ORLANDO - Navy struggled during its first two games, but the Navy offense started to play better during the third contest of 2021 when it traveled to Houston to play the Cougars.
Will Navy be capable of running the football and controlling the clock against a more talented defense like UCF? That will be one of the keys to the game, but it’s hard to gain a true measure of where the Navy offense will be based on its first three games because the Midshipmen, led by Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo, played poorly during its first two contests.
Navy’s Offensive Trends
The Midshipmen lost 49-7 to Marshall and 23-3 to Air force during the first two games. After the horrendous offensive start, Navy began to move the football against Houston. While not an incredible offensive output, Navy rushed the football 55 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns against the Cougars. While another loss, losing 28-20 proved to be far more competitive than it’s first two games.
Scoring 10 points from the first two games might have motivated the Navy team. Sometimes a team will rally after a poor start. Perhaps the Midshipmen will be back to efficient football from this point forward?
At the very least, that’s how the UCF defense needs to approach its trip to Annapolis, Md. to play Navy. Taking them lightly could be costly. Most importantly, the Knights need to slow down the following player.
Note: Navy sophomore quarterback Xavier Arline is the key to the Navy attack. He’s rushed 51 times for 171 yards and two touchdowns through three games. No other Navy player carried the football more than 30 times during the first three contests.
When the Navy Offense Clicks
For Navy to be successful, the offense needs to score early, and do so by sustaining drives that can be 10 or more plays. When the Midshipmen operate the option game well, it’s not uncommon to see Navy score after accumulating 12 to 15 plays from one drive, and that also helps to change the opposition’s play calling. This accomplishes two additional factors as well.
First, Navy mitigates its offensive talent and lack of size by using the option. It’s a complex method of ball fakes from a vast array of intricate runs that work well off one another. The result would be making a defense play assignment football.
In short, the triple-option attack tightens the talent gap between Navy’s offense and its opponent’s defense. The second point might be even more critical, although similar in nature.
Second, shortening the game because of those long drives helps the Midshipmen defense. Basic facts, Navy’s defense does not possess the physical talent to just go out and play toe-to-toe with top-notch offenses. They need to be rested and play fewer snaps than most defenses.
As an example, Navy is almost always the smaller team when they jog onto the gridiron. The longer its defense stays on the field, the more likely Navy’s defense will be physically overmatched.
That’s why the Navy offense struggling during its first two games helped to expose Navy’s defense, especially versus Marshall, with the following defining just how much of a gap currently resides between Navy and a true modern offense with quick and shifty athletes setting up the running game for scores.
When Navy’s Offense Falters, the Defense Suffers
Marshall provided the skill position talent to torch Navy, and the more the Midshipmen defense played the more the Thundering Herd took advantage. Marshall wide receiver Corey Gammage caught seven passes against Navy for 94 yards. Another Marshall receiver, Talik Keaton, caught five passes for 100 yards versus the Midshipmen.
While the two receivers did not reach the endzone, they helped get the football down near the goal line. From there, Marshall was able to run the football in for the score for six of the seven touchdowns it accumulated.
Marshall running backs were the beneficiary of its passing game. Rasheen Ali punched it four times from only 14 rushing attempts, and running back Sheldon Evans ran the football nine times for 27 yards and two more rushing touchdowns.
Against Houston, the Navy offense played better. It helped the defense, but there are still talent deficiencies that UCF can exploit at each level of the Navy defense, especially during third down conversion opportunities.
The Rush Defense Played Solid Through Three Games, Minus Third Down
Navy allowed 101 yards from 30 carries versus Marshall, 176 yards from 59 carries versus Air Force (another option football offense), and 127 yards from 31 carries to Houston. That’s solid rush defense, sort of.
Navy struggles with third down defense, with teams often taking advantage of running the ball on third down. Marshall converted five of eight third downs (62.5%), Air Force was seven of 18 (38.9%), and Houston went five for 11 (45.5%). If Navy does not get off the field during critical third downs, it’s defense will be in big trouble against UCF's athletic running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.
Later today, Inside the Knights will provide a closer look at Navy’s primary offensive and defensive players, with a thorough statistical overview of their team included.
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