The brilliant debut season of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds convinced the Midshipmen brain-trust that it should tweak its predictable, but confounding triple-option offense. Saturday when Navy opens at Indiana, Reynolds is likely to run several plays out of a pistol formation.
After employing the triple-option exclusively for 11 years, is the sight of a Midshipmen quarterback in shotgun formation a sign of the Apocalypse?
"We just feel adding this dimension is one more way to make up more difficult to defend," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "This guy has made us reevaluate some things."
Reynolds was a revelation last year, completing 61 of 108 passes for 898 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions, rushing for 649 yards and 10 scores, and even earning comparison to former Navy Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach.
After Navy got off to a 1-3 start and trailed in the fourth quarter at Air Force, Reynolds came off the bench to lead the Mids to a comeback victory and win the quarterback job. With a 7-1 finish in the regular season, Navy achieved its perennial goals -- reaching its ninth bowl game in the last 10 years and winning the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the eighth time in the last decade.
But there were signs that foes were starting to figure out how to defend the triple option. Against Army, the Mids were held to 167 yards rushing and needed some late magic by Reynolds to rally for a 17-13 win. As other teams had done with some success, the Black Knights used run blitzes to stymie the Mids' potent ground attack.
"I'm never going to let Army line up that way again," Niumatalolo told the Annapolis Capital. "If they're going to sell out against the run like that, we have to make them pay."
On Saturday Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is interested in seeing what shape the Navy offense will take.
"Even though it's new looks, most teams conceptually don't get far off with their concepts," Wilson said. "So it might be pistol midline instead of under center, or pistol dive option instead of under center, or an offset gun back running a zone read play where still you're accounting for who's got the veer, who's got the quarterback, who's got the pitch."
Here's a team-by-team look at the independents entering Week 2:
THIS WEEK'S GAME: At Ball State, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET. Army tries to halt its eight-game losing streak against teams from the offensive-minded Mid-American Conference. Ball State has accounted for two of the defeats, including 30-22 last year at West Point.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-- CB Josh Jenkins. The freshman wasn't tested much last week against Morgan State, but count on Ball State's four-year starting quarterback Keith Wenning to pass to the wide side of the field, which Jenkins patrols as a field corner. In wins over Army the last two years, Wenning has completed a combined 42 of 57 passes for 513 yards and five touchdowns. Jenkins will have to be mindful of Ball State's top receiver, junior Willie Snead, who has burned Army for 16 receptions and 258 yards the last two seasons.
-- MLB Alex Meier. It will be up to the Army front seven to deal better with Jahwan Edwards, who rushed for 148 yards and a touchdown last year against Army. The Black Knights defense ranked No. 117 in the FBS against the run last year and yielded 185 yards rushing last week to Morgan State of the FCS despite the efforts of sophomore Meier (11 tackles).
-- RB Raymond Maples. The senior, who will attempt to become just the second player in program history to rush for 1,000 yards in three seasons, was conspicuously underused last week, rushing just five times for 18 yards in a win over Morgan State. It was the least productive game for Maples since his freshman season as he becomes acclimated to new quarterback Angel Santiago in the triple option offense.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: No. 15 Texas, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET. This is the second of a tough three-game stretch to open the season for BYU. After a bye, the Cougars will play rival Utah.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-- LB Kyle Van Noy. Last week in a 56-7 romp over New Mexico State, Texas quarterback David Ash showed a knack for the big play, throwing touchdown passes of 74, 66, 54, and 25 yards and adding a 55-yard scoring run. It will be up to Van Noy, the Cougars' dominant pass rusher, to keep the heat on Ash. Last week in a 19-16 loss at Virginia, the BYU defense didn't allow a play longer than 20 yards and limited the Cavaliers to 223 total yards. But the Cougars were haunted by a punt block and an interception - wet field conditions to blame for both -- which set up touchdowns by UVa.
-- QB Taysom Hill. The sophomore's first shot at running BYU's up-tempo spread didn't go well as he completed only 13 of 40 passes for 175 yards, 52 of which came on a desperation heave as time expired. Hill was pressured relentlessly, yielding three sacks and throwing four passes that were knocked down by Virginia linemen. But there were plays to be made that Hill failed to execute. He will have to improve if BYU is to have a chance against No. 14 Texas.
-- OT Ryker Mathews. The Cougars' left tackle, coming off double hip surgery, was no match Saturday for Virginia sophomore defensive end Eli Harold (11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, one forced fumble), who had a big hand in wrecking the BYU offense. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, who is projected to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft next spring, will present a similar speed rushing threat.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: At Wyoming, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET. Last year in Moscow, Cowboys quarterback Brett Smith threw five touchdown passes, including the game-winner in overtime of a 40-37 victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-- S Bradley Njoku. The Idaho secondary will be busy on Saturday, trying to deal with dual-threat quarterback Smith. In Saturday's 37-34 loss at Nebraska the junior threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns and ran eight times for 92 yards. Njoku had an interception and eight tackles in Idaho's 40-6 loss at North Texas.
