Navy Football 2013 Stats Review: Mixed Magic

When a triple-option team isn't consistently able to win the time of possession battle, it's natural to look at such a reality and fear the worst. Navy, though not able to regularly exceed its opponents in terms of ball control in 2013, went 8-4 against FBS teams. The fact that the Midshipmen thrived is something that should make this team humble yet optimistic in 2014.


NOT ALWAYS IN CONTROL… BUT USUALLY SUCCESSFUL

It is true that any offense, by breaking a few big gainers, can score in a relatively short amount of time. This reduces the significance of time of possession. Yet, as fans of triple-option teams – especially the service academies – know, there are still situations in college football when this particular statistic really is the "TOPs." Time of possession matters for triple-option teams. Applying physical pressure is just one part of the art of triple-option football; applying game-clock and psychological pressure are central reasons the offense works.

As soon as the triple-option accumulates three first downs on a drive, defenders are given a chance to curse the fates. They might remain mentally tough, but with each new "drip-drip-drip" progression of move-the-chains moments, defenders stay on the field, and though they might maintain gap integrity for six to eight plays, their attention spans might evaporate on the seventh to ninth play. Even though the triple-option might uncork the home-run play at some point, thereby minimizing the role of ball control in a given game, one must still focus on establishing a ball-control identity at the starts of drives and over the course of a full contest. This stuff matters for Navy, much as it does for Army and Air Force as well.

In 2013, Navy won the time of possession statistic in only six (half) of its 12 FBS games. That's kind of an eyebrow raiser, especially since the passing game – as documented in previous weeks – was not especially prolific. If the passing game didn't carry all that large a share of the offensive workload, the running game carried more of it, which should lead to more "TOP" performances. Yes, inefficient passing stops the clock – that's why this 6-6 split exists – but Navy's rushing offense did quite well. Not being able to win time of possession in a majority of FBS games is something that, at first glance, would suggest a rough season for a team such as Navy.

Yet, the Midshipmen went 4-2 in the six games in which they lost the time of possession battle. The Men of Ken Niumatalolo went 4-2 in the six games in which they won. The fact that this team won so often despite a mixed profile in terms of ball control stats shows how resourceful it was, a staple of the Niumatalolo era in Annapolis. Yet, the reality of a 6-6 split in terms of the "TOP" stat shows that Navy has a lot of room for improvement this season. If Navy can move from 6-6 to 8-4 or 9-3 in terms of winning time of possession, it's reasonable to think that the Midshipmen can achieve richly this autumn.

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