Option Offense Awaits Irish

The formation of Navy's offense is not in the mold of the traditional Wishbone offense. Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis called it more of a "broken bone." Wherever the Midshipmen personnel line up, it's a grueling week preparing for an option offense. This is the first time the Irish have seen this style in 2005 and it's even hard to prepare the scout team in practice.

"It's been interesting because we've had to spend a lot of time coaching our show team here in the last few days which is a bit unusual," Weis said. "I know you put up cards and everybody tries to simulate the offense and defense of your opponents. But we've spent some extra time and moved some bodies around to better create a picture so our guys have a more realistic view of what we're going against."

What Notre Dame is facing is an offense that racks up 281 rushing yards per game, best for second in the nation. Last week in a 49-21 rout over Tulane, Navy ran the ball 71 times for 418 yards. The total was the 15th best in school history for a single game. So confident in their ability to run the ball against the Green Wave that Midshipmen quarterback Lamar Owens only attempted two passes the entire game. The option offense is a change up for the Notre Dame defenders.

"Tennessee has one of the biggest lines in the country," defensive tackle Derek Landri said. "Then you go against a team like Navy. It's the total opposite. You go against these smaller, quicker guys. You have to game plan around that. It's totally different than anything you're going to play all year. Inside, we're the guys who have to take away that dive. If we don't take away that dive, that's one of the first things they'll start busting in a game."

The man in charge of the offense is head coach Paul Johnson. He is in his fourth season as head coach of Navy and turned around a program that was 1-20 the two years before he stepped onto campus. Johnson was named Coach of the Year in 2004 for taking the Midshipmen to a 10-2 record, including an Emerald Bowl victory over New Mexico. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter thinks Johnson is as good as it gets when it comes to the option offense.

"Paul does a great job over a Navy," Minter said. "He really is maybe the best on this style of offense. It goes all the way back to his days at Georgia Southern. There are family trees involved. But probably none better than Paul. It's a great fit for his personality and his style of play at the Naval Academy. It fits the style of the young men they get down there. They do a great job of executing. They are very athletic, especially at the skilled spots. It's a typical Paul Johnson team. They're long on the run, tough to get off the field, pick their spots to throw and very calculated. He's just one of those guys just like Coach Weis who knows his offense."

Owens is the triggerman of the potent rushing attack. The senior co-captain quarterback has ran the ball 136 times for 585 yards and five touchdowns. Fullback Matt Hall is the team's second leading rusher with 483 total yards and six touchdowns. A look down the stats also shows that the Midshipmen have three players with more than 25 carries on the season averaging eight-plus yards a carry. The potential to bust a long play on a missed assignment by a defender is always present.

The Notre Dame defense has seen a variety of offenses this season. Purdue ran a version of the spread option offense. Michigan and Tennessee both wanted to run the ball first and pass second. USC maybe has the best offense ever. But this is the first time the Irish coaches have had to deal with preparing for a true option offense. Johnson doesn't think for a second that this is an advantage for his team because of the knowledge the Notre Dame group possesses.

"This is only the seventh or eighth game for this staff," Johnson said. "They have some good coaches. Those guys know what they are doing. I have a lot of respect for all their coaches, not just Charlie. Bill Lewis I've known for a long time, since he was at Georgia as the secondary coach. When I was at Georgia Southern he used to come down and we would try and spend time and pick his brain. Rick Minter has been a great defensive coach. Jappy Oliver was at Air Force. He knows about the option. They have guys that know what their doing. We are just going to have to line up and play and execute."

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories