Preparing For the Triple Option

GREENVILLE, N.C. — With a disconcerting past and an upcoming matchup, ECU reflects and looks ahead to battles with Navy.

There’s just something about Navy’s triple-option offense that has given East Carolina defensive fits in recent history.

Back in 2010, in coach Ruffin McNeill’s first season at ECU, Navy put up a whopping 76 points on its way to trouncing the Pirates in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

Two years later, the Midshipmen ran their rarely used, run-orientated offense to near perfection again, rushing for 512 yards — averaging 7.4 yards per carry — and routing the Pirates, 56-28 in a rainy, game in 2012.

Including the Pirates’ 38-35 victory over Navy in 2011, the Midshipmen have amassed 1,317 rushing yards and outscored ECU 197-101 in the past three meetings between the two schools.

Now, after a three-year hiatus, the two teams will meet on Sept. 19 in Annapolis, Md., as Navy begins its membership in the American Athletic Conference as a football-exclusive member.

Montese Overton, a senior outside linebacker, was a freshman the last time the teams met, and though he didn’t see any playing time in the 2012 game, he remembers Navy and its potent offense.

“Wow, it was crazy,” Overton said, simply.

Formerly a staple in collegiate football as late as the 1960s, the triple-option, which utilizes a run-first quarterback and an array of running backs, has since died down — particularly in the FBS.

While a number of FCS, Division II, III, and high school teams continue to use the offense, Army, Navy, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech are a few examples of the dwindling amount of FBS teams that still utilize the intricate offense today. But as the number of teams implementing the offense continues to decrease, teams have become less and less accustomed to dealing with the challenges that it presents.

“When you play Navy you have to be really assignment sound every play and every drive,” Overton explained. “You can’t take your eyes off of the quarterback or running back. It’s routine, you have to do it every play. Not a lot of teams run that offense so when you play Navy you have to be assignment sound.”

Current defensive coordinator Rick Smith wasn’t a part of any of the three ECU teams that last played Navy. In fact, it’s been nine years since he has last seen the Midshipmen.

During his first stint on the ECU staff in 2006, the Pirates opened the season against Navy. Although Smith’s defense held the Midshipmen to just 28 points, it allowed 403 rushing yards. The 67-year old defensive coordinator is well versed in the challenges of defending the triple-option.

“It’s just that you don’t see but once a year,” Smith said. “We’ve spent three days working on Navy … We’ve looked at four games, we’ve broken them down and we will spend Sundays on Navy in the early part of the season.

“We’ll spend probably at least a period a day on Navy throughout.”

Overton echoed the words of his coach too. Having been up close and personal with Navy’s triple-option, he understands the necessity of becoming comfortable with such a dated offense.

“We like to practice for Navy after spring at least four or five days just to get a routine up, so the when season starts, we have a feel for their plays or the ability to adjust our plays to it,” said Overton. “That’s what we do every year. We make sure we practice a little bit before the season so everybody gets comfortable for how they play their offense.”

It’s one thing to prepare for the triple-option, but it’s entirely different to stop it in the game. When Sept. 19 rolls around, the Pirates will hope to play to perfection, otherwise it could be another blowout.

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