Navy-Eastern Michigan final thoughts

Navy Coach Paul Johnson said in 2002 that it usually takes him and his staff two possessions to figure out what the defense is doing and how best to attack it. That process took four plays against Eastern Michigan.

The Eagles scrapped their 4-3 defense and came out in a 4-4, with four linemen, three linebackers and a safety within five yards of the line of scrimmage. It may have caught Navy off-guard--the Eagles had played a 4-3 all season, and Johnson said afterward he thought that was what they would use against Navy.

What Johnson and his staff realized, though, was that not only was Eastern Michigan playing an eight-man front, its deep safety was playing the run first, too. He followed the slotback on tail motion. When there was no motion, it appeared the safety was playing the fullback first, but he was moving laterally, not toward the line of scrimmage.

That left the middle open for Navy, assuming its interior linemen blocked correctly. And that's what happened. For instance, Gallion threw a great block on Adam Ballard's 14-yard run down near the goal line (the play where he was injured).

Look at the numbers for Navy's fullbacks for the game: Eric Kettani (91 yards on 14 carries); Matt Hall (44 yards on 7 carries); and Ballard (21 yards on 2 carries).

Combined, the fullbacks rushed for 156 yards on 23 carries.

But the deep safety left something else open, too, and that's what Navy really exploited. When he played run first, it meant that he stayed put on play-action. (U-Conn appeared to be the same way.)

Navy exploited that with all the play-action passes to the middle of the field. By the time Kaipo pulled the ball back on the play-fake and turned to throw, the slotback had passed the safety almost every time. (Think of the opeing play against UConn.)

Kaipo did not have the best day in terms of throwing the ball accurately, i.e. hitting players in their stride. I think that's why Johnson was somewhat reluctant to overpraise Kaipo after the game.

But thanks to EMU, Kaipo didn't need to be perfect. With all the single coverage downfield, as long as he put the ball anywhere near the receivers they almost certainly were going to catch it, since they were in good position and the defense was back-pedalling.

It was nice to get Tomlinson involved, and the touchdown catches by him and Barnes were the second and third touchdown catches by wide receivers this season. The play at the goalline for Tomlinson was the one where he lines up as a tackle and then sneaks into the open. (It's similar to the play they tried with Washington against Rutgers and he wound up being double-covered.)

I think Johnson would have preferred to save that one. But an early lead was crucial, because it would really demoralize EMU.

Onto Temple, and I may as well get this out of the way: Navy fans should be very worried. Temple's coaches are much better than the previous staff. If Ballard and Rossi don't play--right now they are questionable--that's two-third of the most important part of Navy's offense, the middle, that will be out.

Kettani ran very hard on Saturday, as did Hall. Navy may be fine there, though I don't think the fullback option will be used without Ballard, and that's a really nice weapon.

My guess is Cole Smith will start at center. It makes for the least amount of adjustments along the line. But I would bet anything that the coaches will be quick to move Harper there if things go poorly (Harper warms up as the third-string center).

Of the nine linemen who played a lot, the rotation really involved mostly four guards, four tackles and Rossi.

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