SOUTH BEND, IND. – Defending the triple option has become something of a scholarly pursuit for Notre Dame.
Every year the Irish play Navy and its usually effective option. Last year in winning a 49-39 shootout, Notre Dame gave up 336 rushing yards to the Midshipmen. In Brian Kelly’s first year in South Bend, 2010, Navy ran for 367 yards in a 35-17 victory.
And there was Paul Johnson’s 2007 Navy team that broke a 43-year losing streak to the Irish running you know what.
This Saturday it also must contend with Johnson’s Georgia Tech, whose version of the offense currently leads college football in rushing yardage (albeit compiling that total against light competition).
Yeah, Notre Dame knows a little bit about defending the option. It even has deployed a special coaching assistant, Bob Elliott, to compare Notre Dame’s approach to defending it with other programs’ designs. He is working on his doctorate in the field.
But does that matter?
“(Playing Navy every year) certainly helps,” Kelly said Tuesday. “But the ACC sees Georgia Tech each year and that doesn’t seem to help them very much.”
Another fellow who will be working on the option puzzle is Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Brian VanGorder. He has coached just about everywhere, including Georgia, Georgia Southern and with the Falcons. He was the man who scrapped the triple option when he replaced Johnson at Georgia Southern during a very brief head coaching stopover.
As little use as he had for the offense in Statesboro, VanGorder keeps running into it in South Bend. And he’s still uncomfortable with it.
“I don’t know who’s figured it out,” he told reporters earlier this year.
Said Kelly, anticipating an intense prep week: “If you’re lost out there (it’s trouble). You could be the greatest athlete in the world and if it doesn’t make sense to you, you can be a liability trying to defend the triple option.”
Johnson’s pet offense draws more than its share of sniping. You know the litany: It’s outdated. It can be tedious to watch. It’s hard to recruit to. It’s ineffective when playing from behind.
But when it’s working like now, the option sure seems to unsettle folks both large and small.