High-scoring Navy offense runs into nation's third-ranked defense

Navy's patented triple-option offense has been churning out yards and piling up points at an impressive rate the last seven games. The Midshipmen operated at peak efficiency during the month of November, scoring touchdowns on 33 of 38 possessions that were not kneel-downs.

Offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper has a message for media and fans: Don't expect more of the same on Saturday against Temple in the American Athletic Conference championship game.


"These guys are really good on defense. It's not going to be like the last three weeks when we were going up and down the field. It's going to be tough sledding against this crowd," Jasper said. "We've been watching Temple on film and they are very fast, athletic and physical. They have a culture there of being very tough and physical."

Temple boasts the third-ranked defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision behind Alabama and Michigan. With left end Haason Reddick and linebacker Avery Williams leading the way, the Owls are allowing only 237.4 total yards per game.


Despite playing in a league loaded with high-powered offenses, Temple stands 10th nationally in scoring defense — giving up an average of just 17.8 points.

"In this day and age of college football, where everybody is spreading you out and going up-tempo, to be the third-ranked defense in the country is impressive. I've got nothing but respect for that defense," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

Temple has taken pride in playing stingy defense during the four-year tenure of head coach Matt Rhule. However, closer inspection reveals a possible chink in the armor of the unit directed by defensive coordinator Phil Snow.

While the Owls have become quite adept at defending the spread passing attacks that prevail in the American, they have not handled the triple-option so well.

In 2014, quarterback Keenan Reynolds smoothly operated an option offense that rolled up 487 rushing yards during a 31-24 defeat of Temple. Rhule was furious about that defensive letdown and publicly stated so immediately afterward. He has no doubt reminded this year's troops of what happened that September day in Philadelphia.

"Coach Rhule had that posted on the wall. I know that's in the back of their minds. They had this game circled when they were going to play us again," Jasper said. "Coach Rhule is a very competitive man and he's going to have his team ready to come out and play well this weekend."

Rhule admitted as much during Monday's conference call featuring the two championship head coaches.

"The last time we played against the Naval Academy and Coach Ken, they ran for nearly 500 yards against us," Rhule said. "I think all those kids that played on the field that day did not like that we got physically beat up."


However, Temple did not fare well in its next outing against a triple-option team, allowing Army West Point to amass 329 rushing yards in a 28-13 upset in this season's opener on Sept. 2. Rhule was extremely upset with the way his defense was manhandled in the trenches by the Black Knights.

"They just dominated us. They physically dominated the line of scrimmage," Rhule said during the post-game press conference following the Army loss. "It wasn't really, like, assignment football. They weren't even running the option half the time. They were just handing it off to the dive and knocking us off the ball, and we weren't able to knock them back."

It will be interesting to see whether Snow employs the same game plan for Navy's version of triple-option as he did against Army. Either way, Niumatalolo believes the experience of playing an option opponent earlier this season will help the Owls on Saturday.

"Temple played Army early in the year so they're going to have option principles in place. Opening up with Army, they spent all camp getting ready for the option," Niumatalolo said. "So this is going to be a different animal. We're going to have our hands full versus a staff that knows exactly what they're doing and really good, hard-nosed football players."

Temple has a pair of disruptive defensive ends that could cause Navy some difficulty. Haason Reddick leads all of FBS with 21 ½ tackles for loss and needs just two more to set the single-season school record in that category. Running mate Praise Martin-Oquike has proven equally adept at gaining penetration, posting 9 ½ tackles for loss and seven sacks. Williams, an Archbishop Curley product, is used in numerous blitz packages and stands third on the team with nine tackles for loss.

"This is a very tough, physical, hard-nosed defensive football team. Their exterior guys are really athletic and run to the ball," Niumatalolo said. "This is going to be an extremely tough, hard-nosed football game. I don't think anyone would expect anything different in our conference championship."


Quarterback Will Worth was the catalyst as Navy led the country in scoring during the month of November with a whopping 52.8 points per game. By contrast, Temple fielded the nation's top scoring defense last month, allowing a measly average of 3.3 points while pitching a pair of shutouts in three contests.

Worth became the first Navy quarterback to surpass 100 yards rushing and passing in three straight games — doing so against Tulsa, East Carolina and SMU. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior leads the nation with 25 rushing touchdowns and has accounted for 2,544 yards from scrimmage (1,181 rushing, 1,363 passing).

"Nothing surprises me about Navy and what Ken does with that offense. They have a tremendous system, coach it really well and are very proficient with what they do," Rhule said. "They've had quarterback after quarterback after quarterback. Will Worth is an outstanding player and everything I've seen of him has been extremely impressive."

Navy unloaded 66 points on East Carolina then came back one week later and unleashed 75 against SMU. It was the first time in program history the Midshipmen have scored 60 points or more in consecutive games.

"With Coach Jasper and Will Worth leading our offense … we're operating at a high level right now. Really happy with the way we're playing at this point of the year," Niumatalolo said. "With that said, we're getting ready to play the No. 3 defense in the country. I wish we could carry all those points over, just from the standpoint we're going against a really good defense that's going to be tough to scorde on."

Rhule does believe the time devoted during preseason to preparing for Army will help the Temple defense in terms of understanding the basic scheme. However, Rhule said this week's game plan must be tailored specifically to Navy, which ranks second nationally in rushing offense with 342 yards per game.


"Obviously, the challenge of stopping that offense is significant. You try to get ready in three days for something they do 365 days a year," Rhule said. "It's really hard because they're really good at it. No matter what defense you're in, Coach Niumatalolo and Coach Jasper have answers."

Worth has plenty of other weapons at his disposal. Chris High and Shawn White have shared the workload at fullback and combined for 870 yards on 136 carries. The top three slotbacks — starters Dishan Romine and Toneo Gulley along with super sub Darryl Bonner — have teamed to produce 1,028 rushing yards off 109 pitchouts.

"I don't want to make it all about the offense. It's about their players. There's a lot of schools that have tried to run the triple-option and haven't been very good at it," Rhule said. "This offense works because it's run by tremendous coaches and tremendous players. They do it better than anyone else. No one has caught up to it."

Rhule said the Temple defensive coaching staff has carefully studied those defenses that had a modicum of success against Navy in recent years. That film review found that opponents that lined up in odd fronts did the best job of containing the Midshipmen.

"Other than the 3-4 teams, the odd teams, no one's really had a chance to keep the game very close against them," said Rhule, perhaps tipping what type of alignment Temple will employ.

Air Force always uses a 3-4 front with the nose guard covering up the center when playing Navy. The Falcons are the only opponent to stuff the Mids, who were limited to a season-low 57 rushing yards in a 28-14 loss.


"Temple played Army this year and came out in an odd front with a couple different packages. We really don't know what we're going to see, but hopefully we'll be able to adjust," Jasper said. "Air Force got after us big-time, but we've gone against odd front teams in the past and done very well. No matter what the defense does, we need to find the plays that work then execute as far as blocking and getting the ball where it needs to go."

AAC championship


Today, noon

TV: Chs. 2, 7

RADIO: 1430 AM, 1090 AM


LINE: Navy by 21/2