Notre Dame and Navy are set to kickoff once again at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday in a matchup of two of only seven Independent FBS football teams in the nation. The Fighting Irish got their first crack at defending the option last week against Air Force and they now have the test of facing a team with the steadiest year-in and year-out option, as Irish safety Matthias Farley can attest to.
"Air Force ran a whole lot of different stuff," Farley began. "Navy's much more of a strictly triple-option team. They do it better than anybody, so you have to be even more prepared to defend what they do. They don't do as much as Air Force, but they do what they do better than anybody, so it's definitely about getting locked-in each and every play."
Playing Navy means assignment football. Notre Dame's best defensive athlete, Jaylon Smith, has three 'musts'/assignments on Saturday at drop linebacker.
"My musts are to play the force, deny vertical entry and to set the edge," Smith said this week.
"Whenever I have the force, which means I have to set the edge, I can't let the ball get outside of me," said Smith. "I definitely remind myself and put myself through that cycle. Once the play snaps if I have ultimate force then I just make sure that I do that."
Smith tied inside linebacker Dan Fox for the team lead with eight tackles in last week's 45-10 victory. He had tackle for loss and recovered a fumble as well in the win.
Navy throttled the Irish for 367 rushing yards in its 35-17 victory over Notre Dame in 2010 in what was head coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's first crack at stopping the option. Kelly acknowledged after this Thursday's practice that his team was not prepared properly for that game and took responsibility for the loss.
"You want your team prepared and that's why we're in this profession is to prepare our kids and we weren't prepared properly," Kelly said of the 2010 defeat. "We've redoubled our efforts based upon that game to make sure that never happens again."
Those efforts have paid off, especially against Navy, since that setback. The Irish have beaten Navy by scores of 56-14 and 50-10 over the last two seasons. Notre Dame has held the Midshipmen to 345 combined rushing yards in those two games after allowing the 367 on 60 carries three years ago. The yards-per-carry has also dropped from 6.1 to 3.9 in 2011 to just 3.7 in Dublin last year.
His Own Robinson
David Robinson is the most famous Naval Academy graduate in at least the past couple decades. The Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer graduated in 1987 before going on to star in the NBA from 1989-2003. It looked for a time that his son, Irish freshman receiver Corey Robinson, might follow in his father's footsteps to Annapolis, MD.
"I always wanted to go there and then my junior year Notre Dame offered," the younger Robinson said this week. "I opened my mind up a little bit and thought about other schools maybe and saw other things what other (places) had to offer."
Robinson grew up in San Antonio, TX where his dad spent his entire NBA career, but he visited the Naval Academy at an early age. This will be the first time the 6-foot-5 receiver faces his 7-foot-1 dad's alma mater. Corey caught his first career touchdown pass in last week's win over Air Force.
Carries Hard To Come By For Carlisle
Early this season it looked like Amir Carlisle might be a major force in the Irish rushing attack. The transfer from USC had 30 carries in Notre Dame's first three games against Temple, Michigan and Purdue, but those carries have all but disappeared since then.
Carlisle ran the ball 12 times for 60 yards against Michigan, but was held to just 16 yards on 11 totes the next week against Purdue. He has just 14 carries over the past five games since his fourth quarter fumble against the Boilermakers.
"I think it's the same question that I try to answer each and every week - how do you try to get (Tarean) Folston more involved (or) George Atkinson more involved," Kelly said this week when asked how he might get Carlisle more totes out of the backfield. "I don't know. How do you get them more involved? We're trying to get as many of these guys involved. I mean, we have a lot of skill players that we're trying to get involved and sometimes it's just a matter of how the game goes."
Carlisle ran the ball three times for three yards last week, while the freshman Folston had a career day with 11 carries for 47 yards - all in the second half.
The dilemma is not limited to Notre Dame's running back situation. Kelly says he and his staff have also recently talked about how to get receiver C.J. Prosise the ball more as well.
"I don't think it's necessarily what they haven't done," he continued. "It's more about a product of if they get in the flow of the game we try to get them the ball, but it's nothing that they haven't done as much as it's just difficult to get all these guys touches."
Prosise converted to receiver this year after sitting out last year as a scout team defensive back. He has just four receptions for 34 yards this fall.
Prior to Kelly's arrival in 2010, Notre Dame had lost eight of its previous nine games in the crucial college football stretch drive month. However, the Fighting Irish boast a record of 10-1 in November games under Kelly.
"I think it's just the mentality that coach Kelly and his staff have developed for us," quarterback Tommy Rees said this week. "We know it's a long year and we understand winning close games and finding ways to stay prepared throughout the year. I think a lot of it is the leadership we've had over the past couple of years that the seniors and the guys in those positions make sure there isn't a let down from a whole group standpoint."
"A lot of it also has to do with the way you train your group and making sure that it's not a sprint but it's a marathon and understanding how important November is and getting to November," Kelly said. "I think your guys have to be mentally and physically fresh as well. They have to feel as though when they come in in November that there's an energy to them (and) they enjoy coming - that it's not a chore."
Notre Dame's only November loss under Kelly was a 28-14 setback at Stanford on Nov. 26, 2011.
Buckle It Up
Cam McDaniel has received more attention for his helmet coming off than for his play over the past couple of weeks. The Irish running back made the talk show circuit and the photo of him in model form went viral when his helmet popped off two weeks ago against USC.
"Usually it's pretty uncomfortable, but it's almost like I've gotten used to it," McDaniel said of his helmet popping off. "I'm not gonna lie, because it's happened so much throughout youth football and high school football and now college football."
"This is Division One football, but guys aren't trained killers," he continued. "They're not trying to take your head off or anything. Once the whistle blows you know that you're protected and everything. You've just got to ride out the play."
Kelly was ok with McDaniel's talk show spots, but he would like to see him possibly tighten his chin strap a little tighter in the future.
"He needs to keep his helmet on, because he's got to come off the field every time that happens," Kelly said.