OHIO STATE 31, NAVY 27

For a school so small, Navy is no stranger to big crowds and big games. Bowls, Army-Navy, and games against Notre Dame are annual events on the Navy schedule, as is the occasional contest against teams like Maryland, Stanford, and Pitt. Still, there are big crowds, and there are big crowds. Games at Ohio Stadium are most certainly the latter. Navy probably hasn’t played in front of a crowd as big as the 105,000 that showed up for Saturday’s game since the 1926 Army-Navy game, but if the Mids had felt any stage fright, they didn’t show it. Navy went toe-to-toe with #6 Ohio State on Saturday, but fell short, 31-27.

Half of me wants to feel giddy after seeing the Mids take the #6 team in the country down to the wire. Conventional wisdom said that Navy would have to play a perfect game to beat Ohio State, and maybe that’s still true. But if you were told before the game that Navy would be -2 in turnovers, would you think that they’d have a shot to tie the game with a little more than two minutes left? If you were told that Ohio State’s average starting field position for the game would be their own 42-yard line, would you think that Navy’s defense would have a chance? Ohio State made their fair share of mistakes as well– dropped passes, Jim Tressel’s Charlie Weatherbie moment, Pryor’s interception– but there was more to the closeness of the game than that. Navy belonged on that field, and they played like it.

On the other hand, the other half of me would like to remind you that it was, in fact, a loss. You might recall that Air Force took Tennessee to the brink in 2006 before falling, 31-30. You might also recall that Air Force stunk that year, finishing 4-8 and losing to both San Diego State (3-9) and UNLV (2-10). Now, I certainly don’t expect a 4-win season, but it just serves to demonstrate that there’s only so much you can take from one game. It was a long offseason, and a lot of energy was focused on preparing for this game. Now that it’s over, there’s a long season ahead. It will be very difficult to match the focus and intensity of the preparation that went into that first game.

Oh, but what a first game it was. It started out somewhat forebodingly, as what appeared to be a fairly obvous block in the back went uncalled and led to an Ohio State kickoff return all the way to the Navy 49. Navy’s defense spent spring and fall practice emphasizing the importance of getting off the field on third down, but the ensuing drive included conversions on 3rd & 8 and 3rd & 10 on the way to the game’s first touchdown. But the Mids answered with a touchdown of their own, driving 80 yards on 15 plays. It would be Navy’s only points of the half, with their remaining drives resulting in two punts and a fumble. Ohio State, on the other hand, was able to capitalize on good field position, and took a 20-7 lead into the break. The second half didn’t start out any better, as a rookie mistake from Gee Gee Greene and a dropped pitch by Marcus Curry forced the Mids to punt from the shadow of their own goal post. The Buckeyes had good field position after the punt, but self-destructed with penalties and punted themselves, again putting Navy on their own 1-yard line. This time the Mids responded, and they spent the next eight and a half minutes going 99 yards and scoring on a Ricky Dobbs pass to Marcus Curry.

Unfortunately, Navy’s next two posessions resulted in turnovers. The first was a tough fumble by Mario Washington as he was just fighting to keep posession as he went down. Ohio State was able to turn that into a touchdown and a 29-14 lead. The second turnover was an interception. The Buckeyes took posession and drove all the way to the Navy 14, and could have kicked a field goal to go up by three scores and put the game out of reach. For reasons unexplained, Jim Tressel did not elect to do so, and it cost him. After stopping Ohio State on 4th & 2, Ricky Dobbs connected with Marcus Curry, who ran past a gambling Ohio State DB and took the ball 85 yards for a touchdown. Then it was Ohio State’s turn to turn the ball over; Emmett Merchant picked off Terrelle Pryor and rambled down to the Ohio State 33. Three plays later, Ricky Dobbs trotted into the end zone, and the Mids were a two-point conversion away from tying the game. But Dobbs’ pass was intercepted and returned for two points the other way, and after a failed onside kick attempt, Ohio State ran out the clock.

If you hadn’t watched the game, maybe you’d think that Ohio State just called a vanilla game, hoping to avoid tipping their hand before their “real” opener this week against USC. That wasn’t the case. I wrote last week that I thought Tressel would keep the ball on the ground, hoping to avoid taking chances through the air in a game they should have (on paper) won easily. Boy, was I wrong. Ohio State came out throwing early and often, and with some success. Well, at least until Terrelle Pryor’s interception gave Navy a chance to tie the game, anyway. When the Buckeyes did elect to run the ball, Navy’s defense more than held their ground. It wasn’t until the second half, when they started running outside with the option, that Ohio State started to see any real success in the running game. Navy was able to put pressure on Pryor in the pash rush as well, but this is the one area where Ohio State’s physical superiority played a big factor. Usually Coach Green doesn’t like to blitz too much early in the game in order to keep from giving the offense a chance to adjust. He came after Pryor quite a bit on Saturday, though. Pryor was so friggin’ huge that he was able to shed off the blitzing linebackers and get the pass off. Without such a monster at quarterback, this might have been a much different game.

