If anyone here wants to commission me so I can blog full-time, please drop me a note. Until then, you’re stuck with whatever I can churn out that fits with my schedule. I apologize that this is late, but the videos are kind of a pain. Most of you have probably already written your opinions of the game in stone, unfortunately. I hope I’m not too late!

Anyway, another year, another loss to Notre Dame. I don’t know about you, but to me it stings a little bit more this year. Yes, it was the first game after finally breaking through against the Irish, and yes, there was the furious comeback that fell tantalizingly short. But most of all, this game hurt because it was so winnable. I have watched a few Notre Dame games this season, and I thought the Irish are definitely better now than they were in 2007. After last week, though… Boy, I don’t know. For the first time I can recall, I just didn’t get the same feeling of mismatch that usually accompanies a Navy-Notre Dame game. Don’t get me wrong; there was a definite physical difference between the two teams, and it was obvious right from the coin toss. Yet it didn’t seem to me that Notre Dame was really able to take full advantage of it.

Well, that’s mostly true. There was one exception. Notre Dame’s defensive line was very disruptive and really played an excellent game. One play in particular that sticks out in my mind was Ricky Dobbs’ first play. It was a midline option. Ricky made the right read and kept the ball, but when he tried to run through the gap vacated by the DL that took the fullback, it had already been closed by a ND defender pushing his blocker into Ricky’s path. It was a war all afternoon for the Navy o-line, and the Irish certainly won their fair share of the battles. But interestingly enough, that wasn’t the case on the other side of the ball. Just like every other Notre Dame game, CBS showed the on-screen graphic that highlighted the weight difference between the Irish offensive line and the Navy defensive line. Unlike those other games, it was Navy’s defensive line that was getting the better of it, at least in the first half.

I can’t say enough good things about the way the defense performed on Saturday. Everyone and their mother knew that Notre Dame was going to run the ball. That has been their bread & butter against Navy historically; Christian Swezey’s research tells us that during the 43-game win streak, Notre Dame had an individual with at least 90 rushing yards in 35 of those games. Not only that, but with Jimmy Clausen throwing 4 interceptions the previous week against Boston College, there was no way Charlie Weis was going to put his young gunslinger in a position to fail again. Navy’s defensive line knew it too, and they played as if their manhood had been challenged. Jabaree Tuani, the smallest of the three, had the biggest game. The freshman registered 7 tackles (2 for a loss) and recovered a fumble to lead the unit. Tuani is starting to remind me of David Mahoney; different positions, obviously, but both players who worked their way into the starting lineup as freshmen because of their motors and knack for getting to the ball. Both are undersized talents that could have gone to a BCS program if they were 3 inches taller. Being undersized is not a problem that Nate Frazier generally faces, and the nose guard made 4 tackles, recovered a fumble of his own, and blew up Notre Dame’s attempt to run out of the “Wildcat” formation.

When Tuani, Frazier, and Nechak weren’t making plays themselves, they were occupying the Irish offensive line enough to keep them off of the linebackers. That unit had a whale of a day. Jeff Deliz might have had the best performance of his career, racking up 17 tackles while lined up primarily as an outside linebacker. Ross Pospisil and Clint Sovie combined for 19 tackles themselves, and Corey Johnson had a career day of his own. Navy’s point-guard-turned-pass-rusher put his crossover moves to good use, getting past Notre Dame’s tackles to help force two turnovers. Johnson’s first-quarter sack of Clausen caused a fumble that was recovered by Tuani, while a hit delivered in the second quarter while Clausen was throwing led to a Ketric Buffin interception. You can add Ketric to the parade of superlatives too, with two interceptions and a pass breakup in the end zone. Notre Dame didn’t have a pass play longer than 14 yards– a sign of good coverage and good tackling. It was a remarkable turnaround from the Temple game, and an encouraging sign; once the defense can do this consistently, they’ll be pretty good. Until then I guess we’ll just have to take the good with the bad.

