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Army presents another triple-option challenge

Matt Gamber | Thursday, November 18, 2010

Remember the last time Notre Dame played against a team that ran the option?

Saturday night’s showdown with Army gives the Irish players and coaches a chance at redemption and an opportunity to erase the memories of a forgettable defensive showing against Navy. Notre Dame’s game plan against the Midshipmen was clearly exposed and exploited, and while the Irish have certainly made adjustments, Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday it still comes down to basic defensive concepts.

“Physical and mental toughness, controlling the line of scrimmage, those are all the things that I’m sure you’ve all heard a football coach talk to the media,” Kelly said. “We have to do the same things we did against Utah, and we have to do it against an offense and a defense we don’t see very much.”

Navy fullback Alexander Teich gave the Irish defense fits, and Notre Dame will have to contend with another rushing threat at fullback in Army’s Jared Hassin. The Black Knights sophomore leads the team in rushing with 858 yards on 150 carries, for an average of 5.7 yards per attempt.

“He’s somebody that obviously we’re quite aware of,” Kelly said.

The Black Knights know the Irish will be more prepared following the disastrous results against Navy, Black Knights coach Rich Ellerson said in a press conference Tuesday.

“We know they’ll adjust,” Ellerson said. “We know they’ll play better. We know they’ll be motivated. They were hurt by that performance on the defensive side of the ball and they’re going to respond.”

Though Army’s offense does most of its damage on the ground, quarterback Trent Steelman is a threat to throw the ball as well.

“[They have] great balance offensively in the sense that if you just try to take away one phase of it, as evident last week, nine-for-10 throwing the football with well over 100 yards, they can hurt you there as well,” Kelly said. “Trent Steelman is a very tough, competitive guy. He’s obviously very important to their offense. Their receivers are rangy, 6-foot-3 types that can go up and get the football.”

Steelman is the team’s second-leading rusher with 596 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he has thrown for 798 yards with five touchdowns to only one interception — good for an efficiency rating of 138.9.

Ellerson said the pass is important in keeping the defense off-guard.

“You defend the option with all 11 defenders, and one of the way you control that back row is with play-action pass,” he said. “Being able to get the ball over their heads a few times is really important to the outcome of that game. People will pick their poison, but that should slow down the run support along the perimeter.”

But defending the pass and various types of run plays that make Army “a little bit more diverse than a typical option team” will be secondary to stopping what the Black Knights do best, Kelly said.

“It’s still about defending the triple option. It’s still about the same principles that you have to defend the entire width of the field in the running game, and then obviously the passing game,” Kelly said. “They do a very good job of getting the football out and can really make some plays in the passing game. But it’s still about the principles of option football.”