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Football Commentary: Option preferential for Navy

Mike Gilloon | Friday, October 27, 2006

All of you fretting and sweating over Notre Dame’s pitiful running game against UCLA, calm down.

All of you obsessing about whether Brady Quinn can steal the Heisman Trophy away from Troy Smith, lighten up.

And those of you – you know who you are – worried that Notre Dame won’t escape the service academy stretch of its schedule without a loss, chill out.

They won’t lose to Air Force in a few weeks. They certainly won’t drop one at home to Army. And the Irish won’t lose to Navy.

Next year? Maybe. But Saturday, with seniors and size to spare, the famed winning streak over the Midshipmen won’t end.

It won’t be without a few bruises. The academies – especially Navy – love to outhit, outhustle and outsmart opponents.

This philosophy has worked for Navy coach Paul Johnson, who has turned some of the most successful students and leaders in this nation into winners on the football field.

It just won’t happen this weekend in Baltimore. Notre Dame has superior speed and superior size and plays with its fair share of intelligence as well.

And that’s what makes this one – a game that should be in Irish hands well before the final 27 seconds – so much fun to watch.


Because of two words and one offense – the option.

Remember? It’s the same system Nebraska perfected in the mid-90s; the same system Tony Rice ran for Notre Dame’s last national title; the same system that gives the service academies the ability to play major college football.

Without the option, Navy would be stuck in I-AA, nowhere near the bowl game they’re almost assured this year.

With the option, Navy makes life interesting.

Former Notre Dame and current New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said it’s the toughest offense he’s ever prepared for. It’s also the most beautiful.

The idea is simple – force an intentionally unblocked defensive end to choose between tackling a quarterback with the ball veering toward him or a trailing running back. If the end chooses the quarterback, ideally he will pitch to the running back right before he’s hit. If the end goes after the running back, the quarterback keeps the ball and heads upfield.

It’s not supposed to matter that the defensive end is a quick 270-pounder named Victor Abiamiri. It’s not supposed to matter that the quarterback is a second-stringer with average weight, average height and a not-so-average name – Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada.

If the option deceives that defensive end and a couple of linebackers, it can slice defenses apart. Think 1990s Nebraska.

If the defense is disciplined and fast enough to track down slower ball carriers, the option isn’t very effective. Think what will happen for the Irish against Navy Saturday.

Many of those planning to attend Saturday’s contest in Baltimore hope to see Navy knock off Notre Dame for the first time since the Midshipmen had a Heisman winner at quarterback. But with their own Heisman candidate calling signals, the Irish are too good.

So why bother buying tickets to a game Navy has no chance to win?

Because if the Midshipmen cared about fat sports writers, they wouldn’t suit up this Saturday, they wouldn’t hit so hard and they certainly wouldn’t run the option.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Mike Gilloon at mgilloon@nd.edu