Navy Offense Presents Triple the Problems

By Kyle Rowland on June 25, 2014 at 8:30a

Coaches are nervous creatures by nature. It doesn’t matter if the next opponent is Alabama or Massachusetts – they’re going to have an anxious week. But Navy of all teams tends to make coaches more nervy than usual.

Why Navy? Because the Midshipmen run a vaunted triple-option offense that incorporates cut blocking. When the ball is snapped, unpredictability always reigns supreme. With Navy, it does and it doesn’t. A run play is all but certain, but who will get the ball? Options are plentiful.

Even Navy quarterback Kennan Reynolds is out of the loop until he sees which way the defense goes and whom it pursues. According to head coach Ken Niumatalolo nothing is predetermined. For more than a decade, Navy’s offense has become the football program’s identity.

“It’s our calling card,” offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “It’s what Navy football is known for.”

The Midshipmen haven’t won a national championship since 1926 and the last Heisman Trophy came in 1963. Over the past half century, the Navy head coaching position has become one of the toughest jobs in the country. The odds are tilted heavily against Navy – military commitments, stringent academic requirements and a long stint away from the college football spotlight.

Navy doesn’t haul in recruits with stars next to their names and they aren’t as big, fast or strong as opponents. Yet, Niumatalolo has won 62 percent of his games (49-20 over six years) and guided the Midshipmen to five bowl games. A portion of that success is due to their unique offense.

“I think it’s very confusing to a defense,” former quarterback Ricky Dobbs said in 2009 when Navy played at Ohio State, losing 31-27. “Sometimes it's confusing to us. At first, I was like, ‘Man, I wish we ran something different,’ but I think this offense can work any place as long as you get the guys tuned it to where they sell out for it.”

For Navy, leveling the playing field means baffling the competition, not loading up on the best players in football-rich states. When Ohio State’s defensive line – one of the best in the country – stares across the line of scrimmage at five much smaller football players, the reality sets in that trickeration and misdirection are needed.

Niumatalolo believes more teams should adopt the abnormal style – at least those that already face an uphill climb. The equalizing power is evident each time Navy takes the field. It regularly beats FBS programs and has defeated Notre Dame three times since 2007.

There’s a psychological factor involved when playing Navy, almost like golfers in the U.S. Open. The Midshipmen wear down opponents by running, running and running. And they convert third downs at a high rate every seasons. In 2013, Navy ranked sixth nationally, converting more than half of its third downs.

“In my opinion, this is the most difficult team we play,” Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said last season. “The reason being, everything we do defensively, throw it away and don’t do it again.”

The Hoosiers had just 10 possessions in a 41-35 loss to Navy. Reynolds torched Indiana for 127 rushing yards and three touchdowns. As a team, the Midshipmen totaled 444 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Reynolds completed two passes – one for 47 yards and the other for 24 yards.

“Your errors are more exposed and more critical,” Wilson said. “It’s like at-bats – you don’t get as many swings.”

Navy returns six players who rushed for at least 200 yards last season, including Reynolds, a 1,300-yard rusher. It also has six players who averaged more than five yards per carry. Navy scored 50 rushing touchdowns in 2013.

Asked why Navy’s run game is so effective when defensive coordinators know what’s coming, Niumatalolo kept it simple: Because it’s sound.

“It’s like the pick-and-roll in basketball,” he said. “John Stockton and Karl Malone did it for years. I think that’s what option football is. It’s not a gimmick, it’s based off numbers, it’s based off angles and it’s based off what you’re doing.

“Some guys talk about halftime adjustments. We’re making adjustments after the first couple plays. We’ll try to see who you’re hurting us with and then counter. You have to get to the game and make adjustments based off that. That’s why I think option football’s worked. It’s based off principles.”

Said Jasper: “The defense knows what we’re going to do. It’s a matter of us out executing their defense.”