But schools like Ohio State can recruit monsters, which is how they got to be Ohio State in the first place. On to the video.

We’ll start with the number one question going into the game: the nose guard position. How would Jordan Stephens and Chase Burge do filling in for Nate Frazier? In a word, great.

You can see that the nose guards didn’t just absorb blocks; they made plays. If this is what we can expect every week, than this will be a very good defense indeed.

The nose guards weren’t the only playmakers on the defensive line:

I particularly like Nechak’s play, coming from five yards behind the line of scrimmage to tackle Terrelle Pryor from behind. While Ohio State had some holes to fill on the offensive line, they’re still Ohio State. The defensive line performed about as well as we could have hoped.

And then, of course, there was the offense. It appeared that the Ohio State game plan revolved around stopping the fullback. In doing so, they actually made it easier to run up the middle; of Navy’s 186 rushing yards, 153 came from the quarterback and the fullbacks. There are a couple of reasons for this. One thing Ohio State tried to do was bring the linebackers up to fill the A-gaps. You’d think that this would be a problem, but in reality the opposite is true. The fullback gets to the line of scrimmage so quickly in this offense that he’ll run right by the linebacker. That also means that once the fullback hits the line, he has a free path to the secondary. That’s exactly what happened on this next play; the guard actually whiffed on the block, but Alex Teich was already gone by the time the LB knew what happened:

Ohio State usually runs a 4-3 defense, but against the Mids they ran more of a 3-4 look, especially in the first half. They brought a linebacker up to the line of scrimmage on one side, and stood a defensive end in a 2-point stance on the other side. They liked to blitz them both, and it worked a couple times. The blitz on the backside caused Ricky’s fumble, for example. There is also the first play of this next video. Here, Ricky avoids the rush, but is brought down when the DT recovers from his cut block to make the play. On Navy’s first touchdown,  Ohio State did the exact same thing, only this time, the tackle missed his block. Missing that block is actually what allowed Ricky to get lose up the middle; the DT was so committed to the fullback that Ricky ran right behind him.

When Ohio State lined up more in their traditional 4-3, they had their middle linebacker jump at the fullback’s first move towards the line of scrimmage. This made the fullback trap very effective; the LB would aim for one gap, but the FB cut back and hit another gap. It also set up Ricky’s second TD run. This wasn’t a midline option; this was just the usual short yardage play where the fullback acts as the lead blocker for the QB. But the MLB committed to the fullback, and the safety was following the tail motion slotback. There was nobody left to tackle Ricky as he marched up the middle.

A couple other tidbits…

Here’s the fine line between success and failure. Ricky had a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage, but it wasn’t his fault. The tackle is supposed to cut his man to the ground to open a passing lane. Matt Molloy couldn’t do it the first time, but came through on his second try:

Kaipo was harshly criticized for throwing an interception on the same play in the 2007 Rutgers game, but it wasn’t his fault then, either.

We talked a little about how some option blocking schemes set up various pass patterns, and we could see that on Saturday. Here we have the triple option run to the weak side of the trips formation. We saw Georgia Tech run this play against Georgia with success, and it worked here too. Gary Myers blocked (angrily) the safety spying on Bobby Doyle, and the corner followed him before adjusting to make the tackle. On the very next play, Coach Jasper called play action, with Myers looking like he’s going to block the safety again, but instead continuing on his route:

It was incomplete, but it’s good to see how the gears turn.

There’s only so much you can take from one game. Nevertheless, there were a lot of good first impressions. The offensive line certainly wasn’t overwhelmed. Blake Carter and Ross Pospisil tackled very well, as did the team in general. The passing game was all that we hoped it would be; 3rd & long is no longer a death sentence. Perhaps most importantly, the defense responded after the first quarter to hold Ohio State to 3/12 on third down conversions, including 0/5 in the second half. There is a lot to build on here. And build they must. We get annoyed by the constant predictions of Navy’s demise year after year. Air Force is going to overtake Navy, they say. It’s games like this that will change that perception, but only if Navy goes on to a good season. Win, and this game becomes evidence that Navy is, in fact, a good football team. Lose, and Saturday’s effort falls into the dustbin of countless past “fluke” games in college football history.

Programming note: Believe it or not, I haven’t been to a home football game since the stadium was renovated. Bowl games, away games, spring games, and lacrosse games, yes. Home football, no. That is changing this week, as I’m headed up tomorrow. However, I don’t know what my schedule is going to be like, so don’t freak out if Louisiana Tech posts are kind of lacking this week. The world probably needs a break from my crap anyway.

Oh, and one more thing… I know I said I didn’t like the whole “don’t boo Navy” thing, but even I thought it was cool for both teams to run onto the field together.

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30 Responses

  1. All those words and videos are cool, but we really want to see a breakdrown of the “Draw them offsides play.” You know, the one with slotbacks in motion to the fullback,

  2. hahaha

  3. Glad you can take a joke.

    Anybody have a read on when the sarcasm font will be unveiled?

