Army and Notre Dame have at least one thing in common this season: Each has had trouble against option attacks.
When they meet on Saturday in San Antonio at the Alamodome, Army (5-4) just might have a small edge. The Black Knights use the clock-chewing triple option, and the Irish (3-6) are reeling from a one-point loss to Navy, their third setback in four games in what so far is the worst of Brian Kelly’s seven seasons as head coach.
The chance to play in a bowl game is still a possibility for both teams. Kelly said he planned no changes.
“We’re all going through a tough spot, but we’re persevering,” Kelly said. “It’s not where anybody wants to be. But we’re handling the situation as best we can and we’re trying to make certain that everything that we do makes us stronger for right now and for the future.”
The Black Knights are coming off a 31-12 loss at home to Air Force, whose option was in high gear. Despite a subpar showing against the Falcons — 144 yards on 40 carries — Army still ranks second nationally in rushing (320.3 yards per game), averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
“Defensively, another challenge of playing a triple-option team that … runs the ball very, very well and can be opportunistic throwing the football,” Kelly said. “So, focus is on, obviously, the details and the execution. In a large degree, we were able to do a lot of those things well last week, but not as well as Navy.”
Notre Dame’s six losses have come by a combined 29 points (4.8 per game), and all were one-possession games.
“That happens,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “They’ve had opportunities to win a lot of football games and just haven’t had a break go their way or the other team has made a play. That’s sports.”
Last week, trailing 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter Kelly opted for a 31-yard field goal instead of gambling on fourth-and-4 deep in Navy territory. He made the call even though his defense had not forced a punt, and Notre Dame never got the ball back, finishing the game with just six possessions.
Navy ran out the clock with its triple-option offense, converting two huge fourth-down plays on the final drive.
“We learned quite a bit the last week. We definitely learned how to value our possession on the offensive side of the ball,” Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “When you have the opportunity to take shots, you’ve got to be successful with them because your possessions are limited when you’re playing against a triple-option team.”
Other things to know when Army plays Notre Dame on Saturday:
Kelly will tie Lou Holtz for the most losses at Notre Dame with his next defeat. Holtz had a 100-30-2 record in 11 seasons at South Bend. Kelly is 58-29 in seven seasons at Notre Dame and just 14-13 in his last 27 games with the Irish. Charlie Weis is next in losses with a 35-27 record in five seasons.
The Army defense is fifth in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (166.6) and sixth in total defense (286.4). It’s also 13th in the country in scoring defense (18.1 points).
Notre Dame has often struggled in the week after playing Navy, going 3-6 the past nine seasons. The streak includes losses to Air Force in 2007, Syracuse in 2008 and Tulsa in 2010, narrow victories against Wake Forest in 2011 and Purdue in 2012, losses to Pittsburgh in 2009 and 2013 and Arizona State in 2014. The Irish beat USC 41-31 last season.
Notre Dame is 7-0 in Shamrock Series games, which are officially home games played at neutral sites. The series was started in 2009 when the Irish beat Washington State 40-14 in the Alamodome. San Antonio is the first repeat site for the game, and Army is the first repeat opponent. The Irish beat the Black Knights 27-3 at Yankee Stadium in 2010.
In this storied rivalry, Notre Dame has beaten Army 14 straight times and the last time it lost to Navy and Army in the same season was 1944. That year, the second-ranked Irish lost to No. 6 Navy 32-13 and a week later, after dropping three spots in the AP poll, they lost to top-ranked Army 59-0 in the largest loss in Notre Dame history.