Knights face top rush offense
When the Rutgers football team travels to Annapolis, Maryland, there will be glaring differences between Navy, which it faces tomorrow, and Penn State, the team the Scarlet Knights (2-1) lost to last weekend.
While the Nittany Lions struggle when running the ball, the Midshipmen (2-1) thrive when they keep the ball on the ground.
Navy averages 403 rushing yards per game, leading the nation by over 40 yards more than the second-closest team.
The amount of yards they generate offensively is largely the result of the sheer volume of runs they take. The Midshipmen have only attempted 19 passes all season.
Part of the reason Navy has been so efficient, rushing for 6.6 yards per carry, is due to its offensive scheme: the triple option.
The triple option is when the quarterback makes all the decisions and reads while running the ball.
The quarterback can hand the ball off to the fullback behind him, fake the hand off while running the ball himself or pitch the ball after the previous two sequences. It all depends on what he reads in the defense.
According to head coach Kyle Flood, the Midshipmen are the “gold standard” of option offenses.
“You’re talking about the best at what they do in the world,” Flood said. “The Navy offense, Coach Niumatalolo and his offensive staff — they’re the best at running this offense in the world, so we’re trying to simulate that in practice with players who don’t do this on a day-in and day-out basis.”
Preparation in practice started early in the week with sophomore safety Brian Verbitski emulating Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds while on the Knights’ scout team.
“First thing you better do is stop those guys in the middle because the quarterback and the running back carry the ball more than anybody else,” Flood said. “The quarterback who was injured last week, Reynolds, is back again now — 44 carries with 214 yards, the fullback has 30 carries for 222 yards. Then, they bring the back-up fullback in that is 245 pounds and he carried it 24 times for 173.”
Disciplined, assignment-oriented and physical football all came up as ways to cope with Navy, various Knights said.
Sophomore linebacker Steve Longa said there is temptation to abandon coverage assignments to stop the run.
“We have to read our keys,” Longa said. “If our assignment is to have a certain receiver man-to-man at all times, you know they are probably going to run the ball 90 percent of the time so you have that urge to go in there and stop it, but you can’t do that. When you start to do that, they notice, and guess what? They are going to make you pay for it. So we have to be disciplined.”
Along with being disciplined, junior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said it ultimately comes down to slowing down what Navy does.
If the Knights can do that, there is no doubt in Hamilton’s mind the Knights will be successful.
“You have to stop their running attack and set the tone. When you watch a lot of their tape, they set the tone,” Hamilton said. “They dictate the movement and things like that. We’ve got to be the tone-setters this game.”
Does Hamilton think they can set the tone?
He answered simply and without hesitation.
“There’s no question,” Hamilton said. “No question.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.