Points Per Possession at a Premium

Against Navy's triple-option, the best defense is often a great offense.

Judging by his performance at his weekly Tuesday press conference, it appears Irish head coach Brian Kelly spent his off week preparing for a future career as a motivational speaker.

First, Notre Dame's head man pulled out an all-time gem-of-a-response regarding how he plans to prepare his defense for Navy's vexing cut-block approach, offering, "Quit being a crybaby" and "I told my team this is a 'No-Cry Zone' this week."

Then, as if on cue, he channeled an all-time (perhaps the all-time) coaching legend in response to his approach as a play-caller as he prepares for a Navy defense that encourages opposing offenses to take time off the clock in a quest to score.

"You're going to get enough possessions, on average, between eight or nine possession, times seven (points), that's 63 points," Kelly began. "So I try to figure it out, each possession you just have to score. If that takes a little bit longer, you're still going to get your possessions, the way the game plays out.

"It's the difference between being quick and being in a hurry. I think when you're in a hurry, you get sloppy, but you can be quick as long as you're sharp. So I kind of use that motto going into the game."

John Wooden's, "Be quick, but don't hurry" oft-referenced credo aside, Kelly is spot-on in his assessment of how a Notre Dame/Navy contest will likely play out.

In 12 games played against teams other than Navy last season, Notre Dame's offense possessed the football for the following number of drives, beginning with the season-opener vs. Temple through its Pinstripe Bowl conclusion against Rutgers:
12, 12, 12, 12, 13, 15 (ASU), 14 (USC), 12, 12, 10 (BYU), 12, 14.

Against Navy? Nine possessions, and that includes a game-ending kneel down "drive" with 18 seconds remaining. Notre Dame had eight chances to score points in last year's 38-34 win -- they did so on six of them, including five touchdowns (one field goal, two interceptions).

(In Notre Dame's oft-referenced 35-17 loss to Navy in 2010, the Irish likewise possessed the football for just nine offensive drives, one of which was an end-half kneel down. Navy had just eight possessions but the Midshipmen scored touchdowns on five, kneeling it out on a sixth.)

"It's the difference between being quick and being in a hurry."

"You can't have turnovers. You can't give them extra possessions. We have to score points," said Kelly. "There is no question about that. So from an offensive standpoint, Everett (Golson) knows what the charge is there running the offense. He's got to be accurate. He's got to be clean in terms of taking care of the football, and we've got to be on top of things offensively. If we're not, it's going to be a dogfight."

That's what last year's epic became, with Navy producing 34 points and finishing short of a first down near the Irish red zone in a last-minute drive toward what would have been a debilitating upset loss for Kelly's program. Jaylon Smith saved the day (and perhaps the season), chasing down a Navy end-around in the backfield that otherwise had "In your face game-winning touchdown" written all over it.

On nine drives last season, Navy's possessions resulted in the following:

-- Touchdown (9 snaps)
-- Punt (8 snaps)
-- Touchdown (10)
-- Touchdown (11)
-- Turnover on downs (8)
-- Punt (6)
-- Touchdown (13)
-- Touchdown (7)
-- Downs to end the game (7)

Including its end-contest kneel down with 18 second left, Notre Dame possessed the football just four times in the second half. In other words, the Irish offense had but three chances to score after intermission, and it cashed in each time. Had they failed once, the Midshipmen would have registered another South Bend upset.

Against Navy, "60 minutes of football" is relative indeed.

"Offensively you have to be near-perfect against Navy because you know they're going to limit your touches, going to limit the time you have the ball in your hands," said Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock. "And if you have it, you really have to find a way to go down and score seven points. You can't be kicking field goals and being sloppy, turning the ball over offensively. Against Navy it's a recipe for disaster."


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