SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame linebacker Brian Smith cannot wait to play against Navy on Saturday.
And not just to test the No. 19 Irish’s run defense against the Midshipmen’s rushing attack.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior injured his right knee in the first quarter against Navy last season on what he called an illegal cut block.
They got the flag for it, but the 15 yards is not a good trade-off, Smith said of the injury that kept him out of the final two games of 2008.
Personal vendettas aside, Smith and the Irish (6-2) will be challenged in the run game by the Midshipmen (6-3) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.
Notre Dame has improved its run defense, giving up 3.3 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns in the last three games.
And the Irish were able to keep Midshipmen in check last year, holding Navy to 178 rushing yards.
But Navy has won the last four NCAA rushing titles, and the Midshipmen are third in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 279.8 yards.
(Defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta) told me he’s coached against the option for 37 years now, more literally than figuratively, and he tells me we got a simple game plan. We just got to execute it, Smith said. Coach Tenuta has a good game plan going into it.
Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs ignites the run-heavy offense.
The 6-foot-1, 198-pound junior has run for 595 yards and leads the nation with 16 rushing touchdowns. He has also thrown for 618 yards with three touchdowns.
I think he’s a lot better athlete than people give him credit for, he can make plays and can throw the football, Tenuta said of Dobbs. He’s completed some passes this year against some people who weren’t expecting him to throw the ball.
Dobbs is joined by running backs Marcus Curry and Bobby Doyle with Gee Gee Green.
The three backs have combined for 615 yards and nine rushing touchdowns.
Fullback Vince Murray leads Navy in rushing yards with 638 and four touchdowns.
There are so many assignments, nose tackle Ian Williams said of the difficulty of playing a triple-option offense. Any given play, if one person messes up, they can hit their head on the goal post.
Navy’s offense is one a lot of Notre Dame players are not familiar with, and defensive tackle Ethan Johnson, who played little against the Midshipmen last season, said it is a hard offense to simulate in practice.
It is always tough to get acclimated to the speed of the game, and it’s especially going to be hard against Navy because they are up tempo, Johnson said.
Plus, the Irish have to deal with cut blocks.
I just think that is one of the hardest things to defend, safety Kyle McCarthy said.
With the option offense and a bunch of misdirection, you need to stay on your feet to make a play. Those cut blocks are tough to get off of. When your face hits the ground first, you know you didn’t correctly defense yourself.