Christmas in June

For over 15 years, I have been a die-hard Navy football fan. So when I received an invitation this past November from Ken Niumatalolo to sit down with him to look at some game film, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The fact that the invite came as a result of one of my many silly play calling observations is irrelevant. I was going to watch game film with the Navy coach – how cool is that!

Since Navy was still in the midst of the football season, it was decided that the film session would happen after the bowl game. Then some scheduling conflicts pushed the event back through the spring and finally into the beginning of June. But the day finally came on Wednesday, June 10. In order to spread this great opportunity around to others, the Navy Sports Information office decided to invite other members of the media to the session.

 

Since I was like a kid in a candy store, I did not want to spend too much time taking notes, but I wanted to share with my fellow die-hards some of the highlights from this most unique and enjoyable experience.

 

Navy should have beaten Notre Dame last season…

That is by far the biggest take-away from the experience, mainly because that was the game film the coach concentrated on. There were at least six plays that should have gone for touchdowns if players (who will remain anonymous) didn't make silly mistakes…like trying to block the same guy or just going in the wrong direction. It was never so clear to me that if all 11 Navy offensive players do exactly what they should do, this system is capable of big plays on every down. I always thought that, but seeing it against a much bigger and physical opponent in slow-motion really blew my mind.

 

You see everything on film…

From the celebrations after touchdowns to the arguments between players after a play goes awry, you can see all the good and all the bad after each down. As much as I can imagine that film is a great teaching tool, it must also be pretty humbling for players (if they screw up); funny (if they mess up a celebration); and rewarding (if they make a great play). I learned that normally the team breaks the film down in positional meetings and not as a team. And according to Niumatalolo if they watch it as a group, chances are it wasn't with popcorn to celebrate a big victory.

 

This offense is easy to execute – unless you are the QB…

This little observation won't surprise anyone, but it definitely became even more clear watching plays in slow motion with a coach to guide you through the progressions and decisions made by the quarterback. Even in super-slow mode I did not envy the quarterback in the triple option offense because it seemed so easy (to me at least) to make the wrong decision on any play. And as any Navy fan knows if the quarterback makes the wrong decision, it rarely matters what the other 10 players are doing on that given play. Everyone else could have made the block or head-fake or juke of their lives and if the quarterback makes the wrong decision in a split second (think ‘One Mississippi'), then forget about the play working.

 

I say the offense is easy because…

If the players block the right people, Navy is going to get at least 4-5 yards per play. And even though I knew this going into the session, I really saw how this offense doesn't need to block all 11 defenders on every play. Usually the success and/or failure of each play comes down to Navy players being able to knock down the right 2 or 3 defenders. However, if they miss those key blocks then it could get ugly…real ugly.

 

Calling the plays from the sideline…

It's a growing trend in college football to see coaches signaling plays in from the sideline to the offensive unit right before the ball is snapped, and after watching some game film with the coach (Yes, I am bragging a bit), I think this is something Navy might want to try. I am not ready to officially go on-the-record with an endorsement of this technique, but I am planning an argument (in a future column) for at least trying it. It is very possible that it could cut down on some mental mistakes…I know, I'm starting to sound like a coach.

 

Coach Niumatalolo is ready for summer to be over…

He didn't say it, but I could feel it. I know he is from Hawaii and wants to spend time with his family, but I don't think summer break is all too appealing to Coach Niumatalolo. Of course his staff is still working as I write this, but after watching the Notre Dame film with a few members of the media, I got the impression he was ready to immediately invite some players into the room to show them what we just saw. Now not all of the plays we saw were bad…the first half of the session was filled with good plays. However, the second half was mainly all about opportunities lost against the Irish. At one point, I even announced to the room, "Damn, we should have won that game."

 

Don't tell anyone, but…

I plan on telling Coach Niumatalolo the next time I see him that I really still don't get the offense and I need just a few more hours of time in the film room to really understand it like I want to. We barely spent anytime on plays involving the fullback…and I really want to see him breakdown the 1996 Aloha Bowl…and the 2007 Notre Dame game…and the 2002 N.C. State debacle…and every single Army game. I'm sure he has the time to do that, right?


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