I was hesitant to get started on this, as it's the last BTBS preview I get to write for a while. But here goes nothing.
I've got to say, it almost feels like a waste of time diving into the numbers on this one. Not only does Navy run an offense unlike any Mizzou has seen this year (which means the numbers are somewhat worthless -- who cares that Mizzou's been able to stop the run? They haven't seen this run.), but Navy's defense, a 3-4, is unique as well. I'm going to dive in regardless (as if there were a chance I wouldn't), but in your head, picture me saying "Take this with a grain of salt, but ..." at the beginning of every paragraph.
Unless everybody tends to completely ignore the links in my links posts, we've all read multiple articles about the uniqueness of Navy's offense, not only in the use of the option, but also in the cut blocking, the discipline, and the lull-you-to-sleep passing game. How is all this rarity reflected in the stats? Not particularly well, actually.
|Navy Offense vs Missouri Defense|
|Category||Navy Offense||MU Defense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||99.8 (70)||100.1 (57)|
|Close Success Rate+ (Rk)||96.3 (80)||98.4 (66)|
|Close PPP+ (Rk)||106.5 (61)||102.5 (55)|
|Rushing S&P+||105.0 (54)||108.8 (41)|
||117.3 (42)||93.9 (70)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||103.3 (63)||111.2 (32)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||97.0 (81)||90.0 (88)|
|Red Zone S&P+||113.4 (36)||110.8 (39)|
|Q1 S&P+||107.0 (63)||84.3 (100)|
|Q2 S&P+||97.9 (74)||120.8 (28)|
|Q3 S&P+||108.3 (52)||105.2 (50)|
|Q4 S&P+||102.9 (52)||115.2 (31)|
|1st Down S&P+||101.7 (67)||107.7 (43)|
|2nd Down S&P+||97.0 (81)||100.5 (61)|
|3rd Down S&P+||121.8 (25)||101.0 (61)|
|Line Yards+||101.6 (61)||102.7 (51)|
|Close Sack Rate+
||31.4 (120)||83.6 (87)|
|Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
|38.5 (120) /
|96.3 (68) /
ironically, Navy actually rates better in their passing game than their running game, but we know that's a bit of misnomer -- if they had to pass a lot, it probably wouldn't work as well. (For proof, just look at those amazingly ghastly sack rates.)
Really, they're the anti-Texas Tech: as long as the threat of the run is there, they can technically pass whenever they want to. The most surprising measure to me is the fact that the Middies rank better in terms of big-play ability (PPP+) than efficiency (Success Rate+). Would have expected that to be the other way around.
|When Navy Has the Ball...
|Best Time for Navy:||Early in the half
|Best Time for Missouri:||Later in the half
We're already stumped by the numbers, aren't we? Yes, Mizzou has the ratings advantage in the rushing game, but is that really the case? And is Navy's pass offense really better than Mizzou's pass defense? Probably not.
Standard Downs S&P+
Q2, Q4 S&P+
1st Down S&P+
Sack Rates of all sorts ... and I mean a big, big advantage
And for the Middies...
Passing Downs S&P+ (they run a LOT on passing downs, and it works)
3rd Down S&P+
Ricky Dobbs: 47-for-91 passing (51.6%), 901 yards (9.9 per pass), 5 TD, 3 INT; 285 rushes, 1,037 yards (3.6 per carry), 24 TD
We've read a lot about Ricky Dobbs in recent weeks. Great leader, great rusher, future politician. Honestly, in what I've seen from Dobbs over the last couple of years, he looks like a much more natural passer than previous Navy QBs like Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, Jarod Bryant or Aaron Polanco. The stats don't necessarily suggest that -- Navy's passing game is based on lulling the defense to sleep and then making very easy passes over the top -- but it's just what I've seen. And there's no question this is a confident offense in Dobbs' hands. The trick for Mizzou is just going to be what it always is with option quarterbacks: hit him. A lot. Hit him when he runs it, hit him when he pitches it, hit him when he tries to throw it. He's used to it, but that doesn't mean it's not the right strategy.
On a semi-related note, I loved reading about Mizzou's coaching approach to the "assignment football" necessary for stopping the option. I'm sure other schools do the same thing, but the idea of having all three major players in the triple option -- the fullback, quarterback and halfback -- carrying footballs and getting tackled by their assigned man is a nice touch. If Mizzou can capitalize on the extra practice time (Ohio State certainly didn't), fight off the cut blocks and stay disciplined, I'm very confident in Mizzou's ability to take this game. And really, the one guy I'm zeroing in on and paying attention to early in the game is Andrew Gachkar. I think Sean Weatherspoon will play well, and I'm not particularly worried about Will Ebner, but Gachkar has the biggest potential for moving a little too fast and getting himself into trouble here. I assume he'll be covering the pitch man more often than not, and as we'll see, the pitch man is the least-used and potentially most dangerous runner in this offense.
