's the best way to attack the Navy defense?
The best way is probably through the air, although that isn't necessarily USF's strength. Quinton Flowers did have one of his best passing games of 2015 against Navy, though. (Ed: and Steven Bench said on our podcast this week Q was basically on one leg for that game). If the Navy secondary is forced to step up in run support to contain Flowers and Marlon Mack on the ground, then I'm sure that USF will take their shots downfield.
Navy has looked very solid in Annapolis, but has struggled on the road (squeaker at Tulane, 2 TD loss at Air Force). Are they a different team on the road or is this coincidence?
It's a coincidence. Tulane has a very good defense, and Navy struggled with them in Annapolis last year, too. Navy and Air Force play pretty much the same game every year, with the winner being the team that connects on more big plays. This year, it was the Falcons.
That said, Navy is taking a 900-mile road trip on a short week. You can't say that it won't have any effect.
What are the most common ways, and the most effective ways you've seen, for teams to defend this particular Navy triple option? Bear fronts? Scrape? A-gap fire? Safety-corner blitzers?
The most effective way to stop Navy is to have better players. It sounds like sort of a flippant answer, but it's true. Paul Johnson has a saying, that "physical superiority cancels all theory." In other words, if you're getting your butt kicked up front, there's no adjustment you can make to fix it. Fortunately for Navy, as recruiting has improved, it's become less common to see those kinds of games.
Other than that, it just depends. There are teams that have had success by completely selling out against the option and daring Navy to pass. Other teams, though, get burned attempting the same thing. The best way to defend Navy is probably to mix up the option reads that you give the quarterback. One wrong read on third down can kill a drive, which is all you need. In other words, don't try to find a weakness in the scheme. See if you can find a weakness in the players.
That first-option B-back dive (sometimes with midline) scares us, but the A-back pitch in space to the wide side just terrifies us. Teams have smoked USF off-tackle. Which option has been the most effective for your offense this season?
They've all had their moments. It just depends on what the defense decides to take away on a given play. With Worth at quarterback, Navy's offense has taken on an identity that matches his strengths. He's a former linebacker, and he brings that kind of an attitude to his game. He seeks out contact, and as a result, Navy has been much more of a power running team this season. One of their favorite plays isn't even been an option play at all; it's been a simple QB sweep with the fullback as a lead blocker. It gives Worth a chance to run through some arm tackles and lower his shoulder for an extra yard or two.
Ed: Well it’s not like USF has been arm-tackling people all season OH GOD SO TERRIFIED.