BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana safety Greg Heban knows it's coming. It's Navy, after all. The master of the triple-option offense, a run-heavy attack that includes the legal technique no defender wants to deal with:
The cut block.
“I know they will cut block a lot,” Heban says. “I was on the bad end of that.”
That was last year, when IU lost a 31-30 heartbreaker at Navy. Now the Midshipmen (0-0) come to Memorial Stadium on Saturday looking to better last year's 257-rushing-yard total.
The Hoosiers (1-0) have other ideas.
“It's a totally different scheme than what we're use to,” Heban says. “We have to put our normal defensive scheme on hold for a week for these guys.”
In the triple-option attack, Navy can attack with running backs up the middle or sweeps or option pitches. Or the quarterback can keep it and go inside or out. There are all sorts of fakes and misdirections. If you're not disciplined, you get beat.
“Navy does a great job of manipulating the defense,” Heban says. “You have to have great eyes and be aware of where you need to be.”
If you aren't aware, you get the cut block.
That refers to an offensive player knocking down a defensive player by hitting him at the knees. It's legal as long as the defensive player isn't already engaged with another offensive player.
In this case, defensive backs and linebackers are the most vulnerable. While their attention is focused on the ball carrier, a receiver or tight end can rush in, knock them down and open the field for a potentially big play.
“It's something the safeties and linebackers are working a lot on,” Heban says. “If you're setting the edge and you get chopped, the edge is gone. They'll get outside.”
Defensive backs in general, safeties in particular, are often the last line of defense. Take them out and you get a big play, perhaps a touchdown.
“You need to know where you need to be in the right gap,” Heban says. “If the ball is handed off up the middle, the D-line takes care of it. If the ball gets to the perimeter off the option, then the (defender) on the quarterback and the (defender) on the pitch guy have to be ready for it.”
How to you defend against the chop block?
“It's a lot of practice,” Heban says. “If you see the (offensive player's) head going down, you keep your feet high and use your hands to press away the helmet and shoulder pad so they don't get your legs. They're trying to get to your outside leg. You've got to keep that leg free.”
Because of military guidelines, Navy players generally are smaller than those on non-military programs. They make up for it with a system that emphasizes discipline, precision, intelligence and execution.
The defense has to match that.
“Defensively the more you think, the harder it is,” Wilson said. “That's why, in my opinion, this is the most difficult team we play. For this week you put everything you do defensively on the shelf. This is an option team that's going to have some movement and some (shotgun) passes. It's going to be a tremendous challenge.
“It's going to be a game where we're going to have to do some adjusting and see if we're smart enough as coaches and players to understand what happened and get lined up because we might get caught once or twice where you don't want to be.”
Navy has another twist – if often goes for it on fourth down. It was 18-for-28 on fourth-down situations, a success rate of 64.0 percent.
“They talk about just needing 3 yards to stay on track,” Heban says. “Our key on first and second down is to get them off track, get them into third and long. That will be huge.”
The Midshipmen have another twist – quarterback Keenan Reynolds is a good passer, unlike some of their recent quarterbacks. Last year as a true freshman he completed 56.5 percent of his passes for 896 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.
So coach Ken Niumatalolo has tweaked his offense to incorporate the shotgun and pistol formations, plus added a no-huddle and spread-attack elements. Because this is Navy's first game, IU coaches can only guess what the expanded attack will do.
One thing that won't require guessing: Navy has always tried to lull defenses to sleep with the run before going deep with the pass. Now the Midshipmen are likely to be far more effective doing that.
“It's all about your eyes and reading your keys effectively,” Heban says. “Keenan Reynolds is a great quarterback. He's one of the most athletic quarterbacks Navy has had. We have to keep our eyes on him.”
And, of course, on the ball and the cut block, and more.
“You've got to win as a team,” Wilson says. “You can't make a play to beat these guys. It's not one guy. It's 11 guys, it's a bunch of guys, to beat this team.”