NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When Navy brings its highly refined option offense to Tulane on Saturday, the Midshipmen will run into a defense that is unusually familiar with their scheme.
First-year Green Wave coach Willie Fritz likes running the option as well.
Freshman Tulane quarterback Jonathan Brantley proved proficient at it in the Wave’s 66-21 victory over Southern last weekend. Brantley rushed for 119 yards and distributed the ball comfortably as Tulane (1-1, 0-0 American Athletic Conference) piled up 437 yards rushing.
“There’s a lot of resemblance” to Navy’s offense, Midshipmen defensive coordinator Dale Pehrson said. “You have to defend it the same way. You have to have great eyes. You have to be very disciplined.”
Navy (2-0, 1-0) meanwhile, has been adapting to not one, but two QB changes since former star signal-caller Keenan Reynolds graduated and moved to the NFL. Season-opening starter Tago Smith was hurt in the Midshipmen’s first game. He was replaced by Will Worth, but Fritz said Navy has run the same offense for so long that the program has become adept at recruiting quarterbacks who are well suited to their system.
Fritz said Worth “looks like he knows what he’s doing,” adding, “We haven’t seen a whole lot of difference between their play selection this season as compared to last season.”
The results have looked similar as well; Navy is seeking to start 3-0 for a second straight season.
Some other things to know about the option extravaganza that will be Navy vs. Tulane:
BEING PREPARPED: Tulane’s defense demonstrated its ability to diagnose and react well to Navy’s option last season — albeit under the regime of former head coach Curtis Johnson. The Wave largely contained Reynolds and the Midshipmen for three quarters before Navy pulled away with a pair of late TDs in a 31-14 victory. The Wave has a lot of defensive leaders back this season and looks primed to play better, in no small part because it is getting more rest and more favorable opponent starting field position thanks to Tulane’s markedly better execution on offense and special teams.
BIG UNEASY: Although New Orleans is a big Navy city — with a Naval Air Force base in nearby Belle Chase and an administrative Naval base in New Orleans’ Algiers neighborhood — the Midshipmen have rarely looked at home in Big Easy. Navy is 1-8-1 all-time in New Orleans, the lone victory coming back in 1994 by a score of 17-15 in the climate-controlled Superdome. Saturday’s game will be played in south Louisiana’s swampy, late-summer air at Tulane’s on-campus Yulman Stadium, which opened in 2014.
TURNOVER BONANZA: Tulane created four turnovers on two fumbles and two interceptions last weekend against Southern, including cornerback Parry Nickerson’s 96-yard interception return for a touchdown. Tulane finished plus-3 in turnover margin, and Fritz noted that he’s never lost a game when his team has been plus-2 or better, adding, “It’s something we obviously emphasize.”
QB DECISION: Brantley will make his first start against Navy. Sophomore Glen Cuiellette, who is more experienced and more of a pocket passer, started the first two games. Brantley, meanwhile, has the speed to get the corner, which gave Tulane more success on option plays last week. Fritz said Brantley’s speed “was part of the decision” to start him against Navy.
“When a guy’s got speed in the triple option, you really stretch the defense out sideline to sideline,” Fritz said. “Sometimes it looks like they have it all covered and you’re outrunning the guy and getting 3 or 4 yards. So the quarterback’s got to have speed for us.”
OWNING THE UNRANKED: Navy has won 18 straight against unranked opponents.
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