- The Washington Times - Friday, October 24, 2003

Navy coach Paul Johnson made a name for himself at Georgia Southern with a quick-strike, triple option offense that piled up yardage and helped the Eagles to Division 1-AA national championships in 1999 and 2000.

In Annapolis, the same offense has evolved into a ball control machine — occasionally demonstrating big play capability but more often churning out lengthy drives that keep opposing offenses off the field.

It’s a change driven primarily by a different type of athlete. At Georgia Southern, Johnson was coaching football players. At Navy, he’s coaching future military officers interested in playing some football along the way. The resulting athlete is a bit less likely to break the big play but more disciplined and likely to grind out a time-consuming drive.

“I remember one year at Georgia Southern, our average drive time was 2 minutes, 12 seconds,” Johnson said. “We lost in time of possession almost every year I was there because we scored so fast. We scored 50 points a game, but often it came in really long plays.”

In the last three weeks, Navy’s average drive has lasted about 31/2 minutes, and against Rice last week the average drive eclipsed four minutes. Slotback Eric Roberts also broke a 69-yard run in the 38-6 romp over the Owls, the Midshipmen’s longest touchdown strike of the season, demonstrating the big play is always a possibility with Johnson on the sideline.

The transformation truly began after a loss to Rutgers a month ago, and the key to success since has been third-down efficiency. After losing to the Scarlet Knights, Navy was 2-2 and averaging a third-down conversion every three attempts. In three consecutive wins since, the Mids are converting on third down nearly 65 percent of the time.

By putting together longer drives, the Mids are giving opponents fewer chances with the ball, which increases the importance of each drive. When opponents finally get their chance, Navy’s defense is well rested and the result has been quick stops and turnovers. Through seven games, the Mids (5-2) have forced 18 turnovers, three shy of the number they forced all of last season.

“As an offensive coach, if you’re used to getting the ball 10 or 12 times a half and now you’re only getting it three or four times, it puckers you up a little bit,” Johnson said. “You’re not as apt to try some stuff you might try, and it keeps your offense more basic.”

Navy will try to keep Delaware’s offense more basic today as the Blue Hens travel to Annapolis trying to keep their perfect record intact by spoiling the Mids’ homecoming. Delaware (7-0) tends to run its offense quickly and without a huddle. If the Mids’ can take that element of surprise away from the Division 1-AA team, they’ll stand a good chance of staying undefeated at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium this season.

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