Though Notre Dame’s demolishing of Navy seems fleeting, it provides the Irish with a blueprint to topple their toughest opponent, the Stanford Cardinal.
Given what we’ve already seen from this year’s version of the Fighting Irish, it’s wrong to assume that they’ll lay waste to Wake Forest, Maryland and Boston College, even though they should. However, if Notre Dame plays to its capability and curbs its foot-shooting ways, Stanford is the only losable game remaining on the schedule.
While Navy may end up being the most easily winnable game on the schedule, there are two major lessons that Brian Kelly and his staff can learn from Notre Dame’s dismantling of the Midshipmen.
Defend with Discipline
Notre Dame was successful in stopping Navy’s ground game because the Irish played with discipline. From the nose guard to the free safety, Notre Dame’s defenders stifled their urges for over-aggression and dutifully fulfilled their assignments. In some cases, players knowingly passed up plays that they could have made, confident that a teammate would be in proper position to do the job.
Notre Dame excelled as a team because its individuals harnessed their capabilities within the structure of its system.
The Irish will have to keep it up, because as good as Navy is on the ground, Stanford is better. The Cardinal have a higher yards-per-carry average than the Midshipmen, ranking 10th among all FBS teams.
As odd as this sounds, Notre Dame needs to make Andrew Luck beat them. It seems like a ridiculous concept, but if Stanford can successfully establish its power running game, the Irish will have no chance to stop Luck’s play-action passing.
Though the Cardinal’s scheme is quite different from Navy’s, the lesson for Notre Dame is the same.
The Irish must read their keys on defense.
Stanford’s offensive line is spectacular in play-action because of its ability to sell the run. If linebackers simply focus on the Cardinal’s blocking schemes, they’ll be duped into over-penetrating, and Luck and his army of tight ends will monopolize the middle of the field.
Instead, the Irish linebackers and safeties must read the tight ends. They must communicate and balance their collective responsibility between attacking the run and running with receivers. If a linebacker jumps up against the run, one of his teammates must fill his responsibility in coverage.
One defender on his own has no chance against Andrew Luck. Notre Dame can only succeed if it plays as a unit.
Throw it Deep
Notre Dame scored seven rushing touchdowns against Navy, but much of that success was set up by the Irish passing game.
On Notre Dame’s first series, Michael Floyd drew a pass interference penalty on a throw that otherwise would have netted a 36-yard touchdown. Three possessions later, Tommy Rees connected with Floyd on a 56-yard bomb. The rout was on from there.
By pushing the ball downfield early in the game, the Irish forced the Navy to adjust, which opened up running lanes for Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray.
Stanford’s pass defense is actually worse than Navy’s. The Cardinal rank 87th in the nation in pass yards allowed, giving up nearly 250 yards per game.
Much like Navy, Stanford doesn’t have a corner that can run with Floyd. Nor does it have one that can run with Theo Riddick or T.J. Jones, for that matter. With that in mind, Notre Dame should attack the Cardinal in a similar fashion.
Even if it proves unsuccessful early in the game, the Irish must challenge Stanford with downfield passes.
Stanford’s defense is good, but it isn’t great in space, especially without Shane Skov. Throwing deep will force the Cardinal safeties to play deeper, leaving more real estate for the rest of the defense to cover.
That will set up Notre Dame’s run and short passing game, which will allow the Irish to score and, perhaps even more importantly, extend drives, keeping Andrew Luck off the field.