Oliver and Company Get Ready For Navy

Jappy Oliver joked around with the media on Wednesday evening, saying that he'd be disclosing information when asked what he has learned in stopping Navy's rushing attack. It's a good thing the Notre Dame defensive line coach has an idea, because first-year defensive coordinator Corwin Brown has never had to prepare for an option offense in his coaching career.

Brown and the rest of the Irish staff have relied on Oliver and his ideas on how to stop the option, as Notre Dame (1-7) gets ready for Saturday's home game against the Midshipmen (4-4). Eight years as the defensive line coach at Air Force, and being around Fisher DeBerry's option attack has seasoned Oliver in this area.

"The fact that (Brown's) leaned on me a little bit in terms of my experience of playing this, makes me feel good because I do feel I have an idea of how to play this offense," Oliver explained. He worked at Air Force from 1995 to 2002. "It's assignment football. Guys have to learn how to take their assignment and not guess. If you guess, or if you try to do more than what you're called on to do, that's when they exploit you."

Navy's offense has exploited every opponent this season. They lead the nation in rushing at 342.88 yards per game. They sprinkle in a little pass, but rank last nationally at 107.63 yards per game. It doesn't matter what personnel the Middies have in the lineup, they can move the football. They have seven players, including two quarterbacks with over 220 yards rushing this season. On the flipside, James Aldridge leads the Irish in rushing with 249 yards.

The Midshipmen also put the ball in the end zone frequently, averaging 35.75 points per game, ranking 19th nationally.

"When they're scoring points in bunches like that, it's very difficult," Oliver said of stopping Navy. "And if you're not used to seeing it, and you're not used to playing against it, it makes it real difficult. Hopefully we have a clue of what we're doing and will do a better job than some of their opponents."

In the past, it seems like Oliver and company do have a clue.

Oliver and the Irish have done a decent job against the option since he and head coach Charlie Weis arrived at Notre Dame almost three years ago. Against Navy in 2005, the Irish held Navy to just 239 yards rushing in a 42-21 win. Last year, Navy had 271 yards in the 38-14 Notre Dame victory. The Irish also saw the option against Air Force, and held the Falcons to 200 yards in the 39-17 win. All those numbers were below those respective team's season average coming in.

Navy's starting quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada directs the offense, and has run for a team-high 655 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is very deceptive with the ball and makes great decisions on when to pitch the ball and when to keep. Jarod Bryant has filled in when needed, rushing for 260 yards and two more scores.

"Obviously with my experience at Air Force, because we saw it everyday, we saw it in spring everyday, we felt like we had a good feel for trying to stop it," Oliver said. "Now you just have to get people to buy in and you have to execute. It's an assignment offense, so you have to be an assignment defense. Everybody has to take their responsibility, because if you think you see something, the way these quarterbacks run it, they can stick that dive in there and pull it out in a heartbeat. If you don't take your responsibility, that's when you find yourself getting into trouble.

Part of the problem in preparing for an attack like Navy's, is Notre Dame doesn't really have the players to mimic that offense in practice, and the Irish are usually getting ready for more conventional offenses. But with Navy being a common opponent, there is at least some familiarity.

"It's tough," fifth-year senior defensive end Trevor Laws stated. "Every year I played Navy since I've been here, it's always been one of the toughest games on the schedule. Just the attack they play, the effort they give, man my body is always beat up when I come out of this game. It's always extremely physical."

Laws and the rest of the defensive line will have to deal with cut blocks on nearly every snap.

"The guys just come off the ball, come flying off the ball," Laws said. "They're tough guys so it's always a real tough game.

"You definitely have to watch out for them. You don't want to roll an ankle or something, so you have to, there is definitely techniques coach has been teaching us in how to play them off with our hands and get to the ball."

While Laws and his fellow defensive linemen worry about those cut blocks in trying to blow up the play, the linebackers and defensive backs will be focused on the fullback, quarterback, pitch man, slot man, and the occasional pass. With Oliver's help and based on the past, they all should be okay.

IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories