Navy Week Q&A with Asst. Coach John Butler

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions are set to host Navy on Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium (3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2).

As the team puts its final touches on the gameplan, GoPSUsports.com sat down with secondary coach John Butler to talk about Navy preparations.


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GoPSUsports.com: Talk about the progress your group in the secondary has made from week one to this point?
Butler
: "I think that we are playing hard.  I think we are executing at an above average level.  I think our biggest problem right now is being able to get off the field on third down.  That really comes down to our ability to finish and make plays on the ball in the air.  In the passing game, it is a comprehensive situation where it's the full coverage, it's the linebackers, it's the secondary, it's the pass rush, but from a secondary standpoint, there have been opportunities for us to get off the field and contest a throw with a ball in the air that we haven't done well enough.  Part of it is that some of our techniques need to improve.  The biggest thing, though, is that we just have to better at attacking and playing the ball.  We will keep plugging away, but that is an area we have to get better at."

GoPSUsports.com: How do you work on that at practice?
Butler
: "You try to simulate it.  In our team and unit drills when the ball is in the air, you have to play the ball.  You have to get used to undercutting the ball, catching the ball in the air and work on physically trying to break up passes.  Too many of our guys play the body.  When the ball is in the air, they want to go make the tackle.  They have to play the ball.  A lot of that is natural instinct.  But you can develop it and make it a point of emphasis."

GoPSUsports.com: Looking at Navy, how much different is the preparation for a triple option offense than it is for other teams, from a secondary perspective?
Butler
: "From a comprehensive defense perspective, it is totally different.  You can't be any more different than when you prepare for Navy.  It is night and day.  It is the total opposite end of the spectrum.  Everything changes from a how we play the game standpoint.  You aren't getting as much pass.  You aren't getting as much true running.  You are having to make multiple reads on the run.  It is a challenge.  And it is certainly challenging when it is one game mixed in with all of your other standard offenses.  We have a good gameplan, but ultimately, you can never mimic the speed of the game and how fast the triple option offense is and defending the cut-blocks.  That is something they will have to pick up as the game goes on."

GoPSUsports.com: How important is what the 'dirty show' has done on the practice field to help get the defense ready?
Butler
: "It is important.  It gives us the picture, and it allows us to see the formations and conceptually how they are going to attack us.  But they can't mimic the game speed.  A guy trying to cut you at 50 percent is a whole lot different than a guy trying to cut you at 100 percent.  This is what Navy does every day for 365 days a year.  This is what they do.  Obviously, too, their lifestyle is focused on discipline and execution and doing the right thing all the time.  Not to say that our kids don't, but Navy is in a different environment than us every day.  They try to beat their opponents with execution and toughness and discipline."

GoPSUsports.com: You played against Navy last season when you were at South Carolina.  How has that helped with the game preparations?
Butler
: "It's helped me communicate things.  The kids knew we had a top five or six defense in the country last year, and Navy rant the ball for almost 250 yards on us.  We had nine NFL players on that defense and they were still able to get yards.  It came down to some of our guys not being as disciplined or executing.  It's not about the players as much as you have to be disciplined and execute your scheme.  If you don't they are going to make you pay.  Their offense is to try and minimize the athletic advantage the opponent has on you and maximize their execution advantage they have on you.  It was a dogfight last year.  I have told everybody - we had the best season in South Carolina history and one of the best teams in the country and it was 21-17 in the fourth quarter with them ahead.  It's going to be tough."

GoPSUsports.com: With all that being said, what are the keys to the game for the defense?
Butler
: "We've got to get lined up and execute.  It is critically important for this game.  For example, if you are supposed to tackle the dive and you don't, everybody else is playing something else.  It's not like in base defense where they run the ball and get to the second level and the safety is there to make a tackle.  The reason why the fullback busts through sometimes is that the guy who is supposed to take the fullback doesn't take him.  Everybody else is taking the quarterback and pitch.  So, we have to execute.  The safeties and the secondary have got to keep an eye on their keys.  Once we catch up to the speed of the game, we have to keep doing what we have been doing on defense.  We have to play really hard, get off blocks, run to the ball and maximize our athletic advantage we may have on them.  And make our share of plays.  When the ball is on the ground, capitalize.  They had five turnovers against Notre Dame, and Notre Dame got four of them.  So, we have to capitalize on those opportunities."


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