UNIVERSITY PARK — Ohio University used a no-huddle, spread offense. Virginia operated under a pro-style attack.
Neither system prepares Penn State for its third opponent.
The Nittany Lions’ defensive task today against Navy involves stopping the triple option, a deceptive offense designed to neutralize talent gaps between the Midshipmen and major-conference opponents.
“The triple option gives us a chance to compete,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “We still get our brains beat in every now and then. But it works for the type of personnel we have.”
After receiving the ball from center Graham Vickers, Navy quarterback Trey Miller has three options: He can hand the ball to the fullback, pitch it to a slotback or tuck it and run.
Former coach Paul Johnson brought the offense to Navy in 2002. Niumatalolo and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper continued teaching the systems after Johnson left for Georgia Tech in 2007.
“It’s a whole new thing,” Penn State cornerback Adrian Amos said. “You have to change your whole defense up for a team like Navy, Georgia Tech or any triple option team.”
No Penn State player has encountered the triple option in college. Defensive end Pete Massaro said he hasn’t faced the offense since a scrimmage against Chichester during his sophomore year at District 1 Marple Newtown High School. Massaro is a fifth-year senior.
Junior middle linebacker Glenn Carson said he faced the offense once during his career at Southern Regional (N.J.) High School.
“You have to look at a lot of film,” Carson said. “You have to be very disciplined on your fits and where you have to be on every play.”
Penn State’s attempts to simulate the offense include using true freshman wide receiver Malik Golden as scout team quarterback. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof faced Navy four times while serving as Duke’s head coach from 2004-07.
Massaro said Roof has emphasized Navy’s blocking schemes throughout the week.
“The first thing we talked about is being able to play cut blocks and being able to stay on our feet,” Massaro said. “Anytime you face an option team it’s really important to have guys that can run to the ball, so the first step in running to the ball is being able to stay on your feet when they cut.”
The Midshipmen have plunged their way to some big rushing games in recent years. Navy averaged 312.3 rushing yards per game in 2011 to finish fourth nationally behind Army, Georgia Tech and Air Force. The triple option has helped Navy finish first nationally in rushing five times since 2002.
Today’s game matches strengths. Penn State’s defense, which features veteran linebackers Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Carson, held Virginia to 32 rushing yards on 25 carries last week.
“It’s going to be tough for us,” Niumatalolo said. “Their interior is very active and very good. They have big players and Coach Roof has seen us before. This isn’t his first rodeo. They aren’t going to be surprised by anything we do. We know it’s going to be a tall order.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy