Capital Gazette Article on Navy Tulane

Tulane defensive strategy catches Navy by surprise

Tulane employed the same defensive alignment and strategy against Georgia Tech in two straight seasons. So Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper figured the Green Wave would use that game plan again when going against a similar triple-option opponent.
Navy had two weeks to prepare for Tulane and the offense prepared for one particular front. So the Midshipmen were thrown for a loop when the Green Wave used another formation in Saturday's 31-14 Navy victory.
"When you spend six days working against one defense then you get into the game and they do something totally different, it's tough," Jasper admitted. "They came out in an odd front and used their best players to cover our center and guards and try to knock them out of there."
Tulane has a pair of massive defensive tackles in Tanzel Smart (6-1, 303) and Corey Redwine (6-2, 328) and they played a big part in helping the visitors control the line of scrimmage. The result was a long afternoon for the Navy offense, which was held to a season-low 291 total yards.
Navy struggled to run the ball as Tulane brought its entire defense up close to the line. Jasper made numerous adjustments in an effort to find the soft spot, but nothing worked as the Midshipmen managed only 133 rushing yards.
That was Navy's lowest output on the ground since gaining just 162 against Western Kentucky in 2013. It was the fewest rushing yards for the Midshipmen in a win since they were limited to 109 by Georgia Southern in 2010.
"They covered up all our linemen and said you're not going to run the ball inside. We tried to get the ball outside and they were rallying to the ball," Navy running game coordinator Ashley Ingram said. "We tried a few different things and couldn't find many openings. Give the Tulane defenders a lot of credit. They were well-coached and did a good job of executing the game plan."
Redwine and Smart were disruptive forces up front and finished with seven and six tackles, respectively. Middle linebacker Eric Thomas led Tulane with eight tackles while three cornerbacks – Richard Allen, Parry Nickerson and Jarrod Franklin – contributed six stops apiece.
"You've got to be able to block people and they made it tough on us inside. Give Tulane credit, they did a great job on defense. They were very physical and aggressive," Jasper said. "It was a rough day. I don't make any excuses."
Tulane repeatedly gained penetration and produced 11 tackles for loss with linebacker Nico Marley, safety Darion Monroe and defensive tackle Calvin Thomas notching two apiece.
"It was probably the most talented defensive line we've played, and that includes Notre Dame," Ingram said. "We told our offensive line that this was going to be one of the best defensive fronts they've seen and I think it was. There are some guys in that front seven that can play in the NFL."
Tulane challenged Navy to throw the football effectively and the home team had trouble doing that due to poor pass protection. Starting quarterback Keenan Reynolds was sacked four times and flushed out of the pocket before even getting a chance to set his feet on several other occasions.
"They basically said you've got to throw the football to beat us," Jasper said. "We tried to throw play action and either got sacked or couldn't complete it."
Navy's offensive linemen aren't built to pass protect and don't spend a whole lot of time working on that skill in practice. The Midshipmen came into Saturday's contest having attempted just 34 passes through five games, fewest in the country.
Nonetheless, Ingram was frustrated that Green Wave defenders repeatedly got a free run at Reynolds. "We called some pass plays early and didn't protect Keenan. He was back there running for his life," Ingram said.
Navy eventually connected on just enough passes to come away with the win. Reynolds finished 7 of 11 for 134 yards with long completions to Jamir Tillman and DeBrandon Sanders setting up the team's only two scores in the first half – a touchdown and field goal.
"We had to pick our spots in the passing game and fortunately were able to throw the ball over their heads a few times. I thought Keenan made some key throws," Jasper said. "Our kids kept plugging away and found a way to move the football."
HUGE STOP: There was no doubt the turning point came early in the fourth quarter when Tulane faced third-and-1 from the Navy 2-yard line.
The Green Wave went with the quarterback sneak and Tanner Lee succeeded in picking up the first down, but he fumbled in the process. Inside linebacker Daniel Gonzales jarred the ball loose and defensive end Will Anthony recovered for Navy.
That put a sudden end to an impressive 72-yard drive that had Tulane on the verge of cutting its deficit to 17-14.
"You're down on the 1-yard line and I thought it was a first down," Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. "I didn't see the turnover. It was very unfortunate for us."
Gonzales knew what was coming and launched himself at Lee, who had reached the 1-yard line and was still fighting for forward progress.
"I just dove over the top and put my helmet on the ball," Gonzales said. "I knew they were going to come with a quarterback sneak or something up the middle so I told the safety to cover my B gap because I was going over the top."
Anthony, who has five career fumble recoveries, was at the bottom of a mass of humanity when the ball suddenly came into view.
"I squeezed down on the tackle's hip and just closed my eyes. I thought I had the ball in my hands and it turns out it was Bernie's helmet," said Anthony, referring to nose guard Bernie Sarra. "Next thing I know, the ball just started wiggling past me. Some dude was trying to get his hand through my arm, but I kept hitting him with a chicken wing."
Head coach Ken Niumatalolo said the fact the defense was able to force a turnover while backed up against its own goal line showed competitive spirit. "It goes to show the fortitude of our kids. They kept playing, kept fighting, didn't give up," he said.
Cornerback Quincy Adams led Navy with 12 tackles, many of which came after the receiver he was covering caught the ball. Safety Daiquan Thomasson recorded a career-high nine tackles in his second career start while inside linebacker Micah Thomas contributed seven.
"My hat goes off to Navy. Their defense kept us out of the end zone," Johnson said. "I thought this was our best (offensive) plan we had all year, but their defense played great."

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