Notre Dame Football

Senior Day Brings The Triple-Option To South Bend

November 14, 2017

Notre Dame will send 26 seniors out of the tunnel on Saturday afternoon as Navy comes to South Bend. The Irish need a win to get back on track, but head coach Brian Kelly also wants to make sure his seniors are sent out the right way. 

“We've got 26 academic seniors and/or graduates that will be honored before the game, and some are playing in their last home game at Notre Dame,” Kelly said on Tuesday afternoon. “So very, very important game, obviously, for them and for our football team and important for us to get back to playing to our standard.” 

The Midshipmen enter the game with a 6-3 record but have battled injuries and inconsistent play for most of the year. However, Kelly and the Irish know Navy will be fired up for this game, and it will be a battle for 60 minutes. 

“You have to have an incredible attention to detail when you play Navy and their offense,” explained Kelly. “Everybody knows quite well how prolific they are and how difficult they are to stop. They do things offensively that teams each and every week struggle to defend.

“The other thing you have to do is you have to beat a lot of one-on-one blocks. You have to play physical. You have to be able to get off blocks. You have to be able to make tackles against a very good and well-disciplined football team, a team that fights for four quarters. They've won close games. They manage the clock very well. They play smart football. It will be a great challenge for us.” 

Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame 

A year ago, Navy beat Notre Dame 28-27 in Jacksonville, and it was a game the Irish only got six offensive possessions. Kelly knows his offense has to score and score touchdowns to beat the Midshipmen.

“Offensively, we have to be able to score,” stated Kelly. “Last year, obviously, we scored, but we didn't score touchdowns. You have to score touchdowns. You have to finish off your drives. You have to be extremely efficient, and that's what their offense forces you to do is to be extremely efficient on offense.

“We've got to find a way to take the football away. We haven't done that. We didn't do that last week. We've got to get the football, take it away, and revert to some of the things that we were doing defensively. If we can get some turnovers and get some points relative to touchdowns instead of field goals, then we'll put ourselves in a much better position against a very good opponent.” 

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko will get his first shot at Navy’s triple-option attack this weekend, but Kelly believes Elko’s experience will help him slow down the unique offense. 

“His background is that he's had to stop option teams before, Georgia Southern,” Kelly said. “He's been in the option system. That was something that we vetted out in the interviewing process. So very comfortable with what we'll be doing in terms of -- this isn't a defensive coordinator that's coming in inexperienced in terms of stopping the option.” 

While Navy has been somewhat inconsistent at times this fall, the Midshipmen still lead the country averaging 369.8 rushing yards per game. Kelly and Elko are well-aware Navy will bring out the full playbook against the Irish on Saturday, which could include plays from 10 years ago. 

“They have so many different formations, so many different looks,” Kelly explained.  “They made a change obviously at the quarterback position, you know, after the Temple game. They had a bye week, and they made a change there, and that made a huge difference to their running game.

“Clearly, they are always looking to make some adjustments, and you have to be prepared for every look for the last ten years. They did some things against us two years ago that we hadn't seen in six, seven years. So you have to be able to adjust and sometimes adjust on the fly.” 

To add to the confusion, Navy could start one of three quarterbacks on Saturday. It’s likely down to Malcolm Perry or Zach Abey, but Garrett Lewis has also played this fall. 

“There's clearly a little bit of difference in terms of who they are with their quarterback situation,” said Kelly. “So just looking at their numbers, Zach right now is their leading rusher, and if you go by just looking at that, you'd say, all right, how do you defend him? He's difficult in itself, but Malcolm Perry runs for over 200, and they rush for 556. So you've got two quarterbacks of different style, but one's the leading rusher that didn't play last week because he's banged up, and then Malcolm Perry comes in and rushes for over 200.” 

Notre Dame has prepared for the triple-option attack this fall and most recently during the bye week in October. 

“We've spent a little time on it,” stated Kelly. “In our bye week, we took a full practice session to work on it. So the guys have the basic tenets of how we're going to be lining up, the defensive fronts, coverages, movements, schemes, and then we'll go full go at it over the next three days.”

With Navy’s offense trying to dominate time of possession, the Notre Dame offense must be able to score touchdowns and not settle for field goals. 

“There's no doubt about it that that plays upon how you go about your game plan,” Kelly said of the limited possessions. “You have to take advantage of every opportunity that you possess the football. So how you play call, your fourth down situations, punt, no punt. There's no question that, when you go into this game, that affects you.

“Now, you can't let that affect the way you play the game. I mean, your guy's got to play with a mindset that they're out there to attack and make plays, but as a play caller, no question that you've got to be thinking in those terms that I must possess the ball, I must finish drives, and I must finish them with seven points.”

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