What's Wrong with the Offense?

It's the question on everyone's mind following Navy's 21-20 loss to Rutgers. The team's red zone production – or lack there of – has plagued the Mids in four straight defeats, and left fans scratching their heads as to why the triple option hasn't clicked on the proverbial "all cylinders." Was last Saturday an aberration, or a sign of a greater problem?

It's the question I posed to quarterback Kriss Proctor and slotback Mike Stukel when I spoke with them on Monday after practice. Navy managed just 305 total yards of total offense and 162 yards of rushing offense on Saturday, both season lows for the team. More pressing for the Mids, however, has been the team's recent struggles in the redzone. Touchdowns have been tough to come by during the four game losing streak, and the team has failed to convert red zone possessions to points six times in the last three games.

When I spoke to Proctor and Stukel, I asked them about these problems, and what specifically was to blame. To the first issue – the lack of offensive production against Rutgers – Stukel gave credit to the Scarlet Knights, and remarked how their success in defending the option comes from a yearly commitment in preparing for it.

"You've got to give credit to Rutgers," said Stukel, who had three carries for 20 yards against the Scarlet Knights. "Other than the service academies they've probably spent more time in spring or fall camp in defending the option. They've got a great scheme and their players are really disciplined."

Rutgers has traditionally defended the option well under head coach Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights held Navy to a season-low 263 rushing yards in 2007, and stonewalled the Navy offense in 34-0 shutout that spoiled Navy's homecoming in 2006. In that game, Navy managed just 161 yards of total offense.

"Other teams come out there and just ‘ball' when they play the option, but they're definitely dialed into what we do," Stukel added.

Proctor also indicated Rutgers' defense (ranked 19th nationally in total defense) caused problems for the Navy offense, and acknowledged making several missed reads. One of those reads came on a key fourth down from the Rutgers 1-yard line. Proctor, who was stopped for a loss of two yards on the play, said he made the incorrect read of the defender. Nevertheless, the senior quarterback refused to make excuses for himself, and said he should have accounted for Scarlet Knights linebacker Steve Beauharnais.

"I checked the play and it involved reading somebody," Proctor said. "He just came and blew it up. It was a nice play -- and hats off to him -- but it's just another thing we need to clean up."

Navy's struggles in the red zone are perhaps more alarming for fans because of the frequency they've occurred over the past three weeks. After failing to come up with points in their first two possessions of the 63-35 loss to Southern Miss, Navy's offense continued to struggle in the red zone this past Saturday, going just 2-4 in red zone scoring chances against the Scarlet Knights, and going 0-4 in converting red zone trips to touchdowns.

Proctor wouldn't ascribe Navy's red zone misadventures to any one factor, but said that it was rather a combination of factors which have hurt the team in the red zone.

"There are a few different things going on. Sometimes it's a missed block or a busted assignment. Sometimes the defense just makes a play. But if we want to win football games we've got to improve in that part of our game in particular," he said.

Channeling the Cardinals

Who says college football players have blinders on? When I spoke with Stukel, he brought up the St. Louis Cardinals as an example of a team everyone counted as down and out, only to come back and make the World Series. Stukel and the Mids are hoping to use that example and mirror that same path to success during the second half of the year.

"We've still got a lot to play for," Stukel said. "People don't realize – we make a reference to the St. Louis Cardinals. They were 10 and half games back going into the last month, and they're in the World Series now."

Taching Moments

One of the things that impresses me most about Proctor is his composure and sense of perspective. A few minutes spent with him, and one can't help but be reminded he's not just looking out for the best interests of himself or his team, but the program. He's aware of what the current four game skid means for a program which has not had a losing season since 2002, but he's also able to contextualize how the Mids have gotten to this point. He said that knowing Navy could easily be 5-1 halfway through the year isn't such a bad thing to be aware of, especially for Navy's younger players, who he hopes will gain a sense of appreciation for how thin the line between winning and losing is.

"This is a great opportunity for the younger guys to realize that a dropped pass here or a dropped pass there and you can easily wind-up at 2-4. It's not a place where our program has been in recent years, and it's a place you never want to be at. But it's a good reality check, and a very good lesson for the younger guys to take in."

AdamNettina – at – gmail.com

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