Sunday, September 03, 2006

Paul Johnson for Superintendent

USNA At Large,
  OK, OK, I know the subject line above is a little overwrought.
  But, I wanted to resend this post put out a few days ago by Dave Leather.
  Yes, it's about football, but its also a bit about what the Naval Academy is supposed to be about.
  For years and years, many of us were looking for a coach that could match up with our strengths and weaknesses. Paul Johnson is obviously the man.
  Briefly, what are those strengths and weaknesses? (BTW, most Boat School grads know that strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin.) We'll begin with "weaknesses."
  We are not going to be able to match up pound for pound with most of the teams we play.
  We are not going to be able to recruit many players that have aspirations for the NFL.
  We are not going to be able to allow our players to spend all day, every day with football.
  I'm sure you can come up with lots more comparative weaknesses.
  When you add them up, could there possibly be any strengths?
  You bet!
  OK, so we are lighter -- that means that we ought to be just a little quicker and faster and tricky.
  OK, so we are not a farm team for the NFL. That means we can get players who love to play football AND aspire to be core combat leaders. I'll take those traits any day of the week when you are in a tight game and the clock is winding down, e.g., last night against East Carolina.
  OK, so our players can't spend 24/7 with the playbook. No problem. First, our players are probably going to be a little smarter than the average CIVWORLD player on the other side of the line. Second, keep the play book a little simpler and put more emphasis on our guys thinking on their feet. How many more advantages could we possibly want?
  Enter Paul Johnson and Bingo! we have a match!!
  The Triple Option turns our weaknesses into strengths.
  On second thought, I hereby withdraw the nomination of Paul Johnson for Superintendent. He's far too valuable just where he is.
  One other area where we can turn a strength into a weakness -- our kicking game. We may not be able to recruit wannabe NFL kickers, but we annually bring aboard bunches of superb athletes, including a LOT of former soccer players. We have lots of plebes every year that we ought to be going through with a fine tooth kicking comb and begin to groom some of them from the git-go for football kicking chores.
  I'm reminded of a bad example and a good example: The bad -- in the pre-Johnson years a Poor Plebe is put into the Army-Navy game to kick the all-or-nothing field goal. He misses. There were so many aspects of that one play that were unsat, we don't have enough space to delineate them all. Suffice to say, that if the coach at the time had been grooming kickers from Plebe Year HE WOULD HAVE HAD PLENTY OF SENIORS TO CHOOSE FROM (or Segundos or Youngsters). (Final BTW, that Plebe showed tremendous class subsequent to that dark moment and, last I heard, is doing just fine. God speed to him.)
  The good example -- Admiral John Stufflebeem.
  In any event ...
    ... Lots of BZs to Coach Paul Johnson, John Howland
Mids march in formation
Navy's version of the triple option puts a successful spin on an outdated offense
By Gary Lambrecht
Baltimore Sun Reporter
Originally published August 30, 2006

The Navy players do not hide confidence in their ability to move the ball.
They have seen what kind of damage this offense, with its unfamiliarity,
deception and numbing repetition, can do. And they have seen their share of
defenses give in to impatience and frustration while trying to solve the

"When [the offense] is clicking, a team comes out in one defense, and we run
them out of it. Then, they switch to another defense, and we run them out of
that," senior left tackle Matt Pritchett said. "Then, they just sit in one
defense and take [abuse]."

"Depending on what the defense does, we like to get 4 or 5 yards and march
down the field, but if you give us more, we'll take it," senior quarterback
Brian Hampton added. "In this offense, nobody can be selfish, but anybody
can have a breakout day."

Under fifth-year coach Paul Johnson, Navy has erased years of futility with
a 26-11 record over the past three seasons, including back-to-back bowl game
victories. Better players all over the field explain much of that.

But more than anything else, Navy's resurgent path is strewn with opposing
defenses that were bigger and quicker than the Mids, yet still unable to
counter Navy's trump card, which is basically a variation on a college
football relic.