  4. lol

    When you get really good at the internet, you can read people’s minds!

  5. Thanks, TBD, another excellent breakdown. I thought the noseguard play looked good, and your film confirms it. In general, it just seemed we played consistently well across the board; doesn’t seem likely that was a fluke. A lot to be excited about…

  6. This, too, will be my first home football game in ages…probably since 1999 (can’t think of others since then…always went to away/bowl games)

    I need a pic of weatherbie yelling or something to add to the shop i did earlier

  7. Great analysis…as always. I wonder if the D-line is really that good or if the OSU line is half of what we thought they were. I hope it’s the former.

  8. Excellent as always, Mike. And I really loved seeing both teams take the field together.

  9. great breakdown. D-line played great. if it’s not Pryor back there, they cause even more havoc.
    One question – was the 2 pt conversion the exact same play out of the exact same formation as the ND conversion (or just very similar)? I thought the toss to Reggie he came out of the backfield, versus being in motion – but i can’t remember.

  10. Noseguards played like Nate Bullard.

  11. And that’s the last time that beaten down horse carcass shall be referenced on this blog! A bushel of thumbs down for you, sir.

  12. D line played great. Can’t understand though why we get beat underneath rather easily. Overall, things look good.

  13. OK, I’m quoting Lou Holtz from now on.

  14. One minor correction – Navy played at Michigan in 1981 in front of 105,213 (link here). Almost pulled a shocker in that one too (lost 21-16).

  15. Naturally I talked about that Michigan game in my last post but totally brain farted when I wrote this one. doh

  16. Mike,
    I think you will like the “new” stadium. FYI The Wild Rovers are playing for the 85 tailgater in the back corner starting at 12 (where the quonset huts used to be). They put on a great show and it will get you charged up for the game. Welcome home!

  17. Mike, it looks like someone has stolen your Haiku idea:

    http://www.buckeyecommentary.com/09/buckeye-haiku-navy/

  18. Mike: Aussome review. Love reading your annalysis. My only fear is that the opposition gains too much insight also.

  19. Mike, Could it be possible to get inside Ken’s or PJ’s decision loop. Like if PJ was facing PJ, could he be good enough to show him one defensive tactic on a set of downs, know what the counter of the offense will be and adjust his defense to meet it for the next set of downs?

  20. Rob,
    That question is the football equivalent of “how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

  21. Sure Salty. It is the opposite extreme of running the exact same defensive play every down. Every team plays somewhere between those two. I’m wondering how close a coach could get to that extreme. Imagine a Navy-Georgia Tech game.

  22. Hey Mike, you got dinner plans for after the game or sunday yet. Let me know.

  23. Nice job as usual Mike. I commented two or three times on the gomids game thread about Chase Burge. That kid is strong! He did a super job at the point of attack. I think every Navy fan feel better about NG against the rush now. Props to CB Kevin Edwards also who I gave a hard time to on game threads in 2007. I thought he did a good job.
    The line’s pass blocking was solid which bodes well with Ricky’s ability to throw.

  24. It was encouraging to see excellent play at NG. I was a bit concerned when Frazier dropped out of the picture so near to the season opener – he was a real animal and occupied at least a couple of linemen every play. I feel much better now. I also am happy to have legit passing threat. The message is that if the opposing safeties cheat (as they often do) Dobbs is going to burn them. That in effect elevates our offense from triple option to quadruple option. You don’t even need to complete that many passes – just demand the respect that goes with the other team knowing you can pass. A loss is still a loss, but I am very proud of the team’s initial performance.

  25. Living in Illinois, I don’t get to see Navy football very often. I enjoyed watching this competitive game on ESPN Saturday.

  26. Man-I didn’t get to see most of the game, but the D came up BIG! They were fighting bad field position all day, but it was 11 hats to the ball from the videos you showed Mike.

    Enjoy the Tech game-got to the renovated stadium for my 10 year-it is SWEET!

  27. Although this was a huge crowd in Ohio, Navy routinely played Army before crowds of 100,000 plus in Philadelphia in the old Municipal Stadium, which later became JFK stadium. I was there in the 60’s at 4 games. You have a great analysis of the game………probably very similar to the coaches evaluation. Thanks.

  28. I forgot to mention Navy beating Michigan 26-13 in 1963 before a crowd of 100,000 plus.

  29. Great analysis, Mike. The game is still won and lost at the line of scrimmage. Considering the D-line is often 3 on 5, they did a tremendous job. Granted, Coach Green did more blitzing and stunting than usual.

  30. Mike,

    I DVR’ed the game and have watched it twice. Unbelievable. Congrats to Navy for playing their guts out and doing what no one said they could do.

    Coach Johnson after the GT game Saturday spent a good portion of his press conference comparing the players he had at Southern and Navy to what he has now. He commented how GT lacked the fire and will to win that Navy seems to have every game. I really think he misses that and is doing everything he can to bring that to GT.

    That is what stood out most of all to me. The fight, heart, and toughness of the Navy players is just awe inspiring.

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