All season long the ASU football team have prided themselves on their improved discipline, and there's no better way to gauge their success then facing Navy. The Midshipmen who will soon protect our country, consistently obey orders and bravely tackle any tasks presented, and that includes on the field. Beyond the call of duty, Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo represents the school's image perfectly.
"They are the Naval Academy and they put in a lot of time, sweat, blood and tears into their game," cornerback Deveron Carr said. "They are great people and it's an honor to play against these guys. They are fighting for our country and they are giving us the rights, and pretty much to do what we do every day in life in America."
As they have for years and like their service academy brethren, Navy runs the triple option offense. Before I break down the X's and O's or the intricacies of the tactic, people should understand it requires complete cooperation from all 11 guys on the gridiron.
The triple option is a decidedly run-heavy system; Navy carried the rock 645 times and threw only 160 passes. Current Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, who previously led Navy from 2002-2007, ran the scheme during his time in Annapolis. Despite receiving criticism about the triple option, Johnson's successful 147-64 career lifetime record speaks for itself.
During Johnson's tenure, Niumatalolo was the offensive coordinator and acquired insightful information. The offensive scheme worked brilliantly under Johnson; school leaders were essentially persistent on keeping it alive. Therefore, Niumatalolo provided a near seamless transition.
"It takes tons of discipline, that is the key to winning and success against these guys," safety Alden Darby said. "If you got a team full of guys running doing their own thing, you are going to lose."
Among the collective 124 FBS schools, Navy's offense ranked 86th in points scored, totaling 24.8 per contest. Although scoring opportunities aren't presented as often due to the slow-natured and methodical plan of attack, the consistent running allows Navy to control time of possession.
Within my recent daily life encounters, friends keep complaining about how Navy will be "boring, frustrating and repetitive" to watch. I surprisingly can't blame them, yet do realize it suits Navy's personnel wisely.
Conversely out here in Sun Devil country, Todd Graham and Mike Norvell feature a high tempo "left lane hammer down", fast pace exciting offense. Two vastly different concepts but both can potentially provide quality results. ASU heads into the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco at 7-4 and Navy stands in at 8-4. Relatively equal comparisons, besides the strength of scheduling cloud. The difference between the Pac-12 strategies and Navy's is basically night and day and yin and yang.
"It's an entirely different, because it not as talented as the Oregon's or USC pro style," defensive Lineman Jaxon Hood on Navy's playing style "They just do their assignments, and probably go harder than anybody."
"It's not as exciting, but that's how they get you though," Darby said. "They will run the ball run the ball and you kind of fall asleep out there, then they hit you with a big play. You know you wont get that many chances on interceptions."
In preparation for Navy's unusual offense, defensive coordinator Paul Randolph has implemented some new practice routines. Will Sutton, Junior Onyeali, Carl Bradford and company are known for immense pressure, but getting overaggressive could spell a disaster.
During the past few days at practice, football has been played without its key element: the ball. The reason being, coaches are hoping players will begin to monitor Navy's players, instead of solely swarming to the pigskin. Scheme wise, the Devil's plan on presenting numerous odd fronts to hopefully trigger confusion. Opposing quarterback Keenan Reynolds is extremely deceiving, therefore ASU's dominance against scout team simulations doesn't quite matter.
Throughout my conversations with numerous key ASU defensive players, assignment sound football remains the top priority. One incorrect decision can instantly result in seven points, placing extra significance on solid collaborative communication.
"Just staying disciplined and not wanting to guess to make the play," Hood said. "It seems so simple to make play but if you keep guessing around then they will break one for 80."
"I think we just got to make sure we play each position, play the full back, the pitch guy and quarterback," Carl Bradford said. "Make sure that everybody has their guy that they are assigned to."
Navy has three viable and capable options, yet ASU has overcome bigger, stronger, and faster threats at least six times. If the Devils leave Northern California with a loss, mental lapses and internal misunderstandings will likely be the reason.