SOUTH BEND, Ind. — At the start of practice this week, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly wanted to cut off the complaining before it started.
The Irish play Navy on Saturday in Landover, Maryland, and that means the Notre Dame defense will have to deal with a high number of cut blocks employed in the Midshipmen’s triple-option attack.
The increased cut blocks usually means increased griping from the defense, and Kelly wants none of it.
Even though the Irish had a week off to get their legs back under them, they are preparing to get them taken out again.
“Stop being crybabies and go play the game,” Kelly said. “I don’t want to hear about cut blocks. Get in your stance, get off the ball and play the game. It’s part of the game and they’re legal, and you’ve got to get off the ball and go play.
— Brian Kelly
“I told our guys this is a no-cry zone this week. I don’t want to hear about it. Go play big games and go play the game the right way.”
In light of the first College Football Playoff rankings, that’s paramount on the Irish’s agenda. For all the griping about Notre Dame’s No. 10 ranking, the bickering will be for nothing if the Irish (6-1) fail to win the remainder of the games on their schedule.
That begins with Navy (4-4), a feisty opponent in recent seasons that ranks fifth in the nation with 6.26 yards per carry.
Navy’s offense is unlike any other the Irish see on their schedule each year, and compounding Notre Dame’s concerns is the fact its defense and defensive coordinator are relative neophytes facing an option attack.
First-year coordinator Brian VanGorder said last week the last time he schemed for the triple option was 10 years ago, while the Irish defense, which has exceeded expectations, features several first-year starters who will get their first heavy dose of the option.
To help combat the attack, defensive end Isaac Rochell and tackle Sheldon Day might flip positions to maximize what each does best, fellow defensive lineman Jarron Jones said.
“It doesn’t take away our aggressiveness, it just alters it,” Jones said. “We’re going to run some different stuff, different fronts, other stuff. … Just some alternatives, but it’s still the same scheme.”
Kelly said the same about Navy. The Midshipmen have remained effective running their offense because they bring different looks and twists to keep defenses on their toes.
“That’s the secret to their success in that they evolve enough offensively that slight tweaks make it difficult to defend with certainty,” Kelly said. “Their in-game adjustments are outstanding.”
For this week, Notre Dame hopes it can stay a few steps ahead.
“We can’t replicate [in practice] that look that Navy has,” middle linebacker Joe Schmidt said. “You have to watch a lot of tape, but this is their deal, their bread and butter. They do it as well as anybody.”