Notre Dame on ‘Trap Game’ Alert vs. Navy

After jumping out to a large early lead a year ago, Notre Dame struggled to put away Navy on the heels of their loss to Florida State. (Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)
After jumping out to a large early lead a year ago, Notre Dame struggled to put away Navy on the heels of their loss to Florida State. (Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)

Notre Dame’s trip to Death Valley was a whirlwind beyond the gusting winds and torrential rainfall courtesy of Hurricane Joaquin.  The Fighting Irish barely had time to tighten their shoelaces before finding themselves in a 14-0 deficit as the Clemson Tigers bullied their way to 9 yards per offensive snap and a lead they would never relinquish.  Head coach Brian Kelly’s team came roaring back in the fourth quarter and nearly spoiled Clemson’s home celebration but fell just short on a two-point conversion attempt with seven seconds remaining.  Notre Dame’s late rally was impressive, but the Irish’s lethargy within the first seven minutes of the game ultimately doomed a chance for a road win.  If Notre Dame intends to defeat Navy, it’s critical to establish the quick start that was lacking against Clemson.

“I’m not disappointed in our guys, I’m disappointed that they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity that they had this weekend, and that was to beat a team on the road in a tough place to play and overcome the elements,” Kelly said after Notre Dame fell 24-22 to Clemson.  “You know, you don’t want to repeat that and I hope that they never forget that.”

A quick start against Navy could pose a challenge given its status as a “trap game.”  Coming off an emotional loss and playing against an opponent with – at least on paper – less talent is a risky proposition given the natural tendency to let one’s guard down, particularly when that opponent boasts a 4-0 record and executes an antiquated offensive scheme to perfection.  That offense, a triple option attack, is one that has plagued Notre Dame in recent years.

The triple option was worrisome enough for Brian Kelly to assign former assistant coach Bob Elliot the offseason task of thoroughly researching the scheme – its strengths, weaknesses, and how best to stop it.  Elliot became a shadowy figure looming over the practice field the past several months, with Notre Dame dedicating an allotment of practice time each week to the triple option.  The extra preparation was in anticipation for Notre Dame’s showdown against Paul Johnson – the former Navy head coach who snapped Notre Dame’s 43-game winning streak against the Midshipmen – and his Georgia Tech squad.

The strategy worked, as Notre Dame stuffed Georgia Tech’s offense and quarterback Justin Thomas, who many expected to have a Heisman coming out party against the Irish defense.  The Yellow Jackets came to South Bend with what many believed to be an unstoppable offense, averaging 67 points per game.  Since being dismantled by Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, a preseason favorite to win the ACC, has lost two conference games in a row to Duke and North Carolina.  Yet it’s a misnomer to believe Notre Dame cracked the triple option riddle and that Navy poses no threat.

The athleticism of Georgia Tech when running the triple option – as well as Notre Dame’s status as an underdog – forced Kelly’s team to dial in and focus.  Navy, whose recruiting cannot match the level of an upper-echelon ACC program, lacks the athleticism of a Georgia Tech, and with Notre Dame’s players trying to recover from a painful loss on the road the previous week, the likelihood of a letdown rises.  And a letdown against the Midshipmen could spell disaster.

What Navy lacks in Power Five conference talent it makes up for in brutally efficient execution of the triple option.  The Midshipmen are currently undefeated, soundly dispatching new conference mates East Carolina and UConn.  They average nearly 340 yards on the ground per game – ranking third nationally – and are putting up 38 points on the scoreboard each week.  Navy’s potent offense is complemented by a defensive unit that has been surprisingly stout this season, ranking No. 13 in the nation in scoring defense and surrendering only 15 points per game.  What makes Navy a true threat to Notre Dame, however, is at the triple option’s most important position: quarterback.

Keenan Reynolds is the best quarterback to don a jersey for the Naval Academy since Roger Staubach, and he is a master of the triple option.  Since becoming the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Navy in over twenty years, Keenan Reynolds – now a senior – has gone on to a historic career, and is currently five touchdowns shy of breaking Montee Ball’s record for most career rushing touchdowns in NCAA history.  And In four games this season, Reynolds has rushed for 9 touchdowns – three more than starting Notre Dame running back, C.J. Prosise – and 488 yards at nearly 6 yards per carry.