Those principles led to 4,230 team rushing yards last season – good for a 5.5-yard per rush average. Navy’s 325 rushing yards per game were second only to Auburn. For most teams in the country, it points to a good running back and elite dual-threat quarterback. At Navy, it’s all backfield all the time.

If you want to find selfless football players, just watch a Navy game. Wide receivers spend upwards of 80 plays blocking – not catching passes. Being a wide receiver for the Midshipmen means more blocking than Ohio State’s tight ends. Service academies have the luxury of being filled with selfless leaders.

“All these kids have pride in what we do and they believe in it,” Jasper said. “We’re not going to change. We’re going to go into every game to try to establish what we do on offense, not let people dictate what we do.”

They certainly don’t allow that to happen. With defenses keying on the run, the Midshipmen threw all of 146 passes in 2013. Just over half of those attempts were completed for 1,117 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Only one team – Army – ranked lower passing the ball.

“The wide receivers in our offense epitomize who we are,” Niumatalolo said. “They’re unselfish, they’ll do their job, they aren’t worried about accolades. It’s refreshing to coach guys like that. They are good people.”

Perhaps the most unforeseen of all statistics attached to Navy’s offense is the lack of turnovers. Last season, the Midshipmen tied for the fewest turnovers (10) in FBS. Jasper believes it comes from nothing more than discipline, an area Naval officers are quite familiar with.

“There’s a standard we have as an offense in taking care of the football,” Reynolds said. “We know that being undersized and not as athletic as other teams, giving up the ball would really hurt us. To even have a chance to win the game, we have to take care of the football.”

The first test of 2014 could be the biggest of the entire season.



YTOWNBUCKI's picture

The triple option is and always has been the go-to offense when you're overpowered and up against more talent.  If big time programs were to run it with the elite athletes they have I'd be very interested to watch it. 

Good write up, Kyle.

Get your shine box, Gumar.

+7 HS
JohnnyKozmo's picture

See:Nebraska in the 80's and 90's

Pain don't hurt-Dalton

+7 HS
YTOWNBUCKI's picture

Excellent example.  They had a fun offense to watch back then.

Get your shine box, Gumar.

+1 HS
d5k's picture

Georgia Tech also was pretty good a few years back winning the ACC with Jonathan Dwyer and co. running and Demaryius Thomas catching bombs a few times a game 1 on 1.

+4 HS
GlueFingers Lavelli's picture

outside of Ohio State football, my favorite football to watch was the 90's Nebraska teams. So much fun to watch the power I and option game. Scott Frost was fun to watch. Georgia Tech runs the same basic offense as Navy, whereas Nebraska ran more so out of the I formation, the difference was Nebraska had top  caliber talent which made the scheme close to unstoppable, especially with a nasty D backing them up.  All Georgia Tech is really lacking right now is the top 25 defense. Once they get that look out, of course the are missing Nesbit, I don't think they have had a QB as good as him since.

Dustin Fox was our leading tackler as a corner.... because his guy always caught the ball.

Hovenaut's picture

My answer in yesterday's poll was Navy, strictly because of the triple option.

The good guys on defense are going to have to be very disciplined themselves against the Mids. Hoping Braxton and company get out to a fast start and put some pressure on their offense to respond.

We have filled the Braxton Miller position.

+7 HS
BuckeyeSouth's picture

Navy was my vote in the poll too, Hove, for the exact same reason.  The Buckeyes have the personnel to win every game on their schedule next year but it's the quirkiness of the Navy offense that might pose a problem.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

+2 HS
BroJim's picture

I picked up some OSU Vs. Navy tickets last night. I'm really looking forward to seeing the Navy O aginst our new defense.

I season my simple food with hunger

+2 HS
MN Buckeye's picture

It is amazing how successful Niumatalolo has been at Navy, winning around 70%. They recruit a certain type of player and stick with their system. Maybe some day Notre Dame will figure it out.

