Getting a team to heed the details necessary to counteract Navy’s triple-option attack is challenging enough. Getting Notre Dame to do it on the heels of its letdown at Miami a week ago made it even more difficult.
“The bigger shift this week was mentally get [the team] away from the Miami game to the Navy game,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Sunday. “That was a bigger challenge this week [than preparing for the option], quite frankly.”
Finding that focus allowed Notre Dame to handle the Midshipmen 24-17 on Saturday, despite hardly possessing the ball, including only 6:24 of meaningful time in the second half. It may have been a victory by only seven points, but it was a return to the level of execution the Irish displayed all season long before heading to south Florida.
“If there’s one game we’d like to have back, and I take the responsibility for the preparation of our team, for Miami,” Kelly said. “Wake Forest proved to be a pretty good opponent. We were up 41-16 in that game and maybe lost a little bit of concentration.
“Other than the Miami game, which was our one hiccup this year, I’m pretty pleased with our football team.”
To slow the triple-option, Kelly and defensive coordinator Mike Elko relied on a variety of looks from their defensive front, forcing Navy to make the adjustments the Midshipmen usually impose upon their opponents. In doing so, Notre Dame narrowed Navy’s offense from the triple-option to largely leaning on a quarterback sweep. Junior Zach Abey finished with 87 yards on 29 carries, not the efficiency the Midshipmen need for success.
“Our plan was really good about changing things up with our fronts and who had pitch, who had QB, and that made it difficult for them,” Kelly said. “… It really just became how the fullback was loading on our cornerback.”
That cornerback was often sophomore Troy Pride, usually a reserve. In order to better utilize sophomore cornerback Julian Love’s physicality, Kelly moved Love to safety and inserted Pride into the starting lineup. Along with a crucial fourth-quarter interception halting a Navy drive deep in Irish territory, Pride made six tackles.
“Troy Pride had to play physical for us,” Kelly said. “Here’s a guy who was a wide cornerback [back-] pedaling most of his time here. Now he had to go mix it up. He played real well, real physical.”
Though he finished with 14 tackles, Love will remain at cornerback this season, but Kelly acknowledged he very well could be Notre Dame’s best safety.
“If we could clone him, I’d like to do that. … Could he be our best safety? Yes. He’s definitely our best corner. The problem is we can only play him at one of those two positions.”
On receiver injuries
Junior receiver Equanimeous St. Brown is in the concussion protocol after landing on his head/neck in the first quarter. Sophomore Chase Claypool could have returned to the game Saturday despite a banged up shoulder, but the Irish had found a rotation Kelly felt comfortable with at that point, leaning on sophomore Kevin Stepherson and junior Miles Boykin.
Claypool finished with two catches for 28 yards. Stepherson had five receptions for two scores and 103 yards. Boykin added 33 yards from two snags.