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Defense won’t change against triple option

Allan Joseph | Thursday, October 6, 2011

Recent history at Notre Dame has made “triple option” the equivalent of a four-letter word.

Navy has employed it to perfection far too often for Irish fans, and defense after Notre Dame defense has failed to be disciplined enough to effectively defend the scheme. Hand-wringing abounds over what new wrinkle, if any, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will install to stop Air Force’s option attack. Amid the public worries, the coaching staff has made one thing clear.

“I think we keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said.

“It’s no different than any other week,” safeties coach Chuck Martin said.

“Really, what do we have to do? Nothing different than we do every week,” Diaco said.

While the focus on stopping Air Force’s option may seem hardheaded, Kelly said it was more important for his team to continue to win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

“We cannot become so out of character in stopping the option that we forget about the things that we teach every day,” Kelly said. “That is playing physical, flying to the football [and] great tackling. We’ve got to be who we are, and that is being physical on both sides of the ball.

“If you’re afraid of that, you’re not going to play. We have to be who we are.”

The Falcons employ a triple-option attack as their base offense and do so to great effect, ranking third in the nation with 364.5 yards on the ground per game. But in contrast to other triple-option teams like Navy, Air Force has an equally dangerous aerial attack.

“These guys are very proficient passers and receivers,” Diaco said. “It’s unique. That’s why they’re one of the best offensive teams in the country.”

The Falcons’ multifaceted attack begins with and revolves around senior quarterback Tim Jefferson, whose 188.8 quarterback efficiency rating is fourth in the country.

“He can do all the option jobs, but he’s also proficient passing,” Diaco said. “He can make that big field throw to a comeback … which is hard for any quarterback in the country, let alone where you would think you’re playing an option quarterback.

“He can make all the throws and he’s athletic enough and tough enough to run the offense. It’s a unique challenge and they’re doing a fantastic job.”

Senior linebacker Darius Fleming said the key to neutralizing the Air Force action was familiarity with the offensive scheme he and his defense will face.

“I don’t think you can over-study. I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much film this week,” Fleming said. “You’ve got to battle for four quarters, because they’ve got a great team, and they run this offense really well.”

The Falcons run their offense so well, in fact, that Diaco felt it was necessary to temper expectations.

“What’s success? People talk about stopping them. You don’t stop an offense like this,” he said. “Hopefully you can get them off schedule … If you can get the team off schedule, that’s helpful.”

While freshmen defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch saw no action against an option-based Michigan team in week two, Diaco said the two would see playing time this week despite their inexperience.

“It isn’t going to be perfect,” Diaco said. “They’re going to do silly stuff at times. We’re just going to have to rally and play hard, play with great effort and try to neutralize a lot of those things … They’re doing a better job. Each day that passes, they seem to do better.”

According to Kelly, at its core, the matchup between two disparate teams comes down to mental discipline — and if his team is going to win, it has to do what it does best.

“We’re big, strong [and] physical,” he said. “They’re agile, mobile and smart. They play extremely hard. We have to use our attributes and we have to be a physical team. If you fall asleep for one second … you’re going to be in big trouble.”