+3 HS
buckguyfan1's picture

Hopefully our "Destroyers" and Linebackers stay disciplined.

+1 HS
Waltbuck's picture

My trip is booked.  Can't wait to go.  I have nothing but respect for Navy.  They will score some points but will not be able to keep pace with our offense.

Tater_Schroeder's picture

No, I like all you Navy boys. Every time we've gotta go someplace to fight, you fellas always give us a ride.

I like all you Navy boys.



+4 HS
JasonR's picture

Aside from getting the win of course, I'm just hoping our D-Line escapes injury-free. Those cut blocks are scary.

+5 HS
Bucksfan's picture

We had one of the best run-stopping defenses last year and one of the worst passing defenses (hopefully the bottoming out of a 3-year downward trend).  I don't see this game being as big a trap as, say, Cincinnati, who spreads it out and passes a lot.  The Buckeye defense sees one of the best option offenses in the country during practice.

In the end it won't matter, because all it will take is for 2 opening stops, and Ohio State will be up 21-0 in the first 7 minutes.

FitzBuck's picture

I hope it goes this way.  It could also start with two long scoring drives.  

Cut blocks are the F ing devil.

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

+2 HS
Buckeyeneer's picture

Agreed. I have two hopes for that game. 1) win 2) nobody gets a knee or ankle blown out. My high school coach had his pro career ended with a cut block so he would never let us do it and ingrained in our heads that it was evil.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

Firedup's picture

Not excited about having this game first. As all of camp, this will be the focus of an offense we will see one time.  I'm just worried that the assignments each player will have from this game will carry over into other games the rest of the season (DE taking the pitch and what not) 

Also I expect our DBs to be in a lot of man to man to commit enough defenders in the box.  Just worries me that young DBs will have their eyes in the backfield and fall for the PA giving up big plays like last year's group.  

"Making the Great State of Ohio Proud!" UFM

+1 HS
ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

I'd much rather have this game first...more preparation to defend the triple option.

Also very much concerned about the PA.  Navy seems to get a lot of teams with that...easy to do when you run the ball 90% of the time.

Class of 2010.

+2 HS
acBuckeye's picture

“The reason being, everything we do defensively, throw it away and don’t do it again.”

Isn't this what Kevin Wilson says EVERY week?

+5 HS
chirobuck's picture



^ best post ever ^

+1 HS
MikeTheBuckeye's picture

It's scary just reading about it

11UrbzAndSpices's picture

I'm looking forward to this game. Navy is my #4 favorite college football team (Air Force comes in at #3, also running the flexbone). I love everything about it, their lack of talent, the traditions, the fact that most of them will serve our country in a very meaningful way, and that triple option attack.

In high school we were terrible, new coach my senior year brought in the flexbone and we won league and almost made the playoffs for the first time. At the middle/high school level, there just is NOT enough time to prepare do defend it.

"Quit skipping leg day bro" - Dr James Andrews

HilltopHustle's picture

This game has disaster written all over it, and not because I think we'll lose the game (because I don't). Injuries are the first thing I'm worried about, especially for a hot August noon kick (remember how gassed we were for Buffalo?)—tied with the cut blocks. I also am very selfish and want to win every game decisively, and I suspect Navy could be that one OOC game that we struggle with till the end. The media will just LOVE that 34-31 Ohio State win over Navy.

buckeyeradar's picture

Cut blocking is legal but it's dirty football.  I just don't like the injuries involved with playing a team like Navy.  It's a no win situation for the good guys.  Linemen wear short cleats.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

Klytus21's picture

...and has defeated Notre Dame three times since 2007.

I love it, but does it really mean something?  Always overrated.


+2 HS
Barnsey69's picture

I love the triple option...except when OSU has to defend against it. Personally, I think a Navy team making it to a significant bowl game would be awesome, but never gonna happen. 