When trying to understand Navy's spread offense, picture the triple-option
attacks that used to be staples at schools such as Nebraska, Oklahoma and
Ohio State. But subtract the power quotient that marked such run-heavy
formations as the wishbone and go with a one-back set without a tight end.
Add finesse, spacing, one or two receivers and the element of surprise, on
the ground and through the air.

Navy's success is wrapped in an offense Johnson has studied and refined
since he became offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern more than 20 years

The triple option remains the foundation from which everything else flows.
It is based on defensive keys the quarterback reads before either handing
the ball to the fullback, running it himself between the tackles, or moving
along the line of scrimmage before turning up the field to gain yardage or
pitching the ball to a trailing slotback.

How the defensive end reacts on the side where the play is called dictates
much about the decision by the quarterback, who also watches his own,
play-side guard before committing to an option. If the guard opens a hole,
the fullback probably will get the call. If the guard-tackle gap is closed,
the quarterback will keep the ball and move laterally while reading the
pitch key, before either keeping it or tossing it to his slotback, depending
on who is covered.

"We don't know on most plays who the fake guy is or who's the guy that gets
the ball. It depends on how the defense reacts," said Johnson, who as
offensive coordinator at Navy in 1996 used the spread to drive the Mids to
their first winning record (9-3) in 14 years. "The neat thing about the
option is even if [the defense] puts eight or nine guys in the box, it
doesn't keep you from running the ball. We don't have to block them all,

The Navy option is based on simplicity, repetition and deception. The
playbook consists of merely seven or eight plays. Each play has at least
half a dozen variations, such as sweeps or counters, and each calls for a
different blocking scheme. Every running play has a play-action pass option.

Besides Air Force, Navy is the only school that still bases its offense on
the triple option, which began to fade out of vogue in the early 1980s, as
more programs incorporated passing into their systems and turned to the
pro-style set prevalent in the college game today. The option came to be
seen as an unattractive recruiting tool for quarterbacks and receivers
looking to hone NFL skills, and it was typically ineffective at overcoming
large deficits to win games.

Johnson, whose offense averaged 34.2 points last season, insists the option
is not dying, but is hiding in disguise. "You look at schools like Florida,
Utah, West Virginia. They're doing what we do, but they're doing it out of
the [shot]gun [formation]," Johnson said. "Most everybody has a little bit
of option in their stuff, but none of them want to be called option teams.
They're afraid of that taboo. You could take this offense and gear it toward
throwing the ball very easily. We choose to gear it toward the run. You play
to the personnel and the talent you have."

For Navy, the option is an equalizer. The Mids' defense usually is too
undersized to dominate its opponents. The offense faces the same problem,
and would not thrive with one-on-one blocking schemes. The option allows
Navy to control the clock, stay in close games and protect leads.

"There are some unique challenges that make it extremely difficult to
prepare for. We donate specific time periods going back to spring practice
to defending the option," said Massachusetts coach Don Brown, who will face
Navy on Sept. 9.

"You have to get your scout team to run it for you as fast as they can,
which is hard to do, because we don't see it much," Brown said. "You have to
get your defense to stay hard on their keys and let those take them to the
ball. And you have to limit their big plays, like the play-action pass."

The Mids will kill a defense softly with long drives - the 14-minute,
26-second epic that finished off New Mexico with a field goal in the 2004
Emerald Bowl stands out. Or, they will take the quick strike, should a
defense over-commit to the run and expose itself deep. Think of slotback
Reggie Campbell's 55-yard touchdown reception that set the tone for the
51-30 rout of Colorado State in last year's Poinsettia Bowl.

Navy has led the nation in rushing in two of the past three seasons, and
averaged barely 12 pass attempts in 2005. But Navy also averaged 20.3 yards
per catch and scored seven times through the air.

"What we start off with on Day One in camp will be the same things we'll be
practicing in Week 14 against Army. We keep it simple, and we keep doing it
over and over," said Ken Niumatalolo, Navy's assistant head coach, who
played quarterback at Hawaii in the late 1980s under Johnson, then the
offensive coordinator.

"We've added wrinkles to it, like the toss [or sweep], but we've never
revamped it or disregarded the core. It doesn't hurt our feelings that
nobody else is running it."


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