Brian Kelly pulled aside team captains after Notre Dame’s loss to Clemson and informed them they let an opportunity slip away after failing to get off to a quick start.  Navy will prove to be a perfect test to see if that message was taken to heart.

Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor.  He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him.  Scott can be reached at scottjanssenhp@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter.

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35 Comments

  1. no, john galt “a is a” was a one time source.

    Next man in? Husserl, as relayed by Camus.

    “That which is true is true is true absolutely, in itself, truth is one, identical with itself, however different the creatures who perceive it, men, monsters, angels or gods.”

  2. just light up their QB every play

    grab his arm and pile drive him

    would this guy survive 5 plays in the pros? …no

  3. ChrisJ and George can be the balcony grumps from the muppets waning existential about how all is lost…still.

  4. Like watching a boy whose karate comes from Bruce Lee movies and occasional nun chuck practice, fight a fat guy in a diaper, who feels no pain, but inflicts it regularly and obliviously.

  5. Can we somehow schedule a Pokémon style blogdown between “bruce johnson” and “john galt” from Inside the Irish?

  6. I’m wondering if Keenan Reynolds is on Medicare yet–cause he’s going to need it’s Plan B after tomorrow’s game. Sorry , that was pretty lame. How bout a hand for the suit. I’m outta here Go Irish

  7. Just in
    Chip Kelly’s going to USC
    Brian kelly going to Eagles
    Swarbrick promises to hire best coach he an find in ten days from northern central
    Michigan prairie state

  8. @ Shazam

    “But on the up side…
    Temple is undefeated at 4-0 and leads the Atlantic East conference, Pitt is 3-1 and ranks ranks 3rd in the nation in team defense, not to be out done is Boston College who ranks #1 in team Defense, and even trap gamer Wake Forest is ranked 34th in team defense, which by the way, is 17 spots higher than our own Fighting Irish.

    So we got that going FOR us.”

    And lest we forget, @ Stanford (with Coley O’Brien’s spurned nephew playing his last home game as QB vs. that rejected legacy’s uncle’s team that didn’t recruit him) to close out the season. Indeed!
    And all those games are also a glimpse of what we’ve got going AGAINST us going the rest of the season without losing- and that’s not even counting the next two weeks! It’s a “long & winding road” to the final four so, for now posters, “let it be.”

    Sorry, Scott.

    No way can this game be considered a trap game when aware that Keenan Reynolds is healthy. He’s a TD machine and if ND isn’t aware of that, they’re not paying very close attention. A mobile QB has given ND trouble (remembering NC last year). Being elite is defeating lesser opponents when playing at home. The next two weeks offer that opportunity to make that next step. How can ND not be up for and focused on this home game after last week’s crushing loss on the road?

    First things first!

    Beware those chop-blockin’ Mids attacking your knees, guys- and vent last week’s frustration upon them. Sing your school songs together after the game, but capsize their undefeated season during the game.
    Clemson arrived and defended their home field with attitude- and once we adapted to conditions and ND finally recognized they were better, ND, in turn, dominated- albeit a bit too late and a couple of yards short.ND must find a way to win these next two home games- or their off-week before Temple will be laden with poster abuse and media belittlement. And that will definitely call for a Plan B for those who’ll need time off from following uhnd.com despair-filled comments from posters.

    No need to cover the spread (14 points)- just defend your home turf and WIN!

  9. It’s Ronny Doody time!
    It’s Ronny Doody time!
    Let’s give a rousing cheer!
    ‘Cause Ronnie Doody’s here!

  10. Shazam,

    Sorry man but that does nothing for me. Those teams haven’t produced crap in a very long time and these would be considered ‘normal’ wins for ND if we were to beat them. These would be very far from quality wins in any of the voters minds. We just let our ‘quality’ win slip away in Clemson since USC went down. Although I did look and find that Stanford actually only has 1 loss. So this game actually has potential here if they can keep on winning. Meeting an 10-1 Stanford team at their place and putting a hurt on them for our last game may give us the slimmest of chances…

  11. @George:
    Now that I know you’re not a fan of my “fluff”, I’m all set.