It’s a shame that this week’s “good” feels like it went to waste. While the defense was holding Notre Dame to 3 of 10 on 3rd down conversions, they were being supported by an offense that went only 1 for 13 in the same category. Eventually Navy’s inability to sustain drives took its toll, with the Irish able to run the ball better in the second half against a worn-down defense. Jarod Bryant has more or less taken the blame for this performance among the majority of readers here– or commenters, anyway– and the coaches have announced that Ricky Dobbs will get his first career start against Northern Illinois on Tuesday. But before you go off and hail Ricky as the solution, you might want to get a better idea of the problem.

We’ll start on the perimeter. Take a look at the picture. Here we have the base spread formation. The defense is lined up more or less the same way that Pitt did; 4-man front, with the middle linebacker deep.

The play called was the triple option. You’ll notice that the corners are lined up more than 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. When they’re that deep (aka out of the count), the playside wide receiver’s responsibility is to block the corner straight up. The playside A-back is supposed to carry out a load block, first checking the middle linebacker before moving on to the safety. But that isn’t what happened here. Instead, both players go to block the safety, leaving the corner unblocked. He ends up stuffing the play. The first two diagrams show what was supposed to happen. The third shows what actually did happen.

Now let’s look at a slightly different situation. Below we have twins to the left. The play is again the triple option, run to the left.

Running the triple towards the receivers out of this formation is the same as in the base spread, except the outside wide receiver always blocks the corner lined up over him. The inside receiver and the playside A-back have the same responsibilities that they would in the spread. Here, the corner covering the inside receiver is lined up within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. In this case, the wide receiver is responsible for blocking the safety. The playside A-back should arc block the corner (aka #3 in the count). But he doesn’t; he carries out the load block as if he was on a 2-count side. Once again the corner is left unblocked, and once again he blows up the play. (To add insult to injury, Bobby Doyle was called for a chop block, too. Low-low is not a chop block. The ref screwed up.)

We also saw a problem that has been plaguing the offense all year; the tackle being unable to get to the middle linebacker, leaving him free to spy on the quarterback.

Take a look at those three plays. These were the types of problems that Navy was facing against Notre Dame. Notice what they weren’t. Did Jarod Bryant miss reads here? No. He made the right read on each of these plays, although in real-time it might have appeared to you that the wrong man got the ball. Was Notre Dame putting 8 men in the box? No. Hell, they barely even had 7 men in the box with the middle linebacker lined up so deep. So would passing have helped to loosen up the defense? No.  Was Notre Dame stacking the box because they thought Jarod couldn’t pass? No, so there was nothing to loosen!

Now ask yourself this: how many of these problems will get fixed by changing the quarterback?

Look, I get it. You see the offense struggling, and you want to see corrective action. You don’t want to hear that it’s a matter of execution. Nobody is more visible in the offense than the quarterback, so you figure that the problems must start there. But sometimes, coaches actually tell it like it is. Jarod had issues– we’ll get to that in a second– but for the most part he put the ball where it was supposed to go. Ricky’s arm won’t fix this. Being an “exciting player” that “brings fans to their feet” and “moves the pile” won’t fix it either. Ricky Dobbs has all of the physical gifts one could hope for in a Navy quarterback, and he’s going to be a really, really good player for us. But that doesn’t mean he’s the answer to our troubles. If Navy’s offense plays well on Tuesday night, it will be because these problems were corrected.

Something else that won’t fix this is gadget plays. As Paul Johnson grows smaller in the rear view mirror, his legend grows larger. Apparently some people think that he ran two reverses or slotback passes per game. No, he didn’t. And when he did, it was when he noticed something in the defense, either in film study or during the course of the game, that convinced him that the play would work. You can’t just run a reverse whenever you want to and expect it to work. Besides, if you see that your offense is having trouble executing their bread & butter that they’ve practiced countless times almost every day for the last 4 months, would you really expect them to execute a trick play that they just installed this week? Sure, some trick plays, like reverses, get practiced every week too. But that’s a play that’s set up by running the triple option well, which is something that hasn’t happened much this year.

Which brings me to another point. This year, the offense has scored on the first drive of every game except Notre Dame. That’s a pretty strong testament to the preparation of the coaching staff. While being prepared is a great thing, some comments have started creeping in about the apparent lack of in-game adjustments. Some adjustments are obvious, while others are a little more subtle. But again, it all goes back to execution. In order to adjust to the way defenses are playing against the triple option, you first have to execute the triple option. You can’t adjust for blown assignments.

