With the triple option on tap, and an almost entirely rebuilt defense tasked with stopping it, Notre Dame’s game plan may be similar to last year, but the guys asked to defend it won’t be. So as the Irish spend one of their most time-intensive weeks of the season learning and prepping, former Irish captain Joe Schmidt opened up about what Navy week is like.
“Whenever you play an option team, there are really two games to be played. The first game is really Sunday to Friday and into Saturday morning, that’s the one in your head, kind of conquering whatever demons you have or the fear you have living inside of you when you’re playing against someone who is going to go after your knees,” Schmidt said.
“And then the second one is that you have to have the understanding that it’s a four quarter game of toughness, equal parts toughness and equal parts 100-percent mental sharpness.”
Those battles are fights that Schmidt knows well. During his team MVP 2014 campaign, his season ended against the Midshipmen, an ankle and leg injury that derailed an Irish unit that had relied on him to be the nerve center of the Irish defense.
But Schmidt rebounded for his senior season, a year where the Irish refined their option scheme and won both games against Georgia Tech and Navy. And with Schmidt off to the real world and Nyles Morgan playing his best football of the season, the onus is now on the new center of the Irish defense to carry the torch as Notre Dame looks to get a critical victory against a Midshipmen offense that’s still remarkably dangerous.
“I know our scheme is as good as any against the option,” Schmidt said. “The middle linebacker position played against Navy or Georgia Tech or any triple option teams is really fun, but it’s only really fun if you can get yourself in the right position before the play and make the right read.”
With Greg Hudson coordinating the group and Mike Elston overseeing from above, there’s a new wrinkle thrown into the teaching this week. And as the Irish defense has rebounded the past few weeks, Schmidt believes the key to Saturday will be as much about effort and unity as it is about scheme.
“To me, what’s most important with any defensive unit is that you need to start with passion and love for what you’re doing. And I think they have that, and I think they’re starting to build a great foundation around that,” Schmidt said. “Going into a game like Navy, when you play for each other and are willing to give everything that you have for the guy next to you and sacrifice, that’s when you’re really able to become a great defense.”
We’ve seen that effort grow by the week. We saw new leaders emerge, with Jarron Jones a key piece in the trenches this week—a gut check if there ever was one for the hulking tackle who has faced multiple lower body injuries throughout his career and now goes up against a Midshipmen offensive line that’ll take dead aim at his legs.
But that’s what it takes to beat Navy. A commitment not just to the scheme and discipline, but to the effort it takes to complete the job.
“It’s just an entirely different type of football game and Navy is the best in the world at it,” Schmidt said. “There’s nobody better than Navy at running the triple option.”