Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

Notre Dame's failure vs. Navy: Red flag or 'isolated incident'?

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Notre Dame's defensive breakdown in a 35-17 loss to Navy looked like a major red flag to veteran Irish football viewers -- exposing the inability of Brian Kelly's coaching staff to not only prepare adequately for an opponent with a well-defined offensive scheme, but adjust to fairly simple wrinkles that caused the Irish problems from the start.
You can't blame them after a similar experience against Stanford -- when Notre Dame not only seemed surprised by Stanford's strategy of rushing three defenders and dropping eight in to coverage, but also failed to respond to it.

Kelly, though, called the Navy breakdown ''an isolated incident'' and expects his defense to return to the form that helped the Irish beat Boston College, Pittsburgh and Western Michigan prior to facing Navy when the Irish face Tulsa on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
The ''isolated incident'' argument is that Navy's triple-option offense is so unique that most teams are going to struggle to stop the Midshipmen. A defense like Notre Dame's that was mediocre to begin with and is in transition under a new coaching staff made its failure against Navy particularly acute.

It's hard to say for sure which scenario has more validity, but the numbers support the ''isolated incident'' theory.

Defending Navy's offense has more to do with familiarity than having better athletes. Navy's two best rushing totals this season have come against its two most talented opponents -- Notre Dame (60 carries, 367 yards, 6.1 yards per carry) and Maryland (72, 412, 5.7). Navy's two worst rushing totals have come against teams that run the option every day in practice -- Georgia Southern (43-109, 2.5) and Air Force (50-209, 4.2).

It's not a coincidence that when two triple-option teams faced each other, Navy and Georgia Southern had season-low rushing totals -- Navy 109, Georgia Southern 73. In other words, two teams that average 600 yards rushing between them against everybody else on their schedule, combined for 182 against each other.

It's all about familiarity. Georgia Southern, a I-AA school, not only runs the triple-option, but coach Jeff Monken -- from the Joliet Central-based Monken coaching tree -- is a former Navy assistant (with current Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo) under Paul Johnson. That's how a team that allows 140 rushing yards per game to I-AA teams held the ninth-ranked rushing team in I-A to 109 -- nearly 200 yards below its average.

Notre Dame's defense is average at best by BCS standards -- nothing about five or six guys who run legit 4.5 or better in the 40 won't solve -- but neither Brian Kelly nor the Irish are as bad as they looked against Navy. For now, well consider them a victim of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on October 26, 2010 4:01 PM.

Kelly not blaming Navy blocking scheme for Ian Williams' injury was the previous entry in this blog.

Notre Dame's Michael Floyd expects to play against Tulsa is the next entry in this blog.

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