Even with the offense’s abyssmal performance, Coach Jasper was able to throw in a wrinkle or two. A couple weeks ago we talked about the cross charge, where the quarterback’s pitch key comes unblocked and takes the fullback. Notre Dame started using this in the first half:

It’s a read that Jarod has struggled with all year. When the quarterback sees the give key step upfield to play him instead of the fullback, his instinct is to give the ball. But when he does, the fullback is met by the pitch key, who was (correctly) left unblocked. It takes a lot of practice for an option quarterback to recognize what is happening beyond just the give key, and to make the right read. On a cross charge, you want to pitch the ball. The A-back will have wide open spaces. Ideally, you wouldn’t even have to adjust for this, since the quarterback would make the right read. But Jarod had a hard time with it. Fortunately, Coach Jasper had an adjustment ready, and the result was Cory Finnerty’s touchdown run.

Jasper’s adjustment was to change Jarod’s pitch key. He had the playside slotback block the linebacker that would ordinarily be #2 in the count. Mario Washington, the inside receiver in the twins formation, would block the safety’s inside-out pursuit (and do so rather effectively). Now Jarod would pitch off of the corner that was covering Mario.

With the cornerback lined up so far outside, it was an easy read for Jarod to make. The corner’s momentum towards the play in the middle of the field meant that he’d be out of position on the pitch. It was a great adjustment by Ivin Jasper, and well-executed by the team. Unfortunately for the Mids, good execution wasn’t the norm. Unlike the Pitt game where Scott McKillop was just that damn good, most of Navy’s problems against Notre Dame were home-grown. Against a defense the caliber of Notre Dame’s, it’s important to get your 3-4 yards a pop on every play. It only takes one blown play to stop a drive.

If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that maybe Notre Dame’s defensive success this year will lead them to line up the same way in 2009. There’s no one scheme that will stop this offense, but there are a few that can do the opposite. Until then, we’re back to hoping for better luck next year.

55 thoughts on “NOTRE DAME, CONTINUED

  1. Thanks again for this. I reiterate that you should put a tip-jar or beer fund link on the site.

    Does this have anything to do with the 2 new line coaches and KN being promoted away from the focus on the line?

    I’m probably wrong because you seem to highlight the blown perimeter blocking errors.

  2. I think Niumat is still pretty active with the offensive line. That’s why he stands so far away when we have the ball; it helps him see the line better.

    Either way, I couldn’t tell you a cause.

  3. EKW JR


    Although your great analysis tells us WHAT happened, I still don’t understand WHY it is happening in all cases.

    I can understand one-on-one defeats, but the problem of players blocking the wrong opponent. What gives with that?

  4. Gary

    I agree with you -this one STUNG me a bit harder because I went into it thinking we were the favorite and also knew how important it would have been to have beat Weiss when the whole college football world was watching. I was so disgusted that I turned to my friends and said I can see that it could easliy be another 40 plus years before we beat this team again.
    I also know that ND will only be getting better starting next year and some real “beat downs” back to those early 70`s style could be upon us.
    Our D played a great game under the pressure of no offense and no time to rest.
    Lets hope for no letdown vs NI and hope for a nice opponent for our Bowl game.

  5. Pete

    There are few real truths in life, but here is one – if you ain’t breaking down tape, you really don’t know what is going on in a football game. Thanks.

  6. EKW JR

    This was a beatable ND team for sure. That’s what made it so tough for me to watch.

    I am not all that convinced that they are going to be an insurmountable opponent next year, unless they are picking up some speed at the offensive skill positions that we didn’t have to deal with this year. I thought their overall speed on offense was slower than Pitt , Rutgers, Ball State,and maybe even Duke. They looked about like Wake to me. Maybe it was just because our D was playing better. Don’t know for sure.

    But I wasn’t cowering in fear of ND watching them play.

  7. DJ

    That analysis is just incredible. I think it shows what happens when you have roster turnover, coaching staff turnover, and injuries. You can practice it over and over, but when you are playing against a superior defense (at least in size and speed) and if you have no idea how they are going to line up, there are going to be mistakes.

