Reading Navy's Offensive Identity

Most good football teams have an identity, a style that defines the entire team. Some teams rely on defense to establish that identity while others rely on a wide open passing game. Usually teams that are not successful will talk about the need to obtain an identity. Navy, which will soon be attending its seventh straight bowl game, definitely has an identity.

It's the triple option, and it is the end all, be all element of this program and its success.

When opposing coaches talk about Navy, they hardly ever single out one particular player but rather they talk about its offensive system (another word for identity). When coach Niumatalolo discusses the team's success or failure after a game he tends to focus mostly on the key element of the system commonly referred to as "the read".

When Navy is making the right reads they can play with anybody in the country (Ohio State, Notre Dame, Wake Forest). When Navy has too many wrong reads you get different results (Temple, Hawaii). Honing in on just exactly what goes into making the right or wrong read is a challenging exercise which can't be easily explained by players or coaches.

The triple option is really about a series of reads by the quarterback. The first, most crucial read, is the defensive end, which is referred to as the dive key. When things go bad for Navy's offense it is because of failure on this read. In a standard triple option play, option one is to give the ball to the fullback but only if the quarterback is sure that the defensive end (it could be either end depending on which side they are running) is not moving down the line to take on the fullback.

After the ball is snapped to the quarterback he holds the ball out for the fullback and watches for that end to commit to the fullback. A fullback will not know until the quarterback releases the ball whether or not he will get it. This moment of uncertainty is called "the mesh" – and it is the very essence of Navy's identity.

At the moment of the mesh, the quarterback must have a sense of the defensive end's intention to either a) take on the fullback or; b) maintain the edge of the play. If the end's choice is to take on the fullback and the quarterback makes the correct read, then he will run toward the opening created by that end. If done correctly, the quarterback now has the opportunity to move on to his second read (the pitch read). But it is that first dive read that can be the trickiest to make correctly.

It is also difficult for a coach to explain to a young quarterback.

"There is not much I can do to explain what they should look for, they just have to have a feel for it (the read). . . It's reading body language basically," said offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper.

Often, there are physical movements that a defensive end will make which can tip off a quarterback as to their intention. If that end turns their shoulder toward the middle, it's a good indication that the fullback should not get the ball. Good defensive ends, however can disguise their intention making it hard to know what do at mesh time.

"Sometimes defensive ends will come down like they are going down the line toward the fullback but will then pop off onto me, " said junior quarterback Ricky Dobbs.

It may not sound like a lot, but 5 to 10 bad reads in a game can be devastating to an offense which relies on keeping the ball and sustaining long drives. First down reads are perhaps the most crucial, because second-and-12 retards an offense which relies on second-and-five to survive against teams with more talent and size.

Having a good fullback that can put the fear of God into opposing defensive lines is also crucial for the offense's success.

"You know that old saying, behind every successful man there is a good woman? It's like that with our offense. Behind every good quarterback there is a good fullback," said Jasper.

"If the defense is afraid of that fullback, they will come down to cancel that guy, and if they are not afraid of him, they (defenses) will play games with you."

The instincts of a quarterback have a lot to do with their success in this offense. Perhaps the best quarterback to play the position in recent years was Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. Jasper said that Kaipo's experience running the same offense in high school made him an expert at reading the dive key when he was at Navy.

"He really evolved the position to a new level," said Jasper.

Dobbs has 23 touchdowns this season, so one might think he has mastered the offense, but that is not quite the case. Dobbs, who didn't run the triple option in high school, has continued to work on getting better at the reads.

"Right now it's kind of hot and cold. . . when Ricky makes a great read, he is fired up because he knows it's a struggle. He can be a lot better," said Jasper.

Ricky Dobbs getting better is a scary thought for this offense, which again is a national leader in rushing yardage.

"It's getting better- it is a slope that I am still climbing," said Dobbs. With another year to play and improve, Navy's identity should be in great hands. Top Stories