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Passing on play-action?

It was there early, on Navy's first play from scrimmage in Friday's game at Ball State. It was there late, as the Midshipmen were trying to mount a fourth-quarter comeback in a 35-23 loss to the Cardinals.

That quarterback Jarod Bryant failed to connect on both occasions to slotback Shun White, overthrowing White on the first attempt and watching the other get picked off after wobbling short of his intended target, underscored Navy's inability to take advantage of its secret weapon - the play-action pass.

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"When you're in a game like that, everything gets magnified," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said this week. "In a game like that, you've got to make everything count."

Considering the way most opposing defenses load up at the line of scrimmage trying to stop Navy's triple-option running game, would Niumatalolo think about using play-action more in the future, starting Saturday at Duke?

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"Those are always things that you think about. 'Could you use it more?' " Niumatalolo said. "It's based on how they're playing. ... More importantly, you've got to execute when you do it."

One thing is certain heading into Wallace Wade Stadium: The possible return of Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada at quarterback against the Blue Devils (1-1) is not going to change the run-to-pass ratio for Navy (1-1).

In Navy's first two games, the Midshipmen have rushed 117 times for 904 yards while Bryant completed eight of 16 passes for 111 yards. As has been the case for the past three years, Navy is again ranked first among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing. As usual, the Midshipmen are near the bottom - 117th out of 119 - in passing.

Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper, who was a quarterback and slotback at Hawaii when former Navy coach Paul Johnson was the offensive coordinator for the Rainbow Warriors, said play-action still has to be used as trickery rather than a trademark in the triple option.

"It has to be a surprise. It has to be something they're not expecting," Jasper said. "First and foremost, you've got to be running the football. You've got to make those people try to come up and defend you. If they're not afraid of you, they're not going to come up at all."

First-year Duke coach David Cutcliffe doesn't think the Midshipmen should move far away from what has made them successful.

"They don't have to," Cutcliffe said yesterday. "They don't want to get behind the down-and-distance at all. They're a four-down football team. If they can keep the ball and score, they've done two things. Obviously they've scored on you, and two, they keep your offense off the field. When they pull it out and do it [play-action] because it doesn't happen as often, they are much more effective than most teams in giving themselves an opportunity for big plays."

Receiver Tyree Barnes said all of his 25 career catches have come off play-action passes. Though he leads Navy this season with three receptions, Barnes is confident the play-action will come to pass - at some point.

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"I know it's going to come. It works well into our offense," said Barnes, a senior. "When we do run those play-actions, we do have to complete them because we are going to be wide open. We have to have that big-play capability."

In last year's 46-43 comeback win over Duke at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Navy compiled a season-high 236 passing yards. "It was what they were giving us," recalled Kaheaku-Enhada, who was 11 of 16 for 217 yards in the first half before fatigue set in and Bryant had to take over in the second half. "They were selling out for the run and we hit them on a couple of passes."

Jasper said the team often tries to simulate game situations, including play-action passes, in practice. As a result, the play-action passes are usually thrown without any defenders covering downfield.

"Sometimes we throw the ball just against air. I say, 'Guys, in a game it will be just like that because nobody will be around,' " Jasper said. "If you can't complete them now, you can't complete them in a game. That [the early pass to White] was a good example. You've just got to make a better throw."

NAVY@DUKE

Saturday, noon

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TV: ESPNU

Radio: 1090 AM

Line: Duke by 2


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