Option Football

I have no film on Navy from this year, so this selection is going to be a blend of some Navy information, option football, and how to defend the triple option. Navy does run other plays besides the triple option, but the concentration here is on the triple option.

I love option football, particularly from the Wishbone. I never miss a game that has a team running the Wishbone unless it conflicts with Notre Dame. I'd even watch Rice, who doesn't come close to matching the sentiments I have for Navy and Air Force.

Several advantages come with the triple option offense. One, it's a great talent equalizer, as it forces defenses to play assignment football. Assignment football means that a specific defender is assigned to take each of the options. Two, it allows the offense to leave defensive players unblocked. Three, the very essence of the option, running the football, allows a team to control the clock, make long drives, and limit the opportunities of the opponent's offense. Four, your defense does not face an option attack week after week and the advantage goes to the offense in terms of preparation. Fifth, it forces the defense to commit the secondary, particularly the safeties, into stopping the run. This is nothing new in secondary play, but during the course of a game the secondary may quit reading their keys and just play the run, leaving them open to play action and the deep pass.

The use of the triple option allows the offense to run a play where the ball carrier may be one of three backs. The beauty of the triple option is the disguise factor and no one, offensively or defensively, knows who will be carrying the ball, quite unlike in an I formation offense, where the TB is quickly recognized as the most frequent ball carrier. A well executed option offense operates on a series of split-second reads by the QB, based on what the defense does, and that determines who ultimately carries the ball. The defense must be patient, and that aspect of defending the Wishbone is in direct conflict with the aggressive nature of defenses.

Daryl Royal's Longhorns, Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide, and Barry Switzer's Sooners, all great Wishbone teams, wouldn't recognize the Wishbone as navy plays it. Gone is the traditional three back triangle alignment behind the QB. Navy runs its bone with two slot backs normally aligned just off and back from their tackles and two WRs.. One slot back will usually motion to the play side and he becomes the pitch back. The advantages of this alignment is it allows the slot backs to get into pass patterns quickly and to be close to the LB they may have to block, much more so than a traditional HB.

There are too many permutations defensively to detail how Navy will attack the Irish defense with its triple option. Let's just look at one with ND is in its base 4-3 defense, cover 2, and assume that Navy has two slots and two wide receivers. The advantage here, for Navy, assuming the Irish play it straight, is leaving the DE unblocked and doubling on the DT with the play side tackle and guard, meanwhile, the slot back is sealing off the OLB, preventing him from scraping down the line and taking the QB. The WRs block the CBs.

Taking the snap, the QB steps to mesh with the FB and reads the unblocked play side DE first. If the DE stays put, with his shoulders square to the LOS, he simply gives the ball to the FB. If the DE is staying his ground the QB pulls the ball from the FB and continues down the line and pressures the DE to make a commitment. Usually the defensive end will do one of two things. Take the QB each time or he'll be feathering, which is maintaining a relationship that , hopefully allowing him to take the QB if he turns it up the field, or to take the slot back if the ball is pitched. If you remember the Purdue game, Frome did a great job on an option near the goal line, preventing a TD using this technique. If the DE immediately takes the QB then the pitch is made to the slot back and the safety better be there.

The explanation above is basic triple option versus the Irish base 4-3 defense. The Irish can do a lot of things defensively, change the fronts, stunt, blitz, and exchange WR responsibility by bringing the corners and the safety takes the WR. Whatever Coach Minter, Coach Lewis, and Coach Oliver implement this week, the key thought is disciplined, assignment FB.

One way that teams defend the triple option is to decide which of the three options might hurt them the least based on the personnel of their opponent. If a defensive staff feels that the FB is the strength of an opponent they concentrate on him, if they decide that the QB is the second coming of Roger Staubach they try to take him out of the equation, and if the main RB is their best runner they deny him the pitch.