-- RB Jerrel Brown. In last week's loss at North Texas, the junior carried six times for 70 yards, accounting for more than half of Idaho's yardage on the ground. This week against a Wyoming team that yielded 375 rushing yards in its loss at Nebraska, expect the 6-foot, 220-pound Brown, a JUCO transfer, to get much more work. Under previous coach Mike Kramer, Idaho didn't stress the run. The Vandals had two rushing touchdowns last year, fewest in the FBS.
-- QB Chad Chalich. Even in a decisive loss, Idaho couldn't have expected much more from the redshirt freshman last week in his college debut. Chalich completed all nine of his passes in the first quarter on his way to a 19 of 27 performance for 230 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to see how Chalich follows up on Saturday.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: At Indiana, 6 p.m. ET. Last year, Navy notched its first win over a Big Ten team since 1979 when it rallied to beat the Hoosiers 31-30.
--FB Chris Swain. Listed on the depth chart as even with last year's starter Noah Copeland, Swain has emerged this preseason as Navy's best power runner. The 5-11, 232-pound sophomore gives the Mids their best chance to play keep-away from a fast-paced Indiana offense which rang up 632 yards last week in a 73-35 romp over FCS Indiana State.
--LB Jordan Drake. At 6-4, 220 pounds, Drake is one of the few players on an undersized defense who looks the part of a Division I player. In last year's 31-30 win over Indiana, the junior helped turn the game around, returning an interception for a touchdown when the Mids trailed by 10 points in the first half.
--LB Cody Peterson. Playing alongside first-year starting senior D.J. Sargenti, Navy will count on the senior inside linebacker to stop the run. His mission will be difficult on Saturday against Indiana sophomore Tevin Coleman who rushed 14 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana State.
New Mexico State
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET. New Mexico State lost last week at Texas 56-7. But before the game got out of hand in the second half, the Aggies did enough things right to give fans hope that a turnaround is possible sooner than later under Doug Martin. Minnesota was a decisive winner last week over UNLV but this is a big opportunity for New Mexico to end its 12-game losing streak.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-- QB Andrew McDonald. Despite committing three turnovers against Texas, the senior had a strong starting debut as the Aggies new pistol offense showed promise. Saturday at home is a chance for McDonald to build on his positive performance in week one.
-- K Maxwell Johnson. It will be up to Johnson and punter Cayle Chapman-Brown to kick judiciously to the Minnesota return men. The Golden Gophers got two special teams touchdowns (and another on an interception return) in last week's 51-23 win over UNLV.
-- RB Germi Morrison. The senior, a consistent force in the Aggies backfield last year, had only 25 yards rushing on 12 carries against Texas. He will have a better chance of thriving against a Minnesota defense that was vulnerable to the run last week against UNLV yielding 5.7 yards per carry and a total of 193 rushing yards. The figure would have been larger if the Rebels had not been forced to abandon the run in the second half of the blowout loss.
No. 14 Notre Dame
THIS WEEK'S GAME: At No. 17 Michigan, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET. After making a scheduling agreement with the ACC, Notre Dame dropped its rivalry game with Michigan, cancelling its agreement to play in 2015-17. While Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly first minimized its historic significance, then reversed field Tuesday and praised the roots of the rivalry. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke embraces it. "It is (historic) for us," Hoke said. "Everybody looks at everything differently."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-- QB Tommy Rees. Last year against Michigan, after freshman Everett Golson threw a pair of interceptions, Rees was summoned in the second quarter and guided Notre Dame with a solid performance (8 of 11, 115 yards) that was notable because the man once dubbed "Tommy Turnover" didn't commit any in a 13-6 victory. This time, Rees will have to deal with an aggressive Michigan defense that registered nine TFL and forced a pair of turnovers in a romp over Central Michigan. Rees was anything but a game manager Saturday against Temple, going 16 of 23 for 346 yards and three touchdowns.
-- DE Stephon Tuitt. The huge (6-6, 310), quick end had a sack and two quarterback hurries last week picking up where he left off after a dominating sophomore season. He will try to pressure Michigan's Devin Gardner who had mixed success in his starting debut last week, completing 10 of 15 passes for 162 yards and rushing seven times for 52 yards and two touchdowns. Gardner showed elusiveness when plays broke down, but also threw a pair of interceptions.
-- RB Amir Carlisle. Sprinting 45 yards up the sideline on Notre Dame's first snap last week, the USC transfer made a splashy debut finishing with 68 yards on seven carries. Carlisle is one of a talented group of Irish backs itching for carries including veterans Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III, and freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: At Maryland, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET. In Old Dominion's first game in program history against an FBS school, the Monarchs' offense functioned smoothly but their defense was atrocious in a 52-38 loss at East Carolina. Maryland will present a similar challenge as quarterback C.J. Brown throws to a brilliant pair of wideouts in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
-- QB Taylor Heinicke. After leading the FCS in scoring, passing, and total offense, Heinicke showed he could thrive at the next level, completing 38 of 51 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns in his first game against an FBS team last week at East Carolina. How will he fare against the small, quick, disciplined defense of Maryland?