I guess one way to look at these numbers is, if Dobbs doesn't give it to the fullback, he's probably keeping it. For the season, Navy QBs have run the ball 338 times, fullbacks 242 times and slotbacks 138 times. Of course, the numbers also reveal Dobbs' effectiveness and timing -- he might not pitch it often, but he does it at the right times. Marcus Curry is probably the single scariest Navy offensive player not named Ricky Dobbs. He has not only averaged seven yards per carry, but if he's catching the ball downfield, he's probably scoring. He was the one scoring on the 80+ yard pass in the fourth quarter against Ohio State, and he's got all the speed you need to be effective in this offense.
That is correct: Navy's leading wide receiver had two more catches than Andrew Jones. This is such a funny offense.
Navy's offense doesn't necessarily have the ability to torch Mizzou's secondary with pure speed like somebody like Baylor did this year; their passing game is going to come down to how well Carl Gettis, Kevin Rutland, etc., pay attention and don't fall asleep. Or perhaps as importantly, how well Mizzou's safeties make up ground. When Dobbs pulls the ball back and looks downfield, whether Navy completes a 50-yard pass or a pass falls incomplete might depend on how guys like Jasper Simmons can close on the ball.
It's a good thing Navy doesn't have to pass block a lot (Navy has made only about eight passing attempts per game) because they certainly aren't very good at it. But on the run, they do exactly what they need to do. Their line yardage figures rank at almost exactly the same level as their overall Rushing S&P+ meaning they might not dominate, but they carry their weight. It's been reported that their starting center has been declared ineligible, and while I don't want to overstate the impact that might have ... it certainly can't hurt Mizzou's chances, right?
It really is interesting to look through the box scores and see who did and did not have success in stopping the Navy rush.
at Notre Dame: 6.1 yards per carry
at Rice: 5.9
Western Kentucky: 5.8
at SMU: 5.5
at Hawaii: 5.4
Wake Forest: 5.3
at Ohio State: 4.2
Louisiana Tech: 4.2
vs Army: 3.6
Air Force: 3.1
at Pittsburgh: 2.8
Some teams prepare well, some don't, and the success (or lack thereof) doesn't necessarily correlate with the best or worst rushing defenses. I think Mizzou will do pretty well, but it's far from guaranteed.
So Mizzou fared pretty well against K-State during Ron Prince's failed experiment with the 3-4 defense, but I seem to recall New Mexico and their 3-4 confusing Chase Daniel a bit back in 2006. Of course, UNM's D was more like a 3-3-5, and I think they used creative blitzes a lot more than Navy did, so even that probably isn't a very good comparison. Once again, let's see what the numbers tell us.
|Navy Defense vs Missouri Offense|
|Category||Navy Defense||MU Offense|
|Close S&P+ (Rk)||96.8 (66)||116.6 (26)|
|Close Success Rate+||92.6 (89)||108.7 (34)|
|Close PPP+||103.0 (52)||129.9 (22)|
|Rushing S&P+||103.8 (52)||110.8 (36)|
||90.3 (83)||121.7 (22)|
|Standard Downs S&P+||97.4 (69)||114.1 (31)|
|Passing Downs S&P+
||89.3 (90)||112.2 (47)|
|Red Zone S&P+||89.8 (89)||82.2 (107)|
|Q1 S&P+||109.9 (42)||123.3 (28)|
|Q2 S&P+||89.7 (91)||112.1 (47)|
|Q3 S&P+||92.7 (81)||133.1 (7)|
|Q4 S&P+||87.2 (101)||99.9 (68)|
|1st Down S&P+||97.1 (69)||118.0 (24)|
|2nd Down S&P+||86.8 (101)||109.9 (51)|
|3rd Down S&P+||105.2 (54)||113.2 (45)|
|Line Yards+||97.9 (67)||98.5 (76)|
|Close Sack Rate+
||66.4 (108)||155.6 (19)|
|Standard Downs /
Passing Downs Sack Rate+
|80.4 (90) /
|282.2 (6) /
If the Mizzou D vs Navy O battle is a wash, then you have to like Mizzou's chances because they've, uhh, got a number of advantages here.
|When Missouri Has the Ball...
|Missouri Passing||Mizzou big
|Best Time for Navy:||Q1|
|Best Time for Missouri:||After Q1
Close S&P+, Success Rate+, PPP+
Rushing, Passing S&P+
Standard Downs, Passing Downs S&P+
Q1, Q2, Q3 (big), Q4 S&P+
1st, 2nd, 3rd Down S&P+
All Sack Rates (big)
Red Zone S&P+
Navy's best shot in this game comes down to two things: 1) dominating the ball, running the clock, shortening the game, and 2) limiting damage from Mizzou big plays and holding Mizzou to field goals. In that scenario, you could see a situation where Mizzou has much better per-play averages but is in a tight game late because they didn't take advantage of their opportunities and they've run about 25 fewer plays than they're used to running. They've won many games against seemingly more talented teams using this exact recipe. If Navy doesn't limit the big play and/or allows touchdowns in the red zone, it's hard to see how they're going to keep up.
Army aside, here's how the last three quarterbacks have fared against Navy:
- Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame: 37-for-51 (72.5%), 452 yards (8.9 per pass), 2 TD, 1 INT
- Pat Devlin, Delaware: 17-for-26 (65.4%), 194 yards (7.5 per pass)
- Bryant Moniz, Hawaii: 32-for-44 (72.7%), 366 yards (8.3 per pass), 3 TD
Combined, that's a 71.1% completion rate, 8.4 yards per pass, and a 5-to-1 TD-INT ratio. Now's a good time to remind you of Blaine Gabbert's stats this season when healthy: 205-for-319 (64.2%), 2,790 yards (8.7 per pass), 22 TD, 2 INT. I mean...I still see how Navy could stay close in this game, but it's hard not to see Mizzou dominating with the pass, isn't it?
In a 3-4, you rarely see serious play-making from defensive linemen -- it seems their job is as much about occupying blockers as anything else. That's certainly the case with Navy, as their best tackler, Jabaree Tuani, has fewer tackles than four linebackers and four defensive backs. Tuani's a pretty good player, but it's hard to get a read on everybody else. Being that the linebackers have quite a few TFL's, I guess that means the D-line does its job relatively well, but the major line stats -- 67th in Line Yards+, 108th in Sack Rate+ -- suggest there's still some work to be done here. Really, the key for Navy's front seven is to make sure Mizzou's run doesn't also get rolling like Mizzou's pass offense might. One of the reasons Navy was able to beat Notre Dame was that, even though Clausen passed for a ton of yards, they had no running game upon which to lean when things were tough. Even taking out Clausen's five carries for -5 yards, the Irish managed just 65 yards in 15 carries. If Derrick Washington can do better than that, then Mizzou's got too many weapons for Navy to handle.
Ahh, Ram Vela. If there's one good reason for playing Navy, it's that we get to roll this clip and pretend it has something to do with Mizzou:
Vela hasn't really done a ton since that play, but ... well, plays like that make careers all by themselves, don't they?
Now that that's out of the way, I should probably mention that Ross Pospisil is actually Navy's best LB, and a really good one overall. You're probably not going to see many 100-tackle LBs in the 3-4 -- there are plenty of tackles to go around -- but Pospisil's total of 76 (giving only half-credit for assists) is damn impressive, and his stat line points to Navy's biggest strength: their linebackers create potential turnovers. Pospisil (2 FF, 1 FR), Vela (1 FR, 3 INT), Tony Haberer (1 FF, 1 INT), and Craig Schaefer (2 FR) have all been disruptive forces around the ball, and while Mizzou has faced teams who have forced more fumbles than Navy -- Iowa State and Texas, for instance -- if a play is to be made by the Navy defense, chances are it's a linebacker doing the deed.
Well ... a linebacker or Wyatt Middleton, that is. He's been the Laurence Bowers-esque box score filler this year for Navy, racking up one of at least everything. In all, this secondary has been decent from a play-making perspective, but their Passing S&P+ rank of 83rd suggests that if they're not making plays themselves, they're giving them up at a decent clip. Which, needless to say, is good for Mizzou.
Punt Returns Rank: 88th (Mario Washington: 14 returns, 89 yards, 6.4 avg)
Net Punting Rank: 15th (Kyle Delahooke: 52 punts, 43.1 avg, 18 inside 20)
Kickoff Returns Rank: 118th (Gee Gee Greene: 33 returns, 607 yards, 18.4 avg)
Opponents' Kickoff Returns Rank: 88th
Field Goals: 52nd (Joe Buckley: 10-for-13, long: 50)
PATs: T-1st (Joe Buckley: 39-for-39)
Good news! Navy's not very good at kick returns! That suggests quite the resistable force v. movable object matchup when Mizzou kicks off. They're also quite iffy in the punt returns department, which is nice. They have a really nice pair of kickers in Joe Buckley and Kyle Delahooke (I HATE THAT FREAKING GUY!!!!) but are iffy everywhere else. Thanks to the Grant Ressel-Jake Harry combination, plus the fact that Jasper Simmons and occasionally Wes Kemp have been doing a pretty job in the kick returns department (and Navy is not very good covering kickoffs), I give the nod to Mizzou in this department.
Three Keys to the Game
Navy is steady rushing the ball, and their pass protection is horrendous. To me, it seems the most important down for Mizzou when Navy's offense is on the field is first-and-10. If Mizzou controls the action there, everything else will fall into place. Yes, Navy is solid in passing downs (because they don't pass), and yes, Navy's passing game is actually somewhat dangerous, but only when you don't know it's coming. The more 2nd-and-11's and 3rd-and-9's Mizzou can leverage Navy into, the fewer long drives they allow, and the more opportunity they have to put this game away.
Really, the same thing applies when Mizzou is on the field. Mizzou is much better on standard downs than passing downs, and as long as they stay out of 2nd- and 3rd-and-long situations, they should be able to score consistently.
Assignments and Pittsburgh
Assignments are always a key when facing Navy. If the practice methods worked and Mizzou is able to maintain their assignments, with Jaron Baston and the DTs making it hard to hand to the fullback, and the linebackers fighting off the blocks to take out their man, be it Dobbs or an SB, then while they still might give up some yards and first downs, they won't allow many big plays, and the Mizzou defensive backs will be less likely to fall asleep and give up a big play in the passing game. But if we start to see one LB having to cover both Dobbs and the pitch man because somebody was blocked well, or if we see two LBs biting on either the Dobbs keeper or the pitch, then there's trouble. Big plays will start to come, and Navy's per-carry average will start to look a lot more like what they managed against Notre Dame rather than Pittsburgh. The more Mizzou looks like Pittsburgh on defense tomorrow, the better they'll be.
And no, I didn't just bring up Pittsburgh so I could dream about Primanti Bros. sandwiches...mmm....
God I miss that place. Where was I? Oh yeah ... assignments. Maintain them.
Something about today's Post-Dispatch article about Danario's draft status really irked me.
Starting with Thursday's nationally televised Texas Bowl match against Navy, Alexander will be seeking to heighten awareness among NFL talent scouts who perhaps haven't seen enough of the Tigers' record-setting wide receiver yet to truly evaluate his pro potential.
"He's not a big-name guy, so he could end up falling a little bit unless he gets into the postseason and tears it up," longtime NFL scout Dave Razzano said. "But it only takes one team to like what they see."
How lazy do you have to be, how much film to you have to have avoided watching, to not have an idea of what Danario Alexander is capable of? And I'm not even talking about this season. Mizzou got to #1 in the country two years ago, and in the game that sent them there, the most watched college football game of the season, Danario had eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. All of his skills were on display then. Yes, he had the knee injuries, and yes, he disappeared for a while. But for people to pretend that he was a nobody until the last four games of the season is so exceedingly lazy. You want to talk about injury concerns? Fine. I loved Pinkel's response to this -- that Jeremy Maclin had a knee reconstructed by the same people who did Danario's knee, and he turned out fine -- but I can see how you may still be concerned by this. You want to explain to me that his route-running leaves something to be desired? I'm listening. But if you're just trying to explain to me that he's not a "big-name guy," then you're just proving that you're not paying attention.
(Then again, we knew nobody was paying attention simply because of the All-America votes. I'm not surprised by the scouts' quotes, just annoyed.)
So what does this have to do with Navy? Well, apparently scouts are actually watching now! Huzzah! Go get yourself another ten catches and 200 yards, Domino.
You know the drill by now. Because I don't actually trust my emotions to allow me to make an accurate pick, I'm going with the numbers, which say Mizzou by 10.4. You definitely get the impression that this could be a game Mizzou could "dominate" and win by 10-14 points, simply because of the pace of the game and Navy's ability to take advantage of mistakes. That ability is what allowed them to knock off Notre Dame (that, and some horrid Irish defense) and scare the bejeezus out of Ohio State, and if Mizzou is flat and/or undisciplined, the same thing can happen to them. But Pitt "dominated" them and won 27-14, and I expect something of the same tomorrow. We'll go with Mizzou 31, Navy 21. Danario, 'Spoon and the winningest senior class in Mizzou history go out with a third straight bowl bid, and Mizzou ups its three-year moving average of wins from 10.0 (2006-08) to 10.3 (2007-09).