After Saturday’s loss to Notre Dame, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said that his offense had made a lot of mental mistakes – some errors he had never seen at all this season. He almost described that at times the offense seemed either confused or just had gotten that ‘deer in the headlights’ feeling because of the opponent or the national stage they were playing on.
I’m sorry but that is inexcusable for a team playing its tenth game of the season. And it is inexcusable for a team with several of the same players on it who helped Navy beat Notre Dame in three overtimes last season to break the most infamous streak in college football history.
Sure mental errors are going to happen but if they are happening to the degree that Niumatalolo suggested after Saturday’s game then that could indicate a bigger problem.
Last season if a player, on either side of the ball made a mental gaffe, there was a rude awakening waiting for them on the sideline. If the defense screwed up, Buddy Green and his staff weren’t afraid to get after players who made costly errors. It didn’t matter that half of his defense was on crutches or that some had barely played a down of college football, Green’s intensity was always on display. In addition, senior Irv Spencer stepped up and did an admirable job directing the young defense. Spencer may have been quiet, but he stood out.
Meanwhile, on the offensive side last season there was Reggie Campbell, Zerbin Singleton, Adam Ballard and Antron Harper. Each had their own way to motivate their teammates when required. The body language alone of those four players as they paced the sidelines in between series spoke volumes
Of course a lot of times a player or even an assistant coach was not really needed to light a fire under someone who needed a little motivation last season because a certain head coach was just waiting to get into someone’s grill to do some reminding about how to play smart football.
Now fast forward to Saturday’s game against Notre Dame or even two weeks ago against Temple. Someone please tell me who is the leader of the offensive unit – on AND off the field. Where was the fire in Baltimore when things were not going well? A colleague remarked to me following the game that he could not remember the last time he saw Navy’s offensive body language so telling…and in a bad way. For two games in a row, it has taken the unit more than three quarters to get a little bit of a swagger to their step. For an offensive unit that is averaging 300 yards rushing per game, there seems to be very little confidence amongst them. It seems as though this offense somehow needs to make a big play in a game just to feel good about themselves.
Either Navy’s offense is not very good or somebody needs to start telling them they are not very good in order to motivate them before the season is over.
The most popular place to look for an on-the-field motivator to take on this responsibility is Jarod Bryant. After all he is the senior captain and he has taken more snaps behind center than anybody else this season. And in the triple option offense, it is always natural to look at the quarterback first for leadership. However, Bryant has really had his hands full this season. He has had to overcome preparing to play three different positions this off-season as well as having to hear the endless comparisons (some unfair) to Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada. But Bryant has struggled a lot this season in directing Navy’s triple option attack. Sure, there is plenty of blame to go around in terms of execution, but it’s tough to be a vocal leader if you lead the team in fumbles.
Bryant may very well have been the on-the-field leader of this offense to this point. I don’t know because I’m not in the locker room. I don’t know what is being said in the huddle. I don’t know what offensive player does all the talking after a three-and-out series. All I can say is that it seems to me that Bryant has had to work on his own game too much to worry about what his teammates are doing. Don’t get me wrong, I do NOT blame Bryant. He is a remarkable leader and there is no doubt in my mind that his teammates would follow him in battle in a heartbeat. I just think what his fellow offensive players need right now is something he may not be able to give them, and that’s a kick in the pants.
So let’s just say, for argument’s sake, I’m right. Then who is going to be the on-the-field leader of this offense for the next three games with presumably Ricky Dobbs starting at quarterback?
I could go down the list of each senior on the unit and try to figure it out, but if I have to do that then it’s probably not very clear. And if there is no clear leader that emerges, that may mean a coach may have to fill that void. That’s where this may get a little tricky for a staff with several new coaches and a few familiar faces coaching different parts of the offense.
What offensive coach is currently in charge of giving the unit its tough love after a mental gaffe? Navy fans all know who it was last season. Could you imagine what would happen if a cable network proposed putting a microphone on Paul Johnson during a game? All I can say is they better have been ready to bleep out every other word after a Navy turnover…or after a ‘deer in the headlights’ moment for one of his players.