-- S Fellonte Misher. The sophomore was ODU's most active defensive back last week, registering nine tackles and a pass breakup. He leads a unit that looks to improve from last week's performance when it was sliced and diced by East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden (46 of 54, 447 yards, five touchdowns). The Monarchs get another tough test in Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown who completed 20 of 23 for 281 yards and three touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 105 yards and two more scores in the Terps' opener.
-- DE Andrew Everett. The sophomore is one of three first-year starters on the four-man defensive line. Saturday they were dominated by the ECU offensive line and combined for just five tackles and no sacks. They will be put to the test against a Maryland offense that ran and passed effectively last week against Florida International.
-- Sixteen days after he was hired at Idaho, coach Paul Petrino announced the signing of four JUCO products from California. In Saturday's 40-6 loss at North Texas, three of them had a major impact. Jerrel Brown, from the College of San Mateo, rushed six times for 70 yards, while linebackers Marc Millan (Santa Ana College) had 10 tackles and Eric Tuipulotu (College of San Mateo) had six tackles, including a sack.
-- New Mexico State currently has the second longest losing streak in the FBS (12 games). The Aggies won their opener last year over Sacramento State of the FCS Big Sky Conference, but lost their next 11, then opened with a loss last week at Texas. The only other FBS team with a longer losing string is Southern Mississippi, which has lost 13 in a row, curiously enough after going 12-2 on its way to the Conference USA championship in 2011.
-- Navy has been lifted this preseason by the return of sophomore Rafi Montalvo. The backup quarterback was seriously injured in a car accident on Thanksgiving Day of last year, spending 16 days in a medically-induced coma, followed by five months of rehabilitation. Montalvo will not play football this year, but he is enrolled in school and has been cleared for conditioning with the team.
-- Army has lost eight straight games to teams from the Mid-American Conference. The Black Knights have had success on offense, averaging 25.7 points in the losses, but have surrendered an average of 40.5 points, yielding at least 30 points in each of the defeats. This week's opponent, Ball State, has accounted for two of the losses.
-- Ten Notre Dame freshmen played last week against Temple, further evidence of coach Brian Kelly's ability to recruit, not only high school All-Americans, but the right ones with an emphasis on speed. Linebacker Jaylon Smith started while cornerback Cole Luke and defensive end Isaac Rochell played significant rotation minutes. Running backs Greg Bryant (2 carries, 12 yards) and Tarean Folston (23 yards rushing and receiving) appear ready for expanded roles.
-- Eighteen of the players on the roster of Old Dominion are from the Washington D.C. area and will return home Saturday when the Monarchs travel to Maryland. The players include the following starters -- defensive end Terrell Reid (Washington), linebacker John Darr (Forestville, Md.), safeties Andre Simmons (Lorton, Va.) and Fellonte Misher (Washington), and wideouts Zach Pascal (Upper Marlboro) and Larry Pinkard (Washington).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "They can make it hard to substitute. They're going to run everything at their bench and make you run 40 yards to get out there and all that. So I mean, it's a short-sided game a lot of times. You guys in the press box, they'll be coming at you all day." - Indiana coach Kevin Wilson on playing defense against Navy.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEK:
1. The BYU offensive line. With only two of six starters back from a unit that struggled last year, there were concerns, which were justified in Saturday's loss at Virginia. The switch to an up-tempo spread was supposed to aid the unimposing group, but developing chemistry in a new system takes time. It will be interesting to track the development of the line this year. Much better play will be required this week against No. 15 Texas.
2. The New Mexico State pistol. Despite a lopsided loss last week at Texas, the Aggies new offense looked capable of giving opponents trouble, for a half at least, as Andrew McDonald made several plays behind a veteran offensive line. Competing with a team as talented as Texas was too much to ask, but Saturday at home against Minnesota will be a better barometer of how far new head coach Doug Martin has brought his offense.
3. The depth of Navy. Because of their recruiting limitations, the Midshipmen have been notoriously thin, but last year - especially on defense -- a different team began to emerge, indicating that the Mids were recruiting better than in the past. Last year, Navy had some success on defense by rotating as many as nine linemen. The Mids also showed uncharacteristic depth at linebacker and in the secondary. Saturday at Indiana, it will be interesting to see how many players rotate into the lineup.
4. The Old Dominion defensive line. The inexperienced group was pushed around last week by East Carolina. Saturday against a mediocre Maryland offensive line, the Monarchs have a chance to show improvement. "Our defensive linemen have got to win individual battles," head coach Bobby Wilder said. "We do not want to be a football team that has to blitz to get pressure on a quarterback. Once you do that, you become much more vulnerable to the pass."
5. Notre Dame defensive line vs. the Michigan offensive line. In last year's 13-6 win over the Wolverines, the Fighting Irish defense dominated the line of scrimmage, forcing four interceptions from Denard Robinson in a harrowing second quarter performance. While Notre Dame boasts likely NFL first-round draft picks in Stefon Tuitt and Louis Nix, the Michigan line has three new interior pieces bookended by fifth-year senior tackles Taylor Lewan and Mike Schofield.