Navy option rolls over IU in 41-35 win

WHAT HAPPENED: Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds led a Midshipmen rushing attack that piled up 444 yards in a 41-35 victory over Indiana in front of 47,013 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, negating a 363-yard, four-touchdown performance by Indiana junior quarterback Nate Sudfeld. The Midshipmen had three rushers with more than 90 yards and three rushers who averaged more than 10 yards per carry, averaging 6.3 yards per attempt in giving the Hoosiers their first loss of the young season. Navy never punted and failed to score on just two of their drives, missing a field goal on one and ending the game on the other.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Reynolds rushed for 127 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries as the trigger man in Navy’s triple option and also completed two of his four passes for 71 yards. Navy slot backs Darius Slaten, Geoffrey Whiteside and DeBrandon Sanders all averaged more than 10 yards per carry with Slaten picking up 106 yards on nine carries, Whiteside rushing for 97 yards on nine carries and Sanders picking up 68 on five carries. Fullback Chris Swain had a touchdown and 29 yards and Noah Copeland scored on one of his two carries.

Sudfeld was able to keep the Hoosiers in the game almost entirely by himself, completing 31 of 42 passes for 363 yards and four touchdowns. He threw an interception on his first drive, but then led Indiana to touchdowns on the next and final five possessions. Sudfeld came in after starting quarterback Tre Roberson led the Hoosiers to a three-and-out and a turnover on downs in his two drives. Sudfeld spread out his passes to 11 receivers and also rushed for 35 yards on six carries.

Junior wide receiver Kofi Hughes dropped two passes in the end zone, but also caught six passes for 102 yards and a score. Senior tight end Ted Bolser caught five passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns. Junior receiver Shane Wynn also caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Tevin Coleman had just eight carries, but rushed for 34 yards and a touchdown.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Indiana has spent much of the past two years preparing for the Navy triple option, going back to last spring when they started preparing for last year’s game. The Hoosiers even got extra prep work this year because IU coach Kevin Wilson moved up the Indiana State game three days to give them extra time to prepare.

None of that showed. At all.

The Hoosiers had a few flashes late in the game when they were able to make plays in the backfield, but for the most part, the undersized Navy offensive line dominated the Indiana defensive line allowing the Midshipmen to pick up easy yards up the middle. Even more so, the Midshipmen laid waste to Indiana’s perimeter defenders with cut blocks and Reynolds, Slaten, Sanders and Whiteside had wide open alleys to run through when the option got outside the tackles. The Hoosiers seemed confused by Navy’s new formations — along with their standard flexbone set, they used shotgun formations with two backs a pistol formations with the slots in close and also somewhat wider and even four-wide receiver sets — and it took them a while to adjust. And in the end, they simply couldn’t get off blocks to make plays and couldn’t make tackles when they absolutely have to. Last year indiana ranked 116th in the nation in rushing defense and only gave up 257 yards to the Midshipmen. This year, they gave up 255 yards by halftime. and gave up 6.3 yards per carry compared to 4.5 a year ago. Somehow, even one of the nation’s worst run defenses appears to have regressed.

WHAT IT MEANS: Wilson seemed to believe he could spit on this one in the press conference after the game. He’d been trying to get out of playing Navy for two years, he said, and because it forces the Hoosiers to get so far out of their general principles, he doesn’t believe it says that much about what kind of defense they are.

He needs to be right about that, though, because this game puts him and his team in a hole in a number of different ways. He asked for enthusiasm from the fan base and it started to grow after the Hoosiers blew out Indiana State 73-35 and fans started to see the explosiveness of the offense. But Indiana fans have seen great offenses before, and they’ve seen those great offenses be completely derailed and negated by hapless defense, so this appears to be a bit of the same old song. The Hoosiers have lost a significant amount of their momentum and buzz, and they have little reason to believe that next week’s game with Bowling Green will be well-attended.

And this game could have long-term implications. Now, to get to 6-6 and go to a bowl game, the Hoosiers have to beat someone they’re not necessarily expected to beat, whether that means Missouri or Penn State or Michigan State, and they can’t afford to lose any more games they’re supposed to win, such as Bowling Green, Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue. The Hoosiers have a lot of football left to play, but they’ve already lost a substantial amount of their margin for error.

WHO SAID WHAT: 

IU coach Kevin Wilson

“We got beat at the line of scrimmage. We tried to make adjustments. We knew we would need to. We knew they would come out in some unusual looks, and we didn’t adapt quickly enough. So it’s a disappointing loss, but very, very proud because I think there was a chance we could’ve tanked it. We battled, battled, battled. I have to get us ready to play, because we didn’t start ready. I have to look at me and what we did, so we’ll move forward and next week will be a huge challenge with Bowling Green.”

“I tried for two years to get out of playing these guys. It’s just difficult. That quarterback is awfully, awfully good. They’re no-huddling with it. … It’s very unique. They’re very good at it. When they work that with their defense, it’s just mistakes are maximized. You just don’t get as many opportunities. I thought it would be difficult. I would’ve liked to have stopped it better, but unfortunately, we didn’t.”

“We didn’t adjust well. I thought we were a little casual in our prep work here recently in our body language, chatter. Were we on edge, ready to play? I thought pregame started a little casual. I thought the game started a little casual, and that being said, when we made our adjustments, I don’t know if we got them made. I don’t know if the kids understood I’m not blaming those guys. it’s just a difficult deal. We tweaked it as best we could, and it wasn’t good enough.”

“I think they’re more talented. The quarterback’s more experienced. They’re doing more with him. We’ll see. The real deal will be moving forward. We can talk about this until we’re blue in the face, but we won’t see this anymore. If you think about it, we’ve put in umpteen hours because it’s difficult, and that still we were defending it last year and this year. We’re what, seven points short over two years? The real deal is getting back to what we need to against Bowling Green.”

“I looked at those guys in the locker room with a lot of respect, a lot of appreciation, a lot of love, because they could’ve tanked it. They fought their butts off. We didn’t come out ready. I gotta look at why. We just gotta start better as an offense.”

On going for it on fourth down early and giving Navy a short field

“The real deal was to me, unless we were real long we were trying to play four-down territory on those guys. Because you just weren’t going to get a lot of opportunities. Mathematically speaking, you can look at this graph at what you ought to do, but you’re just not going to get a lot of cuts at it, so if it’s manageable, you need to go for it. We talked all week, ‘hey, if it’s third -and-long, check it down.”

Safety Greg Heban

“We didn’t come out ready to play nearly as well as we needed to. We prepared for them for the past year and a half going back to spring ball even. It’s just something that’s a little discouraging knowing that we didn’t come out and play as well as we needed to.”

AUDIO: Kevin Wilson

Nate Sudfeld