Navy was always going to have some success against Ball State. The Cardinals had not faced Navy since 1991 and thus had not seen Paul Johnson's offense first-hand. The Cardinals also had the usual preparation time--one week--leading to the game.
This is a little different from Navy's first two opponents. Temple had been readying for the option since late-November 2006, considering it was in the unusual position of ending one season and beginning the following one against the same opponent.
Meantime, Rutgers made no bones about starting work on Navy on Aug. 5, three days after they opened preseason camp.
I am not saying that extra prep time is kryptonite to the Midshipmen's option-based offense. Given all the film that is available, however, I do think that extra lead time will help any team against any opponent.
And it will be interesting to see what wrinkles Johnson has for these opponents. Will he keep it vanilla and try to have a few aces up his sleeve for the October-early November stretch of Pitt-Wake-Delaware-ND?
Or will he put a few plays in there that will keep opposing defensive coordinators busy during their extra time before facing Navy?
While Johnson was at Georgia Southern, he went into one of the I-AA playoff games and completely surprised the opponent by using the wishbone. (I forget which year.)
Navy used a four-wide receiver set against Ball State. They didn't run a play--the play clock was under five seconds so they called timeout, and when they came back they were in a three-wide set. Maybe it's something Troy Calhoun will see in a couple weeks.
The "flat motion" for the slotbacks against Rutgers was something I hadn't seen more than a handful of times. Essentially Navy dragged a linebacker or safety across the formation with the motion, then ran to the side the defender had just vacated. Something tells me that if the defense had adjusted by overshifting, Navy would have run something to the other side. Or if a linebacker followed Reggie Campbell, Navy would have sent him on down the sideline for a long pass.
I also thought it was interesting that Rutgers, on one third-down play, came out using Navy's heavy formation, with a tight end lined up at tackle and three tackles on the other side. Ray Rice went to the strong side and gained a first down. Like the old saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
My point is that people are worrying too much about the defense and not enjoying the chess match of watching Paul Johnson match wits with defensive coordinators.
The defense will take care of itself. Buddy Green is one of the best coordinators in the business. Ball State used a couple trick plays and some misdirection to great effect, but overall in the second half I thought Navy played much better because it played with emotion.
We will learn pretty quickly how much the defense has improved, because I think Duke and AF will try some of that misdirection and some trick plays.
But we already know what Navy has on offense. And it's pretty special.
PS I mistakenly left this out of my last column--but I was a little disappointed to learn that the founder of PapaJohn's pizza went to Ball State. I had always secretly hoped that former Navy tight end and Maryland native Greg Papajohn had founded the company! After the way he played in the 1981 Liberty Bowl I would have been more than happy to order pizza from him anytime.