WKU prepares for Navy’s option offense

WKU’s defense had much to celebrate in holding UK to 14 points in their season-opener against Kentucky, but the Topper offense was stagnant in the loss. They’ll have the tough task of defending Navy’s unconventional option offense.

Brad Stephens

Navy football is easy to recognize.

The heavy-brass sound of the school fight song, “Anchors Aweigh,” the military dress of the school’s midshipmen and the legendary rivalry with Army create an aura around the team.

And on the field, the team pays homage to Midshipmen football tradition by running an option offense reminiscent of military academy football’s olden days.

Simply put, an option offense is a run-based attack in which the quarterback is given the responsibility of reading the defense and, in most cases, deciding to hand to a fullback up the middle, run the ball himself or pitch to a trailing running back.

As more college teams have transitioned to spread or pro-style attacks, Navy’s option offense has continuously caught teams off guard,  as the Midshipmen have played in bowl games for eight straight years.

WKU will get a firsthand look at Navy’s option game when it hosts the Midshipmen at 6 p.m. Saturday in Smith Stadium.

Head Coach Willie Taggart preached the importance of his defenders fulfilling individual duties on each play in order to slow down the Navy’s offensive attack.

“When you don’t do your assignment against a team like this is when bad things happen,” Taggart said. “We’ve got to be a very disciplined football team. Anybody that has that ball in their hands, they’ve got to get hit, and get hit hard.”

Taggart has plenty of familiarity running such an offense. He led the Toppers’ option-based attack as a dual-threat quarterback in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Lance Guidry gained experience facing the option during his days at McNeese State. While there, he coached against Georgia Southern, which ran a flexbone option offense under future Navy Coach Paul Johnson.

Guidry said defenders have to be “relentless” when facing the option, and also be prepared to face a technique known as the “chop block,” in which offensive linemen dive to take out defenders’ legs and open holes in the running game.

“They’re going to chop us a lot,” Guidry said. “You have to get up and run and keep our hands down and just try to get as many hats to the football as we can to stop them.”

When WKU has the ball, the storyline will be the performance of junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes.

Jakes made his first career start two seasons ago in a 38-22 loss to Navy and played well, going 22-of-28 for 276 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

But he struggled last week in a 14-3 loss to Kentucky, going 9-of-27 for just 93 yards with four interceptions.

Jakes said he expects a better performance against Navy then what he had against the Wildcats.

“(UK) was just a bad game for me personally. I felt rusty,” Jakes said. “All I can do is learn from it and move on.”

Jakes and the offense will be tasked with helping a Topper defense that played outstanding against the Wildcats, holding them to just 74 yards through three quarters.

WKU forced three turnovers in that game, and sophomore middle linebacker Andrew Jackson said facing an option offense that uses multiple tosses and handoffs will provide the chance to tally more takeaways.

“Triple option — that just means more opportunities for turnovers,” Jackson said. “We’re just going to have the same approach as always – play hard and fast.”