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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Navy's offense a cut above the rest

By stephen tsai Editor

When Mana Silva was a junior quarterback at Kamehameha-Hawai'i, the school's athletic director suggested implementing the triple-option offense.

That was the scheme that athletic director Bob Wagner ran successfully as the University of Hawai'i's head coach for 10 years.

"I couldn't make the reads," said Silva, now UH's starting safety. "We ended up going to a four-spread conventional offense. (The triple-option) was complicated for me. It lasted a few weeks. Coach Wagner realized he didn't think we could run it, so we stopped running it."

Five years later, Silva and his UH teammates will try to solve the riddle of the triple-option when they face Navy Saturday at Aloha Stadium.

Paul Johnson, who was Wagner's offensive coordinator for eight years at UH, implemented the triple-option at Navy.

His successor, Ken Niumatalolo, is a former UH quarterback and assistant coach.

In the running phase of the triple option, the quarterback can hand off to the running back, keep the ball or pitch to a trailing slotback.

It is a stretch offense that requires defenders to make the right reads while fighting off blocks from all points.

Unlike more traditional offenses, the triple-option features cut blocks, in which a slotback or receiver dives toward the feet or ankles of a defensive back or linebacker.

The technique is legal if it is done in the open field and the defender is not engaged in a block. Still, the blocking technique has drawn criticism, most famously from Notre Dame coaches, who claim it is dangerous.

"Cutting is tough," said UH associate head coach Rich Miano, who coaches the defensive secondary. "You have to be prepared."

The keys are quick feet and strong hands. This week, the Warrior defenders will be coached to shove away feet-seeking blockers.

"We have to watch our legs so they don't get cut-blocked," safety Spencer Smith said. "We have to use our hands really well."

Silva is drawing inspiration from his lookalike and fellow Big Island resident.

"You've got to sprawl like BJ Penn," Silva said of the MMA champion. "You've got to go to your knees, get back up, and make a play."

Because the Midshipmen use a sideway attack, defensive linemen must be active. If they stop after a few steps, they risk being hit by a third-party blocker.

"Otherwise the guy in front of (the defender) is not blocking, the guy to the left or to the right is blocking," said Dave Aranda, who coaches the defensive tackles.

Most of all, the Midshipmen are efficient.

They have lost fumbles fewer than 1 percent of the time (seven in 773 offensive plays).

They are fourth nationally in time of possession, averaging 33 minutes, 38 seconds per game.

"We've got to be very disciplined, because they're very disciplined," UH head coach Greg McMackin said. "That's the focus."

The UH coaches have studied videos of the triple-option for several weeks. After returning from San Jose Sunday, they met into the night.

Yesterday morning, the players watched videos.

They practiced for more than an hour yesterday afternoon. After that, the majority of players lifted weights. Smith, Silva, linebacker Corey Paredes and safety Richard Torres went to watch more videos.

"This is one of those weeks where you don't get any sleep," Miano said. "What (the Midshipmen) do, they do so well. They also can throw the ball. They give you nightmares. Nobody in the country wants to play these guys. They do a great job."

Cornerback Jeramy Bryant said: "We have a great deal of respect for what they do for our country, and what they do by sacrificing their lives. But when we get on the field, we're playing the game of football."

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