Defending Navy's Triple Option No Easy Task

Defending the triple option presents a number of challenges, none of which have been lost on the Indiana coaching staff or its players. Kevin Wilson maintains that Navy is the toughest opponent to prepare for all season.

Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. Poll Indiana fans which opponent they think is most difficult to prepare for, and those three would probably come up more times than not.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson doesn't see it that way. In fact it's a service academy that causes him the most worry.

Since beating Indiana State on Thursday, Indiana has had to put its regular defensive scheme on hold in order to prepare for Navy's unique triple-option offense. The Hoosiers will get a chance to see just how ready they are when they play host to the Midshipmen at 6 p.m. Saturday.

"Defensively the more you think the harder it is," Wilson said. "That's why again, when I got here, in my opinion I think this is the most difficult team we play. And the reason being everything we do this week defensively you throw it away and don't do it again because you want to keep building."

Wilson said that since fall camp, the Hoosiers have practiced against the option at least once or twice every week to keep it fresh in his players' minds. Prior to the season they used Tre Roberson and Kofi Hughes as the quarterback to simulate Navy's uber-athletic QB, Keenan Reynolds.

Now that the season has started, that responsibility falls on the scout team. Wilson said that is difficult because the team uses a running player that can't throw, so when they put an actual quarterback in, the defense knows a pass is coming.

But the main challenge of playing against an option team, Wilson said, is that it presents a different style of play. Wilson said that Indiana had 18 possessions entering the fourth quarter of Thursday's game vs. ISU. Against Navy last season, Indiana had 10 possessions for the entire game.

" If you get more than 12 either they're scoring fast or you're playing good D and they've turned it over," Wilson said. "It's a short game, and what that does is that minimizes your opportunities so your errors are more exposed and more critical. Because it's like at-bats: you're not going to get as many swings so you've got to be pretty productive in what you're doing."

Senior safety Greg Heban said one specific technique he and the rest of the defensive unit will have to prepare for is the chop block, which is when a player blocks by taking a defender's legs out from under him. Navy uses this form of blocking frequently, which came as a surprise to Heban in last season's 31-30 loss to the Midshipmen.

"I was on the bad end of that one," he said. "So it's something the safeties and linebackers are working on a lot is defending the chop block because if you're setting on the edge and you get chopped, that edge is gone and they're going to get outside of you."

Heban said the best way to counter a chop block is by keeping one's feet moving while using the hands to press away the helmet and shoulder pads as a blocker starts to lower his head.

The most important attributes for stopping the option, however, remain the same. Defenders have to make the right reads, stay gap-sound and not bite on fakes.

"That's probably the number one thing is discipline," co-defensive coordinator William Inge said. "You have to work at 98-100 percent when it comes to you being able to be disciplined and having everyone on the defense in their particular area with respect to that play. We talk about us being able to remain consistent once the ball is snapped, you being able to stay aggressive as you attack your particular area or your player and then you making sure when you're at the point of attack that you just do your job."

Inge also warned of Navy's ability to lull defenses to sleep with run after run before catching a defense napping on a deep play-action pass as Indiana will have to keep an eye on Reynolds' arm, too. He threw for 898 yards with nine touchdowns and two picks in addition to 649 yards and 10 TDs on the ground last season.

And as Inge and Heban both talked about, Navy only needs to gain three yards per play to stay on schedule. The Midshipmen almost always go for it on fourth down, so playing good defense on first and second down will be critical to slowing down the triple option.

"Getting them into third downs that maybe are a little less manageable — and they do a great job of making third downs manageable because for them third down and six is nothing because they know they can get third down and six to fourth down and three-to-two. And they go for it. That's just the nature of defending the option," Inge said.

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