    Silver lining: these guys (lineman, A-backs, receivers) are only going to get better at making the right reads and communicating. Also, it’s a testament to the “team” concept that our record is this good while offensive exectution has been this poor.

    Great work. In another life with a different income, I would pay you for this analysis.

  8. Phil

    Greate write-up Mike as always. The only thing that frustrated me with JB was I though he gave up on the pitch read too early on what appeared to be TO plays (I only say that because of the reactions of the A backs and what they were doing during the play). I thought he tended to try and run between the tackle and guard (like a mid-line instead of a true TO) more than getting between the play-side A-back and the tackle. What I don’t know, since I’ve missed every CBS College Sports replay this week, is whether that was because of over pursuit of the defense to the outside of the line and the failure of our interior blocking or not. With RD in there, it was the same blocking failures but he was attacking the outside more. Just my observations.

  9. Navy '72

    Great job, Mike. By the way, I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that the guys in the booth (ESPN, CBS, whoever) do a very poor job of breaking down Navy’s blocking scheme. Their most astute observation usually is, “You gotta play assignment football to stop the option”. And, yes you gotta get out of bed to start the day…at least for most of us. Thanks.

  10. canuck 75

    It’s always interesting to read an opponent’s analysis. As you know, most ND guys admire and respect the Navy. That being said, it is wishful thinking on your part to think we are slow and beatable. Clausen is suffering from a loss of confidence. If/when he recovers from that, he can beat your best cover guys senseless throwing to Floyd and Tate. We did run the ball down your throat in the second half and it doesn’t look like it was going to change. The effective score was 34-7 with Clausen playing terrible. More bad news, we at NDNation are lobbying hard for Charlie to run up the score a bit. He still has his NFL mindset that a 10 point lead is a beatdown.
    Best wishes for 3 more wins this year.

  11. Phil– I know exactly what you’re talking about. Those were counter option plays. I was going to include something on those here, but 1) this had already gotten to be 2000 words long, and 2) everyone in the stadium and millions around the world saw (and heard) the slotbacks’ reaction to those plays, so I figured people realized that JB missed the read. He did.

    I don’t know if you remember my post on the counter option, but I mentioned that the best time to run it is when the backside DE on triple option plays starts showing a tendency to cheat inside towards the fullback. On Saturday you saw why. On the first counter option play, instead of cheating inside the DE stepped upfield and got into Jarod’s path. The linebacker that was left unblocked as Jarod’s pitch key was taking the quarterback, but with the DE in his path I think Jarod was afraid of the pitch being batted away, so he kept and cut inside to gain what he could. The other counters were pretty wide open, but I think JB might have been spooked a little from the first play.

  12. NavyJoe

    Canuck, please explain to me what an “effective score” is. Is that Weiss “coached” a 34-7 victory but because of the mess that Willingham made the final score was actually 27-21?

  13. T.J.

    What’s the best approach for calculating an “effective score”? I prefer to take away the opponent’s scores I don’t like, and give my team extra points that I wish I had made. It generally keeps me content.

  14. canuck 75

    Guys; Believe me when I say I give credit where credit is due. If we had won 34-7 with 3 soft touchdowns and you guys had fumbled twice inside the 5, I would be the first to say that it was more like a 14-10 game.
    Besides, this is part of the fun of blogging. If we all limited ourselves to say that the final score is always the only thing worth noting, then there wouldn’t be much to say.
    Sorry to intrude on your site. Best wishes

  15. pipehunter

    canuck – you should go to the AFA forum – they really enjoy talking about effective scores. I guess Claussen just performs better when he gets a limo drive to the games – something the Nation might well consider.

    Mike – as usual excellent analysis.

    The missed pitch I thought I saw was I believe a play JB took outside but kept – Shun had a blocker in front and one DB – he might well have taken it to the house for an effective TD.

    I missed Mario’s block – very nice, he is learning.

  16. EKW JR

    I calculated the “effective score” in the ND-Navy game as ND 27, Navy 21.

    That’s just my simple mind, I guess. All I have is an M.S. in Applied Math. Maybe I needed to go for the PhD.

    My bad.

  17. jgish92

    Re: Ivin’s adjustments in A-back and WR blocking

    Are the adjustments on who A-back and WR should block done in the huddle?

