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Film Room Friday: How Navy lulled Houston’s secondary to sleep

(Photo by Daniel Kucin Jr./Icon Sportswire)

Navy football has established itself as a power in the American Athletic Conference, and it has only been a part of it for two seasons — 2016 being its second.

Beating No. 6 Houston and tearing the Cougars’ College Football Playoff hearts out this past weekend was a huge confirmation of Navy’s place in the AAC. It was a win that had national implications throughout the world of college football — Houston’s loss opened up the CFP door for some other lucky team — but it was also a huge win within the AAC.

Navy now controls its own destiny on the road to the AAC title game. Currently at 4-1 and 3-0 in the conference, the Midshipmen are ranked No. 1 in the AAC West. If the conference championship was played today, they’d take on 5-1 (2-0 AAC) South Florida.

Navy’s hard to stop option offense has played a huge role in the team’s success over the past two seasons, but that doesn’t mean the Midshipmen are one-dimensional. Against Houston, quarterback Will Worth threw for only five attempts, but he completed three of them for 76 yards and two touchdowns.

The low attempt total tells you all you need to know about Navy’s offensive identity, but the Midshipmen do know a thing or two about setting up the pass with the run.

We’ll go into that below in today’s Film Room Friday feature:

The Play

With about 11 minutes to go and the game tied at 20, Navy got Houston to bite hard on a play-action fake, which allowed Darryl Bonner to get into the secondary untouched and waltz into the end zone for an easy touchdown.

In the video below, the play in question is cued up at 1:51 and it goes until about 1:57.

The Breakdown

Navy came out in its double wing set, which is the base where it sets up a lot of its option plays. Generally one of the wing backs will do an orbit motion in order to set up a pitch play, and the back in the backfield operates as the dive man. A true triple option would be the dive man, the quarterback keep and then the pitch, but on this play the Midshipmen simply fake a toss sweep to fullback Shawn White. Before the pitch even happens you can see that Houston was incredibly focused on stopping the run. Notice that most of the defender’s eyes go to the edge where the sweep is “supposed to be.” You can also see that one of the Cougar safeties is already well on his way down to the line of scrimmage. He was the player who gets beat by this play-action.

What Houston wasn’t accounting for was wing back/split back Darryl Bonner faking the block on the edge and taking off down field:


The fake toss was executed and Worth set up to pass. At that point notice that Houston’s defensive backfield still had its eyes on the pitch play and they were just realizing that it was a play-action. By that time, Bonner had an unabated head start down the seam, with the opportunity to run by defenders who were off-balance trying to get back.

Navy also ran the other wing down the field, which occupied the backside safety and kept him out of the play. Smart:


Below you can see Houston’s bad dream continuing. The ball wasn’t even out of the quarterback’s hand yet and Bonner had blown by the secondary. In fact, he ran right in between the safety, who was so preoccupied with stopping the toss sweep, and the linebacker, who was also sucked in by the run. Even a simple shuck from the linebacker may have thrown this play off. That’s why linebacker coaches always tell their players to get hands on anybody coming off the line of scrimmage and into their zone. Unfortunately, the Cougar defenders were just tricked by the play-action:


Worth let the ball fly and it was just an easy game of pitch and catch between him and his teammate. It was one of the easiest touchdowns you’ll see in college football all year.

Looking back at the play, there were likely two factors that made it work.

  1. Navy pounding the rock all day got into Houston’s heads, so much so that even safeties, who are supposed to be pass-first players, were flying up to the line.
  2. Likely some smart coach up in the box who will never get any public credit saw that Houston’s secondary was flying up to the edges on run plays, and they set the Cougar defense up perfectly with the play-action pass.

If anything, the touchdown showed that running to set up the pass does still work in 2016. Just ask Houston.

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