- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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In non-military matters, Notre Dame has quietly put together a solid season defensively.
In nine games against civilians, the Irish are allowing a little more than 131 yards rushing per game. In five of the past six games, the defense has given up a total of only six touchdowns, including just one in the past two outings. Against Utah last week, Notre Dame held a team averaging more than 40 points a game to one lonely field goal.
Those stats start to look good when you omit the Navy game. And clearly the Irish and their fans would love to omit that game from their memory. The Midshipmen rolled up 367 rushing yards in a 35-17 win last month, turning the Notre Dame defense into a helpless, hapless lot against the triple option.
This week's game brings another service academy with a similar, option-based attack. Will the Irish fare any better against Army, or will they strike out at Yankee Stadium?
"We've sort of got a chip on our shoulders," defensive lineman Sean Cwynar said. "We're not happy with the outcome against Navy, and we're ready to get after Army."
The Black Knights, who are bowl eligible for the first time in 14 years, resemble Navy statistically. They're averaging 31 points and 272.8 yards rushing per game (Navy is at 30.6 points and 302.7 yards rushing). They've scored at least 20 points in every game this year. Army will mix in some conventional looks with its option scheme and some passing. But mostly, as Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly says, it's about defending the triple option.
Kelly won't divulge what specifically he has changed in preparation for this game, and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is off limits to the media this week. But Kelly said his staff viewed lots of film on defending the option, particularly looking for teams that stopped it with a three-man front similar to Notre Dame's.
The Irish zeroed in on Air Force, which plays a three-down alignment and beat Army 42-22 two weeks ago. The Black Knights still had 244 yards rushing, but at least it was under their average. Kelly is confident his defense is playing well enough now to do the same, especially given a second chance against the triple option.
"If you go back and look at the games leading up, the Navy game has been an aberration from my standpoint," Kelly said. "We're going to correct that against Army. We have battled pretty good defensively all year."
Diaco said after the Navy loss that the Irish were surprised by some of the Midshipmen's tactics and could not adjust to them during the game. Kelly promised that won't happen this week.
"We've done all the drawing up," Kelly said. "We'll have answers."
They had better. Or else this military campaign will end with another crippling defeat.
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