Navy's Offensive Coordinator, Ivin Jasper, has his work cut out for him in the Week 1 match-up against Notre Dame in Dublin. An offense that struggled to score against the Irish in 2011 lost many of the programs best players this offseason. 2012 Graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy included fullback Alexander Teich, who tallied 311 total yards against the Irish over the past two contests. Teich has taken his bone-crushing talents to the NAVY Seals and last year's leading rusher, QB Kriss Proctor, also ran out of eligibility. Junior QB Trey Miller takes over the Midshipmen full time and is allegedly a better passer than their recent field generals. Expecting success in his 2012 debut behind an offensive line that could easily be overwhelmed is tough to imagine. Notre Dame is not without defensive concerns, so let's take a look at how a smart coach with 8 months of prep might attack the Irish early.
Are bold predictions your thing? Hows this: Navy's first offensive play of 2012 will be a rush. Not good enough? Okay. Navy's first play in 2012 will be a pitch sweep to Irish sophomore linebacker Ben Councell's side of the field. Formation guess - two tight ends in the I Formation and a WR on the play side (where the ball is rushed). The tight end and offensive tackle will double team the defensive end, get used to it on Saturday, and the guard will pull out and try to cut block Councell - who will be taking his first college snap. The fullback will come through the hole to take on the first body to show, likely the inside linebacker on play side. One of Notre Dame's cornerbacks, making his first start in a golden dome, will observe quick action in his direction as the receiver feigns a pattern before attempting to take out his legs for the first time of many during their match-up. If all goes to Navy's plan, the Irish safety could find himself one-on-one with the running back after what is already a large gain. If one of Notre Dame's fresh out of the box starters defeats his assigned blocker on this play it will be a 0-1 yard gain and a great start for the defense and maybe a player's career.
This projection is based in multi-layered theory and also serves as more of a guess of what their initial offensive game plan will be. Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatolo and his staff had the advantage of an entire spring and summer to study the Irish depth chart and project weaknesses and instability. Navy may not have known a true freshman would start at cornerback Week 1, but they knew it would be an untested player; similar knowledge applies for the Dog OLB, which is manned by Councell after sitting out his freshman campaign. Plays on the outside will put new starters directly in the line of fire while getting the running back away from a defensive line that should dominate inside rushes.
This particular play (pictured) allows Navy to take the end lined up on the play side, Kapron Lewis-Moore or Stephon Tuitt, and dedicate two blockers for a defender that few Midshipmen will ever handle one-on-one. Same goes for the center and guard on Louis Nix. As the game progresses, expect to observe Navy tag teaming the entire defensive front and focusing on the double team over moving into the second level. Don't be surprised if we get into the 3rd quarter and fans start tweeting "doesn't seem like Navy is running inside much ..." and why would they? The biggest, most experienced members of the Fighting Irish unit lay waiting in it's gigantic, athletic middle while both corners and OLB are more likely to play less sound, assignment football.
Variations of this play and philosophy will appear with similar blocking schemes out of different formations and/or with men in motion. Examples would be quick throws to the RB in the flat or "rocket" passes to a WR in motion. The goal will remain the same: get the ball away from the heart of the defense as fast as possible while putting Bennett Jackson, Keivarae Russell, Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson, Ben Councell, Romeo Okwara & Ishaq Williams in a position where they have to make a play for the defense to be successful.
Navy's offense is notoriously methodic and ground heavy in nature, but when Irish fans hear that the new Academy QB is a "better passer" and then see our depth chart they must know the pigskin is going to fly. Reminder - Navy starter Trey Miller tossed 13 passes in South Bend last fall in case the Jameson had gotten the best of you by that point in the blowout. When Miller airs it out we'll see play action, 3 step drops, and the ever-present option pass. I'd doubt the first pass goes to a WR or even a TE, but when Navy chooses to put the first throw past 5 yards I'd lay money it's right at Keivarae Russell. The freshman, whom most are still shocked is even on the two deep at CB, is likely to get his chance to show why and how he blasted past promising upperclassmen and classmate Elijiah Shumate to get the Week 1 nod. I expect to see Miller throw 20 passes or more this weekend and I'm not sure it's because his team is being blown out.
I don't mean to discount the option this weekend - we'll see it early and often - but I don't anticipate it being 75%+ of the snaps like we've become accustomed. A Week 1 match-up on CBS against a rival is prime territory to catch a team off guard. Navy accomplished just that against Irish Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco in 2010 and then it was the middle of the season. If Coach Niumatalolo thinks Trey Miller can move the ball effectively throught the air all season then Saturday will be the time to showcase it.
Irish fans - I don't think Navy will have a ton of success on offense this weekend because the front seven will make too many plays close to the line of scrimmage. Manti Te'o & Jamoris Slaughter will be keys as Diaco moves the versatile defenders into better position on every play to disrupt the Navy offense. Ben Councell & maybe ILB Jarrett Grace are players I'm keeping my eye on to prove their worth as young run stuffers. Prince Shembo heads into his 3rd year as a contributor, but 1st at a more natural position. The attack of Navy won't showcase his finer skills and he needs to step up and shed blocks all day to push Navy into more 3rd and longs. Zeke Motta also has a chance to star in this game, which suits his strengths as a near ball defender, while in constant readiness for the 2-4 deep balls Navy spends all game setting up.
I'm not ready to make predictions yet, but I have little doubt that this defense can overpower Navy throughout. The Irish will win this game but we need to hope they come off the field with more questions answered than raised.
Follow me on Twitter @ManCaveQB and listen to my Irish podcasts at our feed or on iTunes. My solo podcast, The Man Cave Quarterback, features former ND quarterback Matt Mulvey breaking down the QB play in his "Red Army Review" and I'll be joined by former Irish players and current CFB writers and bloggers. Maybe even Subway Domer himself will stop by. This week's podcast featured former Sports Illustrated writer John Walters (@jdubs88) & Huffington Post columnist Jordan Schultz (@Shultz_Report)
Apologies - I was looking at the 2010 game and 2011 NAVY starter Kriss Proctor's game log and misread some information and inadvertedly translated that to current NAVY QB Trey Miller. It has been updated, but I was under the impression Miller had not started the NAVY game against ND. It has been corrected.
It was announced NAVY's top returning WR will not make the trip ... really helps my "they'll throw a little more than usual" theory but I'll hold true - it's less option this Saturday than normal, but still plenty of option.