    In between drives when entire O is on the sideline and coaches can draw it up?

    Done by the players based on what they see?

    Your breakdown seems to confirm what my impression has been most of the year, and that is that most of our blocking problems have been slots and receivers not getting it done. OL hasn’t covered itself in glory either. I seem to remember a dustup on the other board earlier this year about which player we’d miss the most. Well, it seems like we miss Reggie and Zerb for their fulfilling their blocking assignments and their blocking technique the most. I guess I’m dissappointed that our guys are trying to block the wrong guys in the 10th game of the season.

  18. When the quarterback comes to the line of scrimmage, he counts to see if he has a numbers advantage to one side of the field. The blocking scheme depends on whether you run to a 6-man side or a 5-man side.

  19. Gary

    Ok Ok -to me we were as good as a favorite to me because I felt we had ND reeling and I honestly went into the game with that attitude-we would nail them and Charlies coffin shut.
    No middle ground?
    We lost the game and I was and am still down about it- whats the middle?

  20. canuck75…don’t let these folks “mess” with you..we can’t take a little $#*+ ??? I was in Philadelphia in the rain in 1962 and in the “dorm” (Mother B.) listening to the radio (no tv) in 1963…were gonna’ kick your @$$ in 2009.

    :) :) :)

  21. KoutetsuKaigun

    EKW JR, I was on offensive lineman back in my football days and missed/wrong blocks are more common than I would like to admit. Half the time it is a mental error on the part of the lineman. The other half it is due to a good move by the defense. Often times I would have my intended target (often a linebacker) shift in a way that I was unprepared for and I would wind up with someone else in my line of attack. That new person would be my victim and the linebacker would be free. A defensive bait-and-switch so to speak.

  22. 73Goat


    Thanks. This is always a good read. I study physics as a hobby and some of this stuff makes my head hurt a little. I’ve learned a great deal from you and it has enhanced my enjoyment of Navy games to say the least.

  23. Team Team, Damn Team!

    Did film show success when we ran out of the heavy formation? A buddy of mine told me ND didn’t figure out that our receiver was ineligible until the 3d quarter.

  24. Phil

    Mike, thanks for the quick response on my questoin. I also may be thinking when they ran the TO towards the TE strong side and he may actually have been going between the OL and TE, not two OL’s. I can’t recall from NCAA football which side of the TE the QB’s supposed to run to.

  25. DomerOC

    Little late to the party, but I am surprised at the Navy fan responses. You guys played hard to the end and should be commended for that, but to suggest ND has “slow” offensive skill positions is just false. You were playing 12 yards off the LOS all day, which is why ND smartened up and just threw screens and flare routes after Clausen’s 2nd int. Just because our receivers didn’t get behind your secondary doesn’t mean they’re slow. Just means you dropped 8 into coverage and ND took what you gave them.

    I route for Navy every other game then when they play ND. I have family that served in the Navy. But it will be at least another 43 years until you get a W against ND. They will continue to dominate the Naval academy with the recruits that are coming in.

    Beat Army.

  26. 901458

    DomerOC – don’t be too quick to dismiss thecontention you have slow players in some offensive skill positions. Take a hard look at the your TiVO. Corey Johnson was able to pressure/sack Clausen on several occasions because he was quicker (albeit smaller) than your O-linemen.

    As far as going to the screen pass – that was predictable to say the least. At least from the games Ive seen, Navy has always had issues defending the screen pass going back to the Tulsa game in 2006 where Kragthorpe dialed up and consistently ran screen passes all day and ended up beating Navy.

  27. jimbear

    I called for the move to Dobbs after the Temple comeback. I disagree with the premise that all Dobbs supporters think the QB change is a panacea for all that ails Navy offense. I can see the blocking breakdowns on the edge (heck look at the first play Navy ran) and the struggles of the O line at times. I want RD at QB, as long as Kaipo is out, because he deserves to play after moving the team, creating positive plays out of bad ones (yes moving the pile) and because 3rd and 7 is no longer a turnover waiting to happen because JB can’t throw effectively.
    Rd should start because he is better than JB right now and makes more plays.

  28. RusGoNavy


    You ALWAYS are outstanding with your insights and analysis! Thanks so much. If I could afford it, I would fund you so you could blog full time.