    “Clemson will eventually do something stupid and embarrass themselves like they always do, and then ND would have still had zero quality wins. As far as USC goes, they could lose the rest of their games and I still wouldn’t be surprised if Kessler throws for 400 yards against ND.”

    Earth shattering.

  12. JDH – I’m just not a fan of the fluff you post. Arguing semantics, some nonsense about leadership, your satisfaction with BK staying calm on the sidelines…. pointless. But I get what your saying. In your “opinion” ND might have a prayer of making the playoffs if they happen to go undefeated. Earth Shattering

  13. Shazam,
    I was as shocked as anyone when Duke beat GT. What I did not realize is that Duke apparently has a pretty solid defense. Currently ranked 7th in overall efficiency. They seem to be a program trending upward.

  14. ChrisJ…

    Yes, Clemson is not that good of a team, GT sucks when everyone thought they’d be good, USC lost again last night, UMASS blows, and Texas is the biggest nightmare of a football team right now.

    But on the up side…

    Temple is undefeated at 4-0 and leads the Atlantic East conference, Pitt is 3-1 and ranks ranks 3rd in the nation in team defense, not to be out done is Boston College who ranks #1 in team Defense, and even trap gamer Wake Forest is ranked 34th in team defense, which by the way, is 17 spots higher than our own Fighting Irish.

    So we got that going for us.

  15. @George- Outstanding, uber-dumbed down response. Have the best day ever.

    Chris J- No, by definition, opinions are not facts, but let’s just leave that one alone. “Who cares about the top 10?” Well, my point, as I wrote it, was that it’s likely there will be many teams with at least one loss by the end of the year (teams that will be vying for a playoff spot). If you like, replace the phrase “top 10” with “top 4”, and the same point is made. Granted, ND has a great deal of work to do in order to go unbeaten the rest of the year. But I don’t think that’s out of the realm of possibility.

    As far as not being in a conference, yes, there are possible negatives to that, as you’ve stated. But a one-loss ND team at the end of the year might stack up quite nicely, in the eyes of the playoff committee, to most any “top 4”, one-loss team, conference champion or not.

  16. George,

    You’re probably right about Kessler. He looked pathetic last night but I wouldn’t be surprised either to see him tear our secondary to shreds in the same manner as last year. And the 2012 game I felt was a big win and a ‘turning the corner’ moment for us was the Oklahoma game. At least we took care of business and made it to the NC game even though we got smoked by Bama. However, even in 2012 we were barely getting by teams that a championship caliber football team should punish (PITT). I feel like it is the same thing we are doing this year.

    JDH,

    Sorry but opinions sometimes are facts. Who cares about the top 10? I hope that us as fans, and more importantly our coaches and players, care most about the top 4. I think we’re out right now with no chance to make it. Sure that is an opinion but it is based on the fact that we just lost our biggest regular season game of the year to a team that we all thought we were better than. Clemson already has us head to head so that route is gone. This is where not actually being in a conference now hurts us. Conference champions now play a HUGE role in this new playoff system. With ND being outside of one and we already saw last year what not playing a 13th game does for you (TCU/Baylor), we almost have to run our schedule every year, no matter how difficult it may be.

  17. Navy can and probably will be a pain in the ass tomorrow for the Irish, but I have a feeling that the Irish talent will win out! I love it when you tell us how many points a team is scoring, 45, 65, 38 per game. Sure, against opponents like East Carolina, UConn and the like! Play someone of notoriety and score that many! No way! Navy will score but NDs offense should be able to score more. And as far as defense goes NDs is certainly better then anything Navy has gone up against this year. Irish 45-28. Go IRISH!!!

  18. After reading ChrisJ’s post, I had to go listen to “Eye of the Tiger” just so I wouldn’t kill myself. ChrisJ, while I respect your thoughts, you are not stating “facts”. You are, by definition, stating “opinions”.

    It is a shame that USC went down last night. It feels weird rooting for USC, in order to protect our SOS. But alas, ND cannot control that. This team will likely be just fine. There has not been leadership on the field, and off, for quite some time. Even Kelly has started to learn some hard lessons. How many purple-faced tirades have you seen this year? When CJ Sanders fumbled the 2nd half opening kickoff, Kelly calmly talked to him on the bench, coached him up and put him right back in.

