SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame linebacker Greer Martini was so nervous facing the triple option for the first time he broke out in hives.
Turns out he had nothing to worry about. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior from Cary, North Carolina, led the Fighting Irish in tackles that day in 2014 against Navy with nine and has been Notre Dame’s best player against the option. He’s led the Irish in tackles three of the four times they have faced the option with a total of 36 tackles.
He finished with a career-high 11 tackles in a 28-27 loss to Navy last week and is expected to play a key role when the Irish (3-6) play Army (5-4) in San Antonio on Saturday.
“Greer’s a really smart player. He has a good sense of the triple,” coach Brian Kelly said.
Martini said he has “no idea” why he plays so well against option teams other than playing disciplined and trusting his teammates.
“Some people just have a natural instinct for the triple option, I think I’m one of those,” he said. “I think it’s just about effort, relentless effort. You run to the ball you can make some plays even if you’re not fundamentally sound against a triple option team like that.”
Army ranks second in the nation in rushing offense at 320.6 yards a game, ranking only behind New Mexico. The Black Knights, who the Irish have beaten 14 straight times, were held to a season-low 140 yards rushing in a 31-12 loss to Air Force last week.
Martini said playing against triple option teams in back-to-back games should help because the hardest thing to prepare for is the speed.
“The more you see of it, the better you get at it,” he said.
Martini first showed what he could do against the option as a freshman when he was the fourth linebacker and the Irish decided to go with a four-linebacker scheme against Navy. He got his first start and the bout with hives.
“I was pretty nervous beforehand, but once the game got flowing I was fine,” he said.
It’s been his specialty ever since, making four of his nine starts against option teams. He’s at his best against the run because of his physical play but he’s smart player and can play all three linebacker positions. He doesn’t want to be known primarily as a specialist against the triple option.
“I think it’s my opportunity for the most part to get on the field,” he said. “But I showed that I can make some plays and hopefully play further on the defense the rest of the year.”