    I totally agree; Navy lost the game more than ND won it. I have been a critic of the way BG runs the D, but against ND, he sure showed me! Navy’s D deserved a win, didn’t they?

    As you are able, please keep up the fantastic work. I learn so much every time I stop by and take in what you have prepared for us. You’re the best!


  29. Navy football fan 2005

    one of the biggest differences between the O and D is the experience,leadership and finding it’s own identity. the offense is still searching for it’s true identity. the leadership on the defense starts with the seniors and both team elected captains, Jeff Deliz (08) and Clint Sovie (09). secondly because of the injuries last year all the younger players that had the opportunity to play have gained a lot of valuable game time experience. good or bad last year it is making a huge difference this year. big time senior leadership from players mike walsh, corey johnson, rashn king, ketric buffin, joey taylor, kevin synder and casey nichols. starters or not they understand what there job is and what is most important for the team. this is not just my opinion this is how they feel. this is what makes navy football exciting and great to watch!

  30. football dad dan

    You only saw One missed pitch pipehunter??? –> I noted three insitu @ the game … and probably picked up a few more watching the replay @ home.
    Blocking issues existed all game (just like all season) –> I have a good understanding what’s going on w/ the slot backs … but the two starting WR’s are return starters from last season, … no? –> Should not be completely missing assignments this deep into the season. What’s changed w/ the coaching???

    Agree 100% Mike –> This is a game of “missed opportunity” that the Navy Offense lost, … vice Notre Dame won. This was a very “beatable” Irish squad for Navy, … especially given the stellar play of the Navy Dee the entire 1st half.

    Nff ’05 –> The “true identity” of this Navy Offense was already set in stone before the season started. We were supposed to be running the same Offense … no??? Personnel issues & poor execution have made it unsettled.

    BEAT ARMY!!!

  31. For the record, I’m not saying that Navy lost more than Notre Dame won. I’m saying that Navy’s mistakes kept this from being the game it should have been, one way or another.

  32. football dad dan

    Fair ’nuff … IMO Navy LOST that game. (I know it’s a “whole team” thing … but the Navy “O” squandered an outstanding effort by the Defense … be it play calling and/or execution).

    Beat NIU!!!

  33. Astor

    I agree with Jimbear (12:47). Noone expects Dobbs to be the offensive savior, but the videos prove the point. There are always going to be breakdowns during the course of games. But at least with Dobbs, there’s a chance that a breakdown doesn’t foil the entire play. And let’s not fool ourselves, being able to pass the ball COMPLETELY opens up the offense. Look at the safety and linebackers’ first steps in the videos…they’re all generally forward. Not even the slightest bit concerned about the pass. There is no one way to run this offense….the run doesn’t have to be used to set up the pass….it can be the other way around. Dobbs arm can make a huge difference in the game when we’re passing when we want to as opposed to when we have to.
    Moreover, I’d dare say that Coaches Mot and Jasper didn’t capitulate to our demands to start Dobbs. They gave JB every chance to keep his position. But in the end, Dobbs is the better quarterback and they knew it.

  34. jimbear

    Reference for above: (Since the BD no longer goes on go mids)

    Someone on go mids posted after SMU game “Dobbs is god (spelling) (he meant good)

  35. Astor

    I should restate what I said…..I don’t expect Dobbs to be the offensive savior. I think it’s unrealistic. But I def. think he’s got the talent to take the offense to new heights.
    Great blog by the way.

  36. rob a

    the one thing i noticed was how the notre dame’s d end’s were able to slow or stop the tackle’s path to the mlb. unlike against pitt where the tackles would get there and miss, the tackles werent even getting off the ball. i made mention the i thought both qb’s missed reads and they did on other plays. while running the triple i noticed the blocking was very poor throughout the game. i also thought notre dame was very successful at determining when navy would run the triple. and then they executed their defense better than navy executed their offense. i just hope the guys have worked hard on their blocking. i expect better performance this tuesday.

  37. Matt

    Holy Cow Mike,

    Your last paragraph is exactly what happened in 2009. Great prediction!

    “If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that maybe Notre Dame’s defensive success this year will lead them to line up the same way in 2009.”

    You da’ man!

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