    You must have measured, reasoned responses in sports. You analyze the positives and the negatives. There are going to be alot of 1 or 2 loss teams in the Top 10 this year. It’s an open field.

  19. Don’t worry, Chris. Clemson will eventually do something stupid and embarrass themselves like they always do, and then ND would have still had zero quality wins. As far as USC goes, they could lose the rest of their games and I still wouldn’t be surprised if Kessler throws for 400 yards against ND. BTW, who did we really beat in 2012? I guess Stanford was decent back then, but that was after Luck and Harbaugh

  20. You got a Plan-B Chris ??

    There’s this little bar I know called the “Wood Shed”

    Maybe you’ve heard the rumours spreadin’ ’round?
    In a Texas town?
    About a shack outside La Grange? (you know what I’m talkin’ about)

    Just let me know
    If you wanna go
    To that home out on the range (They got a lot of nice girls.. ah-haw-haw-haw-haw)

    Well you know it’s fine
    If you got the time
    And the ten to get yourself in….A-hmm, hmm
    And ya know it’s tight
    A-most every night

    But now.. I might be mistaken…. Hmm, hmm, hmm

  21. Unfortunately, and I hate to say this, but this is just another year where ND are pretenders. It’s an honest comment and based on fact. Clemson is NOT that good of a football team and is the ONLY team we will play all year that would have counted as a ‘big win’ for us. GTECH sucks when everyone thought they would be good. USC just lost again last night. Stanford I think has two losses already. We won’t have one quality win on our resume the way the teams on our schedule are playing right now. The only team that has a chance to stand out would be Clemson at this point, and we lost to them. No way we make the playoffs with USC going down again last night.

    When I said we were pretenders, it is because of what we have done so far. We escaped Virginia in the waning seconds. We beat a bad GTECH team. UMASS blows. And Texas is probably the biggest nightmare of a football team right now. It looks like the athletes are all there. The speed is there. You can see it but for some reason, it comes back to the fact that we are still NOT there. And when I mean there, I mean being able to beat the ‘big boys’ of college football. When you go to play your biggest game of the year at Clemson and this is supposed to be a National Championship team with the best talent ND has had all around, you don’t go into Clemson and lose…especially the way we did. We’re not there, not sure when we really will be until I SEE it. LSU’s QB sucked last year and that is why we beat them. That is honesty. What BIG game have we won, against an actual legit team, since 2012?

    Playoffs are done already which is really disappointing. I know most of you are like me and want national championships so that’s all that really matters. So if we win out, cool we might play on new year’s day? Who cares? It’s tough being an ND fan sometimes. I love ND football and will still watch every Saturday but once again, the hype is gone because we are clearly still pretenders.

  22. It would be more likely that ND would’ve beat themselves. Navy is tough. Never gets respect. Yet most schools would rather not have them on their schedules. Hippocrates.

  23. I doubt very much that this will be a “trap” game. That’s defined as a game where the team is caught not paying attention to the game at hand because they expect to win and a bigger challenge is upcoming the following week. If they had beaten Clemson, then maybe.

    Notre Dame is as likely to be looking past this game as UCLA was on Jan. 26, 1974, when Notre Dame played at UCLA one week after the historic 71-70 upset that snapped the UCLA 88-game winning streak. UCLA won that one pretty handily, of course. I don’t say that Notre Dame will win, but if they lose, it will be because Navy was the better team.

  24. Well that’s good news! Since there’s no reason to watch now, I can make it to that party after all. Thanks!

  25. Notre Dame will route Navy. There will be No Letdown. Kizer will shine, Winbush will get valuable reps, and Zaire starts thinking about transferring to Oregon.

  26. Good article, but do we really need to throw “Trap Game” into the title? Given the intelligence level of the players and adults in the locker room, no one (except maybe a fan or media personality) is looking at the Navy game as a trap. The potential for an undefeated season went down the toilet last weekend; so, there are no more trap games. Every game is essentially a playoff game from here on out. Win each one and ND makes the playoffs. Lose even one and the Irish will be relegated to one of the other bowls.

  27. Yes, I agree. ND can beat Navy, if they stay disciplined and take care of business. That will be key. Our defense has proved in the last few years that it can beat the triple option, as long as the players stick to their assignments and don’t allow themselves to get fooled.

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