Notre Dame takes on triple option, again
Renee Griffin | Friday, November 11, 2016
Notre Dame will get a chance to redeem itself against a triple option offense on Saturday, facing Army’s attack one week after losing by one point to a Navy offense that has all but trademarked the system.
With a 5-4 record and an average of 410.2 yards gained per game — 320.3 of which come on the ground — the Black Knights have not quite been able to match Navy’s success this season, as the Midshipmen are 6-2 and are posting 434.5 yards per game on offense. Still, Irish head coach Brian Kelly called Army “one of the best option rushing attacks in the country.”
“You better be ready, because they’re tough-minded individuals at Army,” Kelly said. “So we’ll be smart with our players, but they know what’s in store. They just finished playing a very tough-minded football team in Navy, and they know that they’ve gotta prepare in a manner that allows them to go out there mentally and physically beat their opponent.”
Kelly noted that Army and Navy were certainly not identical in scheme, pointing to the styles of their respective quarterbacks as important distinctions. Senior Midshipmen quarterback Will Worth, who racked up 223 yards of total offense on his own against the Irish last Saturday, is more physical than Army junior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw, Kelly said.
“The quarterback probably defines the personality of that triple option,” Kelly said. “[Bradshaw] wants to get on the edge. Not as physical [as Worth], but he’s quick, he’s elusive. So this changes the style a little bit based upon who the quarterback is.”
The quarterback differences will be key to the Irish defense’s ability to read whether run-first Army will throw a surprise pass, as Navy did on the final play of the game in Jacksonville, Florida, that cemented the Notre Dame loss.
“You’re still defending triple,” Kelly said. “You still have to defend the fullback; you still have to defend the quarterback at the edge and then the pitch, and then what their desire is relative to throwing the football, what their appetite is.
“Is it something that they’re willing to potentially get behind the chains on first down or are they going to save it for when they absolutely have to throw the football? They’ll throw it on first down and take their chances of being behind the chain. So that’s just a different offensive philosophy.”
For many of the young players in the Irish secondary, Navy was the first look at a collegiate triple option offense, so Army will be less of a transition. Kelly praised the play of freshman cornerback Julian Love in the loss to the Mids, saying it was “probably as good as I’ve seen a true freshman play” against that type of attack.
While the triple option is Army’s most unique feature, its defense is the one that ranks well nationally, coming in at No. 6 for fewest yards allowed per game.
Its opponents are not offensive powerhouses, but the same Duke team that scored 38 points against Notre Dame earlier this season scored only 13 against the Black Knights. Much of its strength comes from its variety of coverage, Kelly and junior quarterback DeShone Kizer said.
“As similar as Army and Navy are on offense, they are completely different on defense,” Kizer said. “Army is very good at what they do in the sense that they are changing their looks consistently. They are blitzing from all over the place. They are three-down, they are four-down, they are two-high, they are one-high.
“They are all over the place. You have to be able to make sure you take what the defense is giving you.”
Going against another time-sucking triple option, the Irish offense will need to make the most of limited opportunities. Against Navy, the Irish had only six possessions and put points on the board in five of them, but it wasn’t enough to win.
“That is something that we’re going to be able to build off of going into Army, having the understanding of how important a possession is,” Kizer said. “I think we’re ready to go.
“This team is very unique in the sense that no matter what the outcome of the game before, we’re able to come back and really push ourselves and compete and have the positive mind-set needed to go out and win games.”