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

Remy's picture

The last sentence explains why Navy is dangerous in every game they play:

If you want to find selfless football players, just watch a Navy game. Wide receivers spend upwards of 80 plays blocking – not catching passes. Being a wide receiver for the Midshipmen means more blocking than Ohio State’s tight ends. Service academies have the luxury of being filled with selfless leaders.

"I'm sick of following my dreams. I'm just going to ask them where they're goin', and hook up with them later." ~ Mitch Hedberg

+1 HS
hit_the_couch's picture

Service academies have the luxury of being filled with selfless leaders.

I haven't really seen that in my time in the service whether it's West Point grads or officers in general; selfless leader is more for NCOs.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

+1 HS
Dougger's picture

Thankfully this is the first game. I think if it were later in the year it would present huge problems. Get out with a w and injury-free

I like football

Knarcisi's picture

Gap discipline, play low, tackle well, force 3rd and long, get off the field on 3rd, score enough to make them play from behind with only a running game.  And oh, no Tressel Ball when we do get up like we did in 2009.

+1 HS
Ahh Saturday's picture

I hate playing Navy. Hate, hate, hate. It prepares you for nothing, and risks the health of your D line. A blowout win gains you nothing, a close win will be regarded as a borderline loss, and a loss ruins your season.

+1 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

The best way to beat Navy is to get up early by three TDs.  This would almost force a few more pass plays... But not many...

This offense reminds me of Woody's offense, 3rd and 15 and we run the ball, and two out of 5 times get the first down.  But that is Ohio State, not Navy.

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

+1 HS
Jpfbuck's picture

I don't mean to bad mouth Navy and yes they can be "pesky", but since 2003 they have 6 wins over FBS teams of .500 or better

they beat a 8-5 Rutgers and 8-5 Wake in 2008 by a combined total of 9 points

in 2009 they beat a 6-6 ND and an 8-5 Mizzou by a total of 24 points

in 2010 they beat a 8-5 ND by  18

and last year they beat a 8-5 Pitt by 3

yes they can be tough and often keep them game close by playing solid D and by shortening the game by running a million times a day

but they have not beaten a team of OSU's caliber in decades

if our D showed any strength last year it was run D and the DL in general which should be even better this year

I think they struggle to run, but may get a couple scores on a blown assignment, but I simply don't see them stopping our offense at all

even if we do stop ourselves a time or 2 a half, I still think we put up 35 easy if not more and I would be surprised if they put up more than 14

since beating ND in 2010 they are 3-9 against FBS teams since with wins against Indiana twice and a mediocre Pitt team. otherwise they have 9 losses by an average of over 20 points. when they have played a good team in recent history they have been blown out most of the time, 42 pt loss to ND in 2011, 40 pts in ND in 2012, 27 to PSU in 2012, 34 to Arizona St in 2012, 28 to Duke in 2013

I expect much the same when we play them ie 4 TD plus win, say 42-14

+1 HS
SLVRBLLTS's picture

The most important thing Navy's offense does is keep the other offense off the field. It's difficult to score 50 points against a team that only let's you get the ball a few times per half.

"Because we couldn't go for three"

allinosu's picture

If Western Kentucky can hold them to 7, one would think we could.


More worried about knee injuries to our DL than I am Navy. Offense will score its points. We keep our big guys up front healthy I won't care if we win by 5 or 50.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

hit_the_couch's picture

Navy doesn't throw the ball. tOSU should be OK.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

+2 HS
Tampabuckeye85's picture

I think we will be alright and can say I'm happy bosa is one of the players out there defending that pitch. Just a question people might not know the answer. How many injuries have resulted playing against Navy over the past few years?

Jabba1977's picture

The triple option is so hard to defend!! I am worried about this game!! The last time we played them, they gave us hell!! Hopefully this time, we will be better prepared!!


MDBuckeyenut's picture

Have my tix ready to go!  Can't wait to see the BUCKS in action Labor Day weekend!  35-10, tOSU over Navy.

+1 HS