ORLANDO, Fla. – Option football is an ancient beast in the modern game, rarely seen amongst the vast hunting grounds of up-tempo spread offenses. Navy has ridden their standout system to five wins and video-game-like rushing numbers, sparking nostalgia in Coach Frost.
“I love option football,” Frost said. “I lived it. I feel like option quarterbacks now are kind of like giant pandas, they only exist in zoos and military academies now.”
“The reads and the plays, running with the ball and pitching last second – the timing of it, its just kind of different than anything else that most people ask their quarterback to do. You’ve got to have a tough kid who is smart under center and I think that navy has that. I can tell by his statistics that he is the one that makes it go,” Frost explained.
What does that mean for the UCF defense? The easy answer against an option-read offense is pure ‘assignment football’. It means not missing your man, it means that missing your man can lead to catastrophe.
“The thing that I don’t get it when people say – oh, this is a discipline game; this is an assignment game – it’s an assignment [game] every game,” explained Defensive Coordinator Erik Chinander. “I don’t just tell them to do whatever the hell they want on every other play.”
“I don’t understand how that’s different than regular football. It’s a different offense, absolutely, and there’s a few different wrinkles, a few different kinks for our guys, but it’s football,” he said.
Keep it simple, do your job. UCF has long leaned on the strength of their defense in the Scott Frost Era, and it will need to be their backbone against the Midshipmen. With only a handful of passing touchdowns on the year and weapons that won’t surprise anyone, Navy is 5-1 on the strength of military execution.
In reading their opponent the Knights have gotten back to taking extra study sessions. The extra work was left out of the routine against Cincinnati, and the team admitted that the Bearcats had hit them with a few plays, a few formations that they had not recognized.
That kind of momentary lapse in preparation won’t happen anymore.
“That’s one thing that we picked back up on last week,” said inside linebacker Chequan Burkett. “We know that for the rest of the season that extra meeting pays off. Going into this game, we’ll maybe have even more meetings to make sure we don’t have that drop off.”
Even with the threat of an aerial assault slightly neutralized, the fast-over-physical Knights’ defense won’t change their identity too much.
“I think you have to line up like you normally do,” said Chinander. “Our starters are our starters for a reason, we’re going to roll guys in like we normally do, everybody has a really good practice so far.”
The Midshipmen’s death-by-attrition battleplan doesn’t leave too many avenues for quick scoring drives in deficit games. A three-score margin is a death sentence with competent defensive plays.
Navy will be tough and physical. Their offensive line and gritty quarterback do not allow many negative plays, and positive yards on the first two downs equate to short, highly convertible third downs. They will grind the clock, they will make murder McKenzie for any UCFast three-and-outs.
“You see teams around the country have let downs once in a while,” said Frost. “You saw a few last week. Our guys came out ready to play on Saturday and I think that’s a good sign, we know the challenge we have ahead of us right now. This is one of the best teams in the league and we’re playing hem on the road. I’m not worried about that with this team, this week.”