Knights Gear Up for Triple Option

After a quiet bye week, the Scarlet Knights are refreshed and ready to step forward and accept their next challenge: The Naval Academy. The goal is to figure out a way to stop the Midshipmen option that is responsible for 350 yards of rushing per game this season.

Navy has put themselves in a position to clinch an automatic bowl berth in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina with a win against Rutgers. It is homecoming week in Annapolis and that always adds to the pressure and gravity of the game. With the stadium virtually sold out as of Monday the Rutgers Football team will be entering a hostile environment that features a team that was two points shy from being 6-0. Could this be the signature game of the first half of the 2006 season for the Scarlet Knights? You better believe it.

Despite winning the nationally televised contest against the University of South Florida on Friday night a week ago a sour taste lingered in the Rutgers faithful. Brian Leonard sustained an illegal hit below the waist as the Bulls attempted an onside kick. It was the first time in recent memory that the bruising fullback was not quick to return to his feet after sustaining a tough blow. Fortunately he would walk off the field under his own power and Coach Schiano reported today that Brian had healed well and would be returning to full contact today. Otherwise the Knights appear to be healthy and relatively injury free.

Rutgers Visits Option-U

Coach Schiano jumped into the thing dominating his mind: Navy's triple option. "They've really done a great job of tweaking their scheme, which is already hard to defend," said Schiano, "The kids that are running it right now, truly understand it one-hundred percent." The service is known for its discipline and this team has shown what can be accomplished by playing into that. For anyone who saw the Navy-Connecticut game they can sympathize with what Coach Schiano is seeing; a team that can execute with athletic players. Combining those two characteristics is a deadly mix.

Rutgers fans may want to overlook the Midshipmen, having defeated them in fine fashion at home last season, and turn their eyes towards the Pittsburgh Panthers. Considering Schiano's reserved responses to the media today it would bode well for Rutgers fans to be prepared for a slug-fest. He was very quiet about what sort of schemes he was looking to implement for this game, trying to save every trick he can for the match-up.

"The only way to have success against Navy where they are now, is as a team," said Schiano. The offense will need to move the ball effectively, but not too quickly down field. The Knights defense, which is eleventh in the nation and second in the Big East against the run, will need all the energy it can save for the late quarters. Staying fresh and being alert is what will win this game for the Scarlet Knights. With each play being so important in staying disciplined it is crucial for the Knights defense that, "everybody has to have their eyes in the right place to start the play." If one guy gets lost or is lax for a single play, it will mean big gains for Navy.

Coach Schiano spelled out the key to victory, saying, "We need to slow that machine down, because that is really what they have become. So far, no one in their games has had much success in doing it."

The Academy is the perfect place to perfect the triple option. A big reason that this formation is not used widely in the D-IA level is due in part to the fact it runs on discipline and a lack of flash. This is exactly what the armed services is predicated upon.

Despite having played Navy the past three years, there are significant changes to scheming for this team as Schiano pointed out, "they go back and tweak things and those little, slight changes, change the way you have to play. They add one play to their offense and now all of a sudden things that were good are no longer good." That one new play now represents the chance for the offense to catch a lulled defense. Just when the Midshipmen are being held along the sidelines, that is when they change it to a fullback dive up the middle for 70 yards. They have fixed the kinks in the system over the past few years under Head Coach Paul Johnson and it is paying dividends for the Midshipmen.

No Option But To Prepare

To outplay Navy will not be enough on Saturday. The Knights are going to have to out prepare them. Fortunately for Coach Schiano, he has some avid students of the game on his team. They are competing against each other to out prepare themselves.

Schiano put it bluntly: "As we get better players who love football more, and are more inclined to just totally lock down on that stuff, it becomes the norm." Comparing his players meetings to an English speaking person sitting down in a Chinese class, Schiano talked about his player's jargon not being intelligible to a non-football oriented person. This sort of preparation and study was exactly what he started to see at Miami right when they started playing for national championships while he was the defensive coordinator there: "the biggest difference was that they became students of the game."

4th Down Option

Rutgers football fans should be alert once Navy crosses the 35 yard-line. From this point on, leading into the red zone, the Midshipmen will be in four-down territory. The way their offense is set up 4th and 4 or even 4th and 8, they may go for it. Navy plays to win and there is no time to be timid and settle for three points. They did it against Air Force last week and Schiano is expecting them to try for it again during homecoming.

Schiano is still confident in his quarterback Mike Teel. As he is getting better with every practice, Schiano fully expects Teel to start clicking with the receivers in upcoming games. With a defense allowing 73.8 yards a game and a rushing attack averaging 202.8 yards a game he can give his starter another week.

Also of note, defensive back Leslie Jackman has undergone season ending knee surgery. The operation was a success and he is recovering very well. Dominic Natale and Julian Hayes will be running the scout team offense for the Knights this week. Natale will primarily be used on the passing plays given his strong arm and mobility.

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