The Navy slot backs have been as productive as ever. But they are the third option in the run-heavy offense of the Midshipmen. Saturday when Navy (0-2) faces Virginia Military (1-2) of the FCS the Mids will try to get the first two facets of their triple-option offense in gear.
The primary option, fullback off tackle, has been ineffective. Starter Noah Copeland (13 carries, 44 yards) has had difficulty finding daylight inside. Same for backup Prentice Christian (9 carries, 56 yards) whose numbers are deceptive as 39 of his yards came on consecutive carries in the final minute of a 50-10 loss to Notre Dame.
The second option, quarterback keeper, has been even less productive. Starter Trey Miller (38 carries, 37 yards) has been swarmed. Even when sacks are removed from his rushing statistics, Miller is averaging 2.7 yards per carry.
When Miller has gotten outside however and pitched out, Navy has thrived. The Mids slot backs have rushed for a combined 222 yards on 25 carries (8.9 yards per carry). Seniors Gee Gee Greene (11 carries, 103 yards), Bo Snelson (5 carries, 50 yards), and John Howell (5 carries, 41 yards), and junior Darius Staten (4 carries, 28 yards).
Feeding the slot backs might be the logical remedy for the rushing woes of the Mids. But their offense isn’t built that way. Green said that he never comes out of the huddle knowing he’ll get the ball on a designed play.
“It happens very rarely,” Greene said. “Penn State was giving us the toss sweep, but that can change from week to week, or it can change from play to play.”
When the Navy offense isn’t running smoothly, it has a ripple effect. Trailing in games early and being in disadvantageous down and distance situations, has made the Mids more vulnerable to turnovers. They rank No. 120 (last) in the FBS in turnover margin with eight committed and one forced.
When Navy isn’t churning out clock-milking drives, it puts more pressure on a defense so tiny that it rotates the following down linemen Even Palelei (6-3, 247), Danny Ring (6-2, 260), Wes Henderson (6-2, 255), and Paul Quessenberry (6-2, 230) at the two end spots.
Playing VMI will give Navy a chance to reestablish its style. The Keydets lone victory this season came over Division II Chowan.
“Not taking anything away from VMI but we feel like we’ve been playing like crap,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said on Monday. “We have to get our act together before we start worrying about VMI.”
Navy needs to figure it out quickly. After VMI, the Mids will host a strong San Jose State (2-1) squad that nearly upset Stanford, 20-17. The following week, Navy travels to Air Force (1-1) for a grudge match the Mids have anticipated since last year’s 35-34 loss which cost them the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy for the second straight year.
“We still got a long way to go,” Niumatalolo said. “It’s two tough games we lost, but we still have all of our goals intact.”