Notre Dame played Texas in the Cotton Bowl in 1971 and decided that they would take away FB Steve Worster, the first option in the Texas Wishbone's triple option. In losing the 1970 Cotton Bowl to Texas the Irish gave up 155 yards rushing on 20 carries to Worster, who constantly exploding up the middle of the Irish defense. In winning the 1971 Cotton Bowl, the Irish used a six man line with three men over the center which held Worster to 42 yards on 16 carries. Obviously, the QB keep and the pitch to the halfback didn't worry ND as much as the give to the FB on a dive. Defenses are a lot more sophisticated than they were in the seventies, and every defense tries to take away some part of the opponent's offense, but the idea of limiting one of the options is still paramount.

Last year Navy rushed for a net of 239 yard on 58 carries, an average of 4.1 yards per carry. During the whole game Navy lost only 10 yards, had only two fumbles, losing one. The Midshipmen also had 21 first downs, 16 rushing, 4 passing, and 1 by penalty. They had a possession time of 31:35. Additionally, they were 9 of 14 on 3rd down, and 2 of 3 on 4th down. The leading tacklers in the game for Notre Dame that day were Mays with 14 and Hoyte with 9, both LBs who have graduated. The pressure is on Travis Thomas, Maurice Crum, Joe Brockington, or whoever plays this week, to match those stats.

Safety play is important in stopping a Wishbone attack as well. Both Rutgers and Connecticut 's starting safeties had 15 total tackles against Navy. Air Force safeties totaled 14 tackles against the Middies and Navy won because it was able to throw the ball very well for an option team.

What should the Irish do to defend Navy? In my opinion they need to stop the FB just like they did in the 71 Cotton Bowl. The QB for Navy this week is 20 pounds lighter than their injured starter, so the Irish need to make him pay a physical price on every rushing attempt he makes. Punishment dished out to the QB is the rule of thumb in defending the Wishbone.

Good disciplined safety play is a must this Saturday. If they aren't discipline they will most likely fall victim to the option pass. You won't see the option pass very much, but it has the potential for a quick six points. The problem is that this pass looks the same as the triple option and, as mentioned above, sometimes the safeties begin to forget about all their responsibilities and just play the run. The QB for Navy will run the option fake down the LOS as long as possible. Meanwhile the slot back takes the same path towards sealing off the OLB. As the QB suddenly breaks off the option and gets depth the slot back turns it up field and tries to blow by the safety. The casual fan can't understand why this works, since safety, by its very name means the final line of defense, but the pressure to support the run on the option is so strong that mistakes can be made, and thus a bomb for the Middies.

Navy Defense vs Notre Dame Offense

Last year Darius Walker had 118 yards rushing. Travis Thomas had 58 yards rushing, while Brady Quinn chipped in 27 yards and Asaph Schwapp added 13 yards. In all, the Irish totaled 221 yards rushing. On one hand Coach Weis' efforts this week to revive the running game are both necessary and admirable, and Norte Dame is more talented than Navy, but this year's rushing game leaves room for a lot of doubt, no matter who the opponent might be.

The Midshipman held Rutgers ' Ray Rice to 98 yards rushing for a 4.4 YPC average, far below Rice's second ranking nationally with a 161 YPD average, and a carry average of 5.6 YPC. If the Irish are to get the running game going they will have to overcome a defense from the Middies that, on paper, can stuff the run.

If the Irish running game fares as badly as it has the pressure again reverts to the passing game. Unfortunately there is no Maurice Stovall to snare three TD passes, two on balls put up for him to make plays on. Last year Navy put a clamp on Samardzjia, limiting him to five catches for 42 yards. If they do so again then Rhema McKnight and David Grimes have to step up. John Carlson as well, but it's hard to do so if he has to stay in for max protection. It's about time the OL stepped up as well.

The keys in this game:

Will Notre Dame be able to run the ball?

Will Notre Dame's defense stop Navy from having more than two long drives?

Will Notre Dame give up any cheap touchdowns? They have been prone to do so by not carrying out their assignments. Assignment football, redundant as it may seem, is paramount this week.

Will the Irish play with intensity cognizant that unless they do their opportunities will be fewer by their play and by the new rules governing the clock. I would think that not wanting to be the team who breaks the streak over Navy would be a big incentive.

One hope:

Will Notre Dame finally score a special teams TD?

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