Defense Struggling on Opening Drives
For as well as Navy's defense has played at times this season — the Midshipmen rank 34th in division I-A in total defense (299.67 yards per game) — there is one thing that has been really bothering its players. In all three games, the defense has started the game on the field, and in all three games, it has given up a long touchdown drive on that opening possession. Navy has trailed 7-0 before its offense has touched the ball.
Ohio State went 49 yards in six plays, and scored on a 38-yard catch by Dane Sanzenbacher. Louisiana Tech drove 74 yards in 10 plays, and scored on a three-yard run by Daniel Porter. This past Saturday, Pittsburgh kept possession for 6 minutes 29 seconds, marched 89 yards in 12 plays and scored on a six-yard catch by Oderick Turner.
"It's just frustrating for us as a defense; I don't think we've shut anyone down on the first series so far," senior linebacker Ross Pospisil said after the Pittsburgh loss. "That's essential for us to do that."
Last year, the Midshipmen gave up touchdowns on the game's opening possession to Ball State, Duke and Pittsburgh — and lost all three games.
This season, nearly a quarter of the yards that Navy's defense has given up — 212 yards out of 899 — and almost half of the touchdowns—three out of seven—have come on opening drives.
"We've got to get out there and get dialed into the speed of the game right away," said Buddy Green, Navy's defensive coordinator. "We've got to make the transition quick and we've got to play faster. When we get our chance to get off the field on third down, on fourth down, we've got to get off the field."
Overall, Navy's opponents are converting just 32 percent of their third-down opportunities (12 for 38). But on those opening drives, they are 5 of 6 on third downs and 1 for 1 on fourth down. Louisiana Tech faced a third and 16 on its opening drive, but quarterback Ross Jenkins connected with R.P. Stuart on a 27-yard pass. One play later, the Bulldogs scored. Last Saturday, Pittsburgh successfully got out of a third-and eight and a fourth and three.
Against Pittsburgh, "We had our chances to get off the field on that first drive," Green said. "They converted a third down versus a blitz, made a good throw, and then we get them in fourth and [three], and we've got a corner underneath and a safety over the top, we've got two guys in real good shape to make a play. [Quarterback Bill Stull] throws a perfect strike and they come up with a good catch and convert. They made the plays when they had to move the chains. We didn't."
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