Ricky Dobbs and Navy Look to Put Offensive Struggles Behind Them Against Western Kentucky

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper is a former quarterback, and he knows firsthand the challenges that come with making decisions in the triple option. He tries to keep that in the back of his mind when he watches junior Ricky Dobbs quarterback the Midshipmen's offense.

But Jasper was visibly frustrated on Monday with some of Dobbs's decision-making in Navy's 27-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Midshipmen never got on track and finished with just 218 yards of total offense and 129 yards on the ground, the fifth-lowest total since Paul Johnson introduced the triple option at Navy in 2002.

"He missed some [reads], and some of them were really obvious -- I was really upset about those. The others, I can understand," said Jasper, who played at the University of Hawaii. "One thing I've always said to myself since I became a coach is to never forget that I played the position. So I always try to see what they're seeing, what they were doing. Sometimes it's not easy [making the proper reads]. The ones that upset me were really obvious."

Dobbs, to be sure, wasn't the only reason why Navy (1-2) struggled so much on offense, as there were breakdowns across the board. Jasper said if the read was right, the blocks often were wrong, and vice versa.

"We didn't execute," Jasper said. "Bottom line."

"We never got anything started," Dobbs said after the game. "It started with me first. There are a lot of things I wish I could've done differently, reads that I wish I could've made. I've got to settle down and be patient, and stop making reads before they actually happen. I think we definitely had the opportunity on several occasions, but we were shooting ourselves in the foot."

But Dobbs's struggles were the most visible because of the position he plays. He is usually one of Navy's strongest runners, but he was credited with only 21 yards on 26 carries -- take away Pittsburgh's six sacks, and he gained 53 yards on 20 carries.

Dobbs completed just 6 of 21 passes for 89 yards; the 21 attempts were the most by a Navy quarterback since Craig Candeto threw 23 passes (completing 13) in a 49-40 loss to Northwestern on Sept. 21, 2002. In addition to the six sacks, the Panthers had eight quarterback hurries.

"That's not who we are," Coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "Maybe I'll get people off my back who say we need to throw the ball more. There we saw an illustration of [what happens] if we have to throw the ball. We have linemen who are 6 feet and 6-1; they have guys who are 6-5, and we can't even get our arms around them. The majority of it was they're pretty good at pass rushing and that's not our cup of tea."

For all the success that Dobbs has had over the past year, he is still learning to make the right reads while running the triple option, which is predicated on the quarterback making snap decisions about whether to keep the ball or give it to a slotback or fullback. There were several times, particularly in the first half, when it appeared as if Dobbs should've given the ball to the fullback instead of tucking it in and carrying it himself.

Sophomore fullback Alexander Teich finished with 80 yards on 12 carries and had Navy's longest play of the day, a 42-yard run early in the second quarter. Sophomore Marcus Curry (34 yards on six carries) was the only slotback who touched the ball.

"I think Ricky realized that hey, we've got to be able to run the option for us to be successful," Niumatalolo said. "Yeah, he's a heck of a thrower and as good as we've ever had, but in order for us to be successful the rest of our season, we got to be able to run the offense to have a chance."

"Guys ask, what do you read? You've got to have it. You've got to have a sense for it," Jasper said. "Because people know what we're doing."

Jasper vowed that he and Dobbs will work hard this week to make sure that the Midshipmen operate more smoothly on offense; after all, Navy still has 10 more games to play, starting Saturday against Western Kentucky (0-3). The Hilltoppers, who are the newest members of division I-A, have an 11-game losing streak dating back to last season and rank 118th in the country in total defense (508.3 yards per game).

"It's my job -- and I want to make this clear -- it's my job to get him right. And I will," Jasper said. "I'm going to bust my butt, and if that doesn't happen, I need to be replaced. I'm going to coach him hard and try to find some answers; if we have to put in a new drill, do something else -- we've got to get it right. [Dobbs is] determined; he's upset about it. All I want is to have is a kid who's determined to get it right, because you can work with that. And he is."

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