Pratt: Navy presents more than just a strong ground attack

Defensive lineman Jared Clendenin helps Bo Adebayo bring down Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor for a sack during the third quarter of WKU’s 40-14 loss to Navy at Smith Stadium.

Elliott Pratt

If ever there was an old school vs. new school gridiron brawl, Saturday’s game between WKU and Navy paints that perfect picture.

In one corner, you have the Midshipmen, a military academy running an offense that is older than dirt.

In the opposite corner, you have the Hilltoppers, a team that executes a high-flying offense that would give the fore fathers of football fits.

Standing on each sideline Saturday in Annapolis, Maryland will be teams with football philosophies on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Navy’s bread and butter is running, WKU’s is passing.

Both teams are good at what they do. To no one’s surprise, Navy’s offense ranks third in the nation in the run game while WKU ranks second in passing offense and third in total offensive yards per game.

Everyone knows what to expect — the Midshipmen are averaging 56 rushing attempts per game this year — but don’t sleep on Navy’s ability to throw the ball.

Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has proven he can air it out just as well as run the ball and he can punish with play action. Last week against Rutgers, Reynolds went with 12-of-22 for 231 passing yards and a touchdown to compliment his two rushing scores.

“That’s why their play action is so good, because they run the ball 50 times a game,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “They opened it up a little bit last week early in the game and had some success against Rutgers, and Rutgers is good on defense. You have to make sure that you stay on top of those big plays and it’s difficult. It’s a lot easier said than done.”

And Holt would know. He’s had two weeks to bask in what three opponents have exploited against WKU’s defense.

Not allowing that “big play” starts with stopping Reynolds. The dual-threat quarterback is more versatile than what WKU saw with Austin Grammer at MTSU. The Hilltoppers allowed Grammer to rush for a career-high 123 yards.

That was just a quarterback running the ball. But he did it efficiently, and running efficiently is the design of Navy’s offense. Navy opened up the season with 370 yards rushing against Ohio State and just 20 yards through the air. They’ve shown the extremes of both areas of the offense against quality opponents.

“Their timing is impeccable, so we know that after a certain amount of runs, wherever it is in a drive, they’re going to try and test us deep and maybe even in short routes,” senior cornerback Cam Thomas said. “But at the same time, it’s just reading our keys and each play making sure we’re staying on the guy we’re supposed to stay on.”

It was at this point last year that the Tops started clicking into a system that was new to them. We were asking these very same questions when WKU’s defense made a statement against Navy and held its ground for the majority of the year.

This coaching staff has already proven that months of preparation for this old-man football can work. Now, we just have to wait and see if this defense can repeat history.