The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



Irish face unique task against triple option

Chris Masoud | Thursday, October 27, 2011

High school coaches across the nation have modeled their offenses on it. Division I defenses have been blindsided by it. Yet this season, five teams have discovered how to limit it. Through thick and thin, Navy employs the option offense with the unwavering discipline the Academy embodies.

“[Navy has] seen every single thing that can possibly be done to defend the offense,” Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “There’s only a few things that can be done — effort, fundamentally sound football, a better understanding of the plan.”

Notre Dame will be handed the unenviable task of containing the Navy triple-option offense this Saturday, an assignment the Irish have failed to accomplish in two previous contests against the Midshipmen. Navy averages a whopping 325 rushing yards and 32 points per game this season.

“The biggest thing is just to be disciplined,” senior outside linebacker Darius Fleming said. “You have to trust your teammates that they’re going to get their job done, and that allows you to get your job done. If you’re not disciplined, it doesn’t matter about the speed of the game — you just won’t be a good player out there.”

The task of stopping the explosive Navy offense will be even harder following Kapron Lewis-Moore’s season-ending knee injury sustained in the loss to the Trojans last Saturday.

“It’s very tough as it related to [Kapron],” Diaco said. “He’s a leader out there. He’s got a ton of fundamental work in his base that will be lost, but we’ll just work on the other guys. Coach Kelly’s philosophy for the program is, ‘The next man in,’ and that’s what we’re going to be here.”

In addition to the loss of Lewis-Moore, senior defensive end Ethan Johnson could see limited action as he recovers from an ankle injury sustained against Purdue. That means the next men in happen to be freshmen.

Rookie defensive linemen Aaron Lynch, Stephon Tuitt and Chase Hounshell will shoulder the burden of maintaining edge containment against the Midshipmen, a handful for seasoned veterans, let alone freshmen.

“It’s very hard. The young guys are playing roles they really shouldn’t have to be playing right now,” Diaco said. “They’re really not ready to play the amount of reps they’re having to play each week. The discipline and the mental focus necessary to play four quarters against a team like this and be assignment correct on every play — it becomes a challenge.”

Lynch was flagged for a costly penalty against the Trojans on Saturday, a misstep that kept the Trojan drive alive and eventually led to a score. Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston said Lynch, a player that thrives on emotion, has moved past the incident.

“Aaron’s got to move his life forward, and he is. He’s doing a nice job of taking accountability,” Elston said Tuesday. “After the game, he took accountability for his play. It was very poor. His actions were very poor that led to the personal foul, and it affected him all weekend. He came back, and he’s had a great 48 hours.”

Perhaps the biggest boost for the Irish will come in the form of defensive end Sean Cwynar’s return to full health. The junior has been limited in practice and games due to a forearm cast, which was recently removed.

Elston said he is confident in Cwynar’s ability to hit the ground running despite limited action Saturday and no defensive snaps during Notre Dame’s Oct. 8 victory over Air Force, a team that also utilizes a triple option offense.

“Sean feels great with the club off,” he said. “He’s still a little rusty with using the hands. Sean doesn’t have the size, he doesn’t have the strength, he doesn’t have the speed, he doesn’t have the athleticism that all those other guys have. What he has is his technique and his instinctiveness and his ability to read blocks.”

Diaco echoed Elston’s confidence in the ability of the front line to read its keys and play disciplined football.

“They’re locked in,” he said. “They’re preparing hard. The coaches are working on being as creative as we possibly can to maximize every permissible second of the allotted time we’re with them, and they’ll be ready.”