This year, after ten games, I’m not so sure who is the off-the-field leader of the offense. Is it the head coach? Is it Ivin Jasper, the offensive coordinator?
Sure, there are a lot of different types of leadership. Yelling and screaming isn’t by any means the only way to motivate a player. However I think if a Navy team is making unbelievable mental mistakes as their head coach describes and some players look like animals who are about to be road kill in the tenth game of the season, then in my opinion spit should be flying in every direction.
Maybe I missed some of that in-your-face leadership on the Navy sideline against the Irish, but I don’t think so. I’m always looking to see who is talking with who after things go badly. I’m not sure why I do this. Maybe it’s because I believe strict and forceful discipline works for service academy football teams, or maybe it’s because I like seeing people get yelled at.
Regardless, Navy’s defense played great against Notre Dame – good enough to win and it’s unfortunate that the Navy offense was not able to match their intensity.
Sure, it would be nice to see some more imagination in the play-calling (I’d give my right arm for a reverse or slot back pass); or some more consistent blocking; or the correct decision on when to pitch the ball. But I think the problem with Navy’s offense goes a lot deeper than just football execution. I find it hard to say about a school that produces some of the finest leaders in the world, but Navy’s offense desperately needs a leader to emerge.
Now since I’m not just somebody who just points out what I think is wrong without giving a few suggestions on how to fix it, here are a few ideas to chew on.
1) Name Ricky Dobbs the starter at quarterback for Northern Illinois and give Bryant a look at returning punts and kick-offs, and maybe even at slot back again. The unit needs a jolt and even though I’m sure there are a thousand reasons to not put your back-up quarterback in a position to get hurt…wait, that’s what the coaching staff had planned to do in the beginning of the season. No, Bryant probably can not learn every single aspect of the slot back position, but how difficult would it be to design a play or two with him in mind? Maybe Dobbs will quickly transform into the leader of this team. My gut tells me it will take awhile for him to feel comfortable in that role.
2) And since I don’t think starting Dobbs alone will solve the leadership void, maybe Coach Niumatalolo should think about moving Jasper out of the coach’s box. I don’t know the first thing about reading defenses from the coach’s box versus the field. Personally I’d see the field better from a few hundred feet in the air myself and maybe that’s enough reason to not do this. However, if Jasper is who the offensive players look and respond to, then having him in the coach’s box could be a waste of his in-game leadership abilities. Of course if you do that, who would go to the box? Here is a crazy idea – how about Kaipo? He knows the offense pretty well and maybe he could see a few things from up there to help Dobbs out…after Jasper greets him on the sideline for some one-on-one instruction.
3) If Jasper stays above the field, then maybe Coach Niumatalolo needs to be more pro-active with the offense. I think I saw this happening a bit more against Notre Dame. And I’m also pretty sure that this was something Johnson did last year when the defense was struggling…he got more involved on that side of the ball.
4) OPEN UP THE OFFENSE! How about starting the Northern Illinois game with a reverse or a pass from a slot back named Bryant to a quarterback named Dobbs? Heck, I think most critics will take a first Dobbs-led series that does not involve him carrying the ball the first three snaps. If successful, a trick play would give the team a huge confidence lift early in the game. And even if it fails, it should make Northern Illinois’ defensive coordinator think a little bit more about what to expect for the rest of the game. I’m not sure what this suggestion has to do with leadership, but if the Navy coaching staff is waiting for its offensive line to play better before they throw in some serious misdirection, they may run out of time this season to execute such a play.
5) Have Clint Sovie or Jeff Deliz play a little offense. Yes, I’m aware of how ridiculous this is and that it will never happen. However, both Deliz and Sovie have proven time and time again that they can mash some people into the earth. Maybe if they throw a pancake block or two on a defender, it will wake up the offense prior to halftime. I probably have not said this enough, but Navy’s defense in the first half against Notre Dame was as good as I have ever seen them play.
Agree with David? Disagree with David? Send him an email at Offtheyard@gmail.com and let him know.