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Football: Option stoppers

Allan Joseph | Wednesday, October 5, 2011

After shutting down Purdue’s offense last week, Irish coach Brian Kelly said this weekend’s matchup with Air Force would provide a stiff test for his defense.

“[Air Force is] one of the top rushing teams in the country, but at the same time … their pass efficiency is off the charts,” Kelly said. “The balance there that they have offensively creates headaches for everybody in the country.”

Air Force depends largely on the option offense, much as familiar foe Navy does. While defending the option requires tactical discipline, Kelly said his defense would focus on its own play to have success.

“Certainly we have to be aware of the option and the responsibilities,” Kelly said. “It’s an extremely multifaceted offense. But we’ve got to be who we are, and that is being physical on both sides of the ball.”

While it seems instinctive to immediately compare the Falcons’ attack to that of the Midshipmen, Kelly warned against that, adding that Air Force’s schemes are far more varied than Navy’s.

“There’s many more pieces in the Air Force offense … you’re not going to get any of that from Navy, whereas you’re going to get a balance [from Air Force] in terms of what you’ll have to defend,” Kelly said. “[Senior quarterback Tim] Jefferson is obviously a guy that can throw the ball very well. So the receiving corps, it’s not off of play action or crack-and-go. It’s a comprehensive passing game. This incorporates a lot of principles. [It’s] quite different in that respect.”

Kelly coached Notre Dame against Navy and Army last year, which both ran versions of the option offense. He said that experience would help in preparing for Air Force, but that his defense must not get caught up in the tactical aspect of the game.

“Being more familiar with it as a staff and being more familiar with it as how the game unfolds are all experiences you can take with you,” Kelly said. “I think you’ve got to be careful because sometimes [defending the] option, you get this sense of ‘hey, it’s option.’ But we have to do what we do.”

Senior defensive end Ethan Johnson suffered a lower-leg injury in last Saturday’s win at Purdue, and while Johnson will be wearing an immobilizing boot until Thursday, Kelly was hopeful Johnson would be able to play Saturday.

“We’re hopeful. But you really don’t know,” Kelly said. “You’re hoping for great results. We’ve been very aggressive in the treatment, but we’ll have to really see on Thursday … we hope he’ll be able to answer the bell.”

As his team prepares to play its first home game in three weeks, Kelly was pleased by the energy his team continues to display.

“We were coming off four really tough football games. For us to go and play with that kind of energy [last week] says a lot about our team,” Kelly said. “We’re back at home. We’re excited about that. But again, we’re going to have to play very well to beat Air Force.”

Contact Allan Joseph at ajoseph2@nd.edu