Bulls cramming for Navy triple option
If USF's defensive coaches had their druthers, the Bulls likely would've kicked off the season against Navy. Given the option, they would've selected the triple option.
Yes, the same triple option steamrolling foes at the rate of more than 300 rushing yards a game with cut-blocking precision. The team no one wants to play is the one the Bulls staff probably would've hand-picked for its opener.
But the coaches' reasons are more practical than sadistic.
All of spring and summer workouts are geared toward Game One. Meetings, practices, even preseason conditioning would've centered around getting the Bulls' minds and bodies prepared for the Midshipmen. For defensive players, eye discipline would've been a buzz phrase by April.
But fate has kept the Bulls and Middies apart until this weekend. Instead of spending an entire preseason on Keenan Reynolds and Co., Bulls coaches and players spent a few periods in the spring, a few more in August, and the past five days prepping for one of the season's more unique and daunting challenges.
"They're gonna force us to be as disciplined and as fundamentally sound as we've ever been," USF defensive coordinator Tom Allen said.
The fact Navy (5-1, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) runs an offense the Bulls (4-3, 2-1) won't see at any other time this season isn't necessarily what makes Saturday's task so formidable. It's that the Midshipmen run it so effectively.
Experience at key positions has made the Navy triple option virtually machine-like in its execution. Reynolds, two rushing touchdowns shy of tying the NCAA's career record (77), will be making his 39th career start Saturday. LG E.K. Binns and LT Joey Gaston have started 27 and 22, respectively. FB Chris Swain will be making his 14th start.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Navy has committed only four turnovers (tied for third-fewest in Division I-A) and 25 penalties (fewest in I-A) in six games. A team that subsists on the most scrutinized block in football is drawing only 4.17 penalty flags a game.
"It seems like they just chop block going to lunch and going to dinner. It's all they do," Allen said.
"When you work on something like that a segment of times, and yet they do it 365 (days)...you've got to be able to elevate your level of execution yourself. If they get you on the ground, they win. It's a very difficult thing for guys who just don't see it that much."
Hence the reason Coach Willie Taggart devoted periods of practice to the triple option as early as last spring. The Bulls will possess more girth on the interior and more across-the-board athleticism on defense, but so did East Carolina.
In that Sept. 19 contest, Navy controlled the ball for more than 36 minutes, ran for 415 yards and won, 45-21.
"As a defense, you have rules and responsibilities, you've got to be patient and stay locked in," Taggart said.
"And that's how they get you because they'll keep doing it and keep doing it, and that one time that you lose focus and not do your job is when they'll hit you and they'll get you really good. ... With all the moving parts that they have, you feel like you have to do someone else's job and you don't. And if you're not disciplined enough it will hurt you."
Ideally, Taggart would've liked a few more weeks -- or even months -- to reinforce this sermon. As it stands, they've mainly had to cram for one of the season's stiffest tests.
"How many possessions you're used to getting, you're gonna get a lot less, so you need to make them count," said Connecticut coach Bob Diaco, whose team fell 28-18 to the Midshipmen in late September. "It's really a full team challenge to try to end up with one more point than Navy."