Navy vs. Penn State: How the Nittany Lions Plan to Defend the Option
To say it's been an emotional start to the 2012 campaign would be a massive understatement for the Penn State football team.
After surrendering 21 unanswered points in the second half to Ohio in the opener, the Nittany Lions defense stepped it up in Charlottesville against Virginia this past weekend.
However, blown opportunities and a late Cavaliers drive did the Lions in, and now they're 0-2 to start the season for the first time since 2001.
With a must-win coming up against a scrappy Navy squad, the biggest concern for the Lions heading into Saturday shouldn't be injuries or special teams—it should be the option.
Sure, the Midshipmen were brutally outscored by Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland opening weekend 50-10 and the Lions probably have the better athletes.
However, the option always poses a problem for unfamiliar opponents and it'll be a tall task for the Penn State defense to contain the Midshipmen this Saturday.
With that being said, let's take a look at what the defense needs to do against Navy this weekend to stop their option attack.
Preach Contain to the Defensive Ends
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Dating back to his time as quarterback in 1980s at Hawaii, Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo has formulated an effective option-style offense.
One of the primary aspects of the attack is the ability to get the quarterback around the corner with pitch-back options trailing him.
While linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti will obviously need to be on their toes, the Penn State defensive ends will need to be playing contain in order to stop Navy.
With eight tackles in the first two games, senior end Sean Stanley has done a serviceable job thus far in 2012, but he'll need to use his experience accrued over the years to help him on Saturday.
With senior Pete Massaro's knee and shoulder (via Tim Gilbert of the Philadelphia Daily News) giving him issues, redshirt freshman Deion Barnes will need to continue his tear and create havoc on the Lions' front line.
However, the Philadelphia native has only two games of experience under his belt and will need to stay disciplined against a grind-it-out Navy squad.
While it's been good to see Barnes getting to the quarterback (three sacks ties for Big Ten lead), the inexperienced athlete will need to restrain himself from overshooting into the backfield and blowing contain duties.
Put 8 Men in the Box
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Let's face it, the last Navy quarterback that had an opposing defense shaking in their cleats was the legendary signal-caller Roger Staubach.
Navy is obviously a run-oriented team and so defensive coordinator Ted Roof and the Penn State defense should not be afraid to put eight men in the box for the majority of plays.
With a front seven that held Virginia to 32 total rushing yards, the Lions clearly have the talent to stuff Navy on almost every play.
Another reason why the Lions should stack the box is the reality of Navy's play selection.
Two weeks ago in their game against the Fightin' Irish, the Midshipmen ran the ball a whopping 40 times compared to 19 passing attempts.
Considering most of the passing plays from Navy were intermediate gains, the Lions should be comfortable with creeping up a bit and anticipating the run.
Trust Your Secondary to Prevent the Deep Ball
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While option-style teams like Navy and Georgia Tech continuously pound the ball, one thing they do well is lure in a defense and then break off a deep strike via the inside veer play-action.
Despite this, I think the Lions would still be safe to go with eight men in the box, but the pressure will be on the secondary to play with enough cushion to not allow the deep ball.
Out of the 14 completions Navy's junior quarterback Trey Miller had against Notre Dame, only three completions went for more than 12 yards.
Historically speaking, Penn State secondaries almost always play a laissez-faire, bend-don't-break style so that shouldn't be too big of a problem.
Also, the Lions have the talent at corner and safety to be confident with the likes of Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.
But in what will most likely be a close game, the secondary can't afford to get burned and let this happen to them.
Control the Time of Possession
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Everyone knows the cliche saying, "The best defense is a good offense," but that could be the case in a few ways on Saturday.
While Penn State haven't won the past two games, something that has improved is the quality and longevity of offensive drives.
For example, Penn State strung together four drives of 12 plays or more (11,12,12,17) against the Cavaliers last Saturday.
One key for the Lions against Navy will be to sustain long, healthy offensive drives in order to keep the defense off the field and keep them fresh.
If Penn State is able to control possession, it would be an indirect way of defending the option.
Clog the Middle and Get in the Backfield
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Even though a prime way for Navy's running attack to work is to work the sidelines, another option in the triple-option is the deceiving inside handoff or quarterback draw.
Considering this, Penn State's chances of winning this ballgame would greatly increase if defensive tackles Jordan Hill and Daquan Jones have a big game.
In order to take away the middle of the field, the play of those two guys will be huge, as they'll be tasked with busting through the Midshipmen guards and tackles and disrupting the backfield.
However, they'll also need to make proper adjustments and ensure that the A and B gaps are filled, allowing no running room for Miller or Navy's wide range of running backs.
In terms of the passing game, Navy normally gets solid pass protection on their throws because the opposing defenses are usually playing the run.
If Hill and Jones can rattle the quarterback, Navy will be forced to stick with the run and that'll make the option all the more easy to handle.