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Behind a strong running game, Navy does its best work on land

| Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, 10:15 p.m.

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo ran the triple option as a quarterback at Hawaii when he played under current Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson. When Johnson became the offensive coordinator at Navy, he made Niumatalolo running backs coach. After a three-year stint as an assistant at UNLV, Niumatalolo returned to Navy as offensive line coach and later became offensive coordinator, where he continued to coach the triple-option.

Since taking over at Navy, Niumatalolo's 40 wins are the most in school history by a coach in his first five years. He guided Navy to a 10-win season in 2009, which tied for the most wins in school history, and he's the first Navy coach to advance to a bowl game in each of his first three years. He became just the second coach since World War II to lead Navy to a winning record in each of his first three seasons and is one of three Navy coaches to defeat Notre Dame two years in a row. He's also the first service academy coach to win the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy between Navy, Army and Air Force in his first two years.

As Navy (3-3) prepares to face Pitt (4-2) on Saturday afternoon in Annapolis, Md., Niumatalolo confesses none of this would be possible without the triple option.

“For the most part, we're very similar to what Paul does at Georgia Tech — that's our foundation. We feel it gives us an opportunity to compete,” Niumatalolo said.

“The whole thing is trying to win ballgames. What gives us the best chance to win? This offense allows us to run the football and keep the clock moving.”

The triple-option gives the offense three options to run the ball. The quarterback reacts according to how the opposing defensive end attacks the play. The quarterback can give the ball to the fullback up the middle, he can keep the ball himself, or pitch to a halfback.

Navy also runs a variation of the wishbone triple-option known as the flexbone featuring running backs lined up on either side of the quarterback.

Sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who leads Navy in passing and rushing, has a team-high 126 carries compared with only 56 pass attempts. Navy ranks No. 6 in rushing and No. 120 in passing.

“Everybody has to be accountable for the different options on the play,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “It takes being disciplined with your eyes and executing your assignment. We certainly have a plan. We are hoping it stops it.”

The triple-option requires committed, selfless players for success. In an era when dazzling high-tech passing offenses and individual brilliance are the norm, Navy's players put the team first.

“You've got to be a selfless kid to come here,” Niumatalolo said. “If you come to a service academy, you're a selfless person. This is about serving your country. It's about more than yourself.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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