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Irish concerned about Navy’s option attack

Chris Federico | Friday, November 7, 2003

The dreaded triple option – the Irish face it every year at least once from teams like Navy and Air Force, and every year, they fear the problems it could cause.

“Preparation for the option really just changes everything that we do from a defensive standpoint and really affects how we even practice,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “So their scheme creates a lot of problems.”

The players study assignments all week and wonder if they’ll pick up their reads.

The coaches and coordinators run rep after rep in practice at the defense and wonder how their players will react in the game.

“It’s a little concern just because it’s a different offense,” Irish defensive coordinator Kent Baer said. “It’s like learning a whole new language in one week. It may sound funny, but it’s true, and it’s so different from what you’re used to. It’s like saying, ‘OK, let’s stop what we’ve been learning, and now we’ve got to go learn this for one week.'”

Navy coach Paul Johnson knows his scheme can be confusing to opposing defenses because of its rarity. So few teams run a conventional option in modern football that it can be very tough for teams to prepare for it in only one week of practice. Johnson hopes this can make up for other areas where his Midshipmen may be lacking.

“Our philosophy has always been if you can get better at stopping something in a week than we can in 26 weeks of running it, you were going to beat us anyways,” he said. “That’s what we do. We’re going to do it, and we will try and hit you with play-action if you put a lot of guys up there.”

This year, the Midshipmen are running their vaunted triple option to perfection, leading the nation in rushing with 309 yards per game. They have two players, running back Kyle Eckel and quarterback Craig Candeto, who each average over 85 yards of rushing a game. The senior Candeto has nearly three times as many rushing touchdowns (11) as the entire Irish team (4).

“I think Craig’s experienced, he’s tough, he’s mentally tough and he’s physically tough,” Johnson said. “He’s a good leader on the field. I think it’s like anything else, if you rep something a million times hopefully you get good at it.”

Another thing that could make things difficult for Notre Dame this week against Navy is the injury bug that has hit them all of a sudden. When preparing for a scheme like Navy’s triple option – where so much relies on defenders being disciplined and holding their assignments – having to use young and inexperienced players can prove extremely costly.

“You have to break it down and give [the young guys] tip sheets,” Irish secondary coach Trent Walters said. “You have to talk to them, you have to write things down for them, you have to give them every avenue. Then you have to get reps in practice.

“The biggest thing is discipline, and that’s what we’re trying to get now.”

The Irish will have to rely on players like freshman defensive end Victor Abiamiri and junior safety Lionel Bolen to replace experienced starters Kyle Budinscak and Glenn Earl, who were injured over the past three weeks.

The Irish will have to count on their senior players still in the lineup – such as defensive lineman Darrell Campbell and linebackers Courtney Watson and Derek Curry – that have seen the option a few times before and understand the discipline necessary to stop it.

“You’ve got a couple of guys that have been in this before linebacker-wise and with some linemen,” Baer said. “So you count on those guys to step up and hopefully get us lined up. That’s one of my concerns and one of the biggest factors.”