Saturday, December 24, 2016

Quick Thoughts: The Armed Forces Bowl

First off, that was one Hell of an entertaining game.  It featured Navy's triple-option against the pass-happy spread-offense of Louisiana Tech, not much defense, lots of scoring, and Navy lost.  What's not to love?

Navy is probably getting tired of seeing scenes like this at the end of games:

Some thoughts on the game itself:

1. I was picking on Navy's defense, but they've actually got a decent pass rush.  They sacked LA Tech QB Ryan Higgins several times and sent him running for his life a bunch more.  They succeeded in getting LA Tech into 3rd-and-long regularly.  But Navy's secondary struggled down the field, allowed a bunch of long conversions, and drew a number of key pass interference penalties.

People are complaining about the one late in the end zone, but the referee was standing right there, and the Navy defender clearly grabbed the receiver's arm before the ball got to him.  That's blatant pass interference.

2. Navy's offensive coordinator gets impatient.  He's got a young quarterback, they're having success with the run, and his defense is struggling.  But instead of pounding the rock with Navy's excellent fullback, Chris High, they kept going back to the pass, either throwing incompletions or unnecessarily shortening drives.  QB Zach Abey was 7-12 for 159 yds and 1 TD.  That's not bad, but it let a spread-offense team put up almost 500 yards of total offense and win time-of-possession in a game where both defenses were struggling.

I feel for Chris High.  He had all of 7 carries.  With that, he averaged over 6.5 ypc and scored 2 touchdowns.  LA Tech literally could not lay a hand on the guy all night, but the Middies lost because they didn't feed him enough to control the game.  This is why Navy fans should be upset.

Think of it tactically.  The Fullback Dive is the triple-option's fixing attack.  Its purpose is to hold the defense in the center of the field.  If you don't commit to that fixing attack, the enemy will reorient on your main effort and smoke your flanking attack before it even gets going.  This is what happened late in last night's game.  LA Tech was--correctly--focused on the QB Keeper and the Outside Pitch.  That Outside Pitch was dead in the second half last night, but Navy just kept putting the ball in its QB's hands and throwing.  I wasn't rooting for them, but man, it was tough to watch.

More to the point, it's a season-long trend.  High had 85 carries for 546 yards (6.4 ypc) and 7 touchdowns this year.  Those are GREAT numbers.  By way of comparison, though, Army FB Andy Davidson has 178 carries for 905 yards (5.1 ypc) and 11 touchdowns.  He splits carries with FB Darnell Woolfolk, who has 87 carries for 481 yards (5.5 ypc) and 7 touchdowns.

Navy needed to control the clock, and they had the means.  They just didn't use them.

3.  To be fair, though, Navy does throw to Chris High quite a bit.  One of those outside sideline passes that worked so well in the 3rd quarter of the Army-Navy game is a designed throw to the fullback out of the backfield.  Just as it caught Army off guard a couple of times, it caught LA Tech off guard once last night, too.

4.  LA Tech runs a decidedly aerial offense, but they made an effort to run the ball in this game, and I thought it was a big part of why they won.  People keep showing the replay of LA Tech's last touchdown, but the one before that, where RB Boston Scott ran it in from about 12 yards out on a counter-draw was, I thought, the more important play.  It's the first play in the fourth quarter highlights below, starting at the 3:44 mark.

There were several times in this game when LA Tech decided to take the air out of the ball.  They made conscious decisions to control the clock, and they were able to do it every time.  Which is weird because you would think a service academy defense would be predicated on stopping the run.  Instead, Navy's defense is all pass rush.

Again, this is Navy prioritizing American Conference play over Commander-in-Chief's Trophy play.

That's all I've got.  It's already more Navy Football than I ever meant to write about.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

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