The Irish moved to 2-0 on the season against option teams. Let's take a look at how the Irish defense fared against Navy's option attack.
On their first drive, Navy came out in the same trips formation they used last season to great effect and Georgia Tech used against the Irish earlier in the season.
The Irish used multiple formations against Georgia Tech but were content to line up in an odd front (3 defensive linemen) for most of the game. They also dropped a safety - usually Elijah Shumate - into the box to create the 3-5 formation with a free safety playing center field we've seen the past two seasons against the option.
Last season, Navy used this trips formation to a pull linebacker out to the wide side of the field and then run the option to the short side, where they had a numbers advantage. Notre Dame solved that problem against Georgia Tech by shifting the linebackers over to create a balanced 3-4 defense look. Navy likely lined up like this to feel out Notre Dame and see if they would do anything different than what they showed against the Yellow Jackets.
Navy tried to recreate this numbers advantage by using motion to mess with Notre Dame's alignment.
Navy lined up in the trips formation and then motioned the slot receiver to short side of the field to create Navy's base spread formation.
Shumate (yellow star) was originally covering the slotback (red star), but is now way out of position. Navy managed to add an extra blocker without adding an extra defender.
Navy will run veer (triple option) to the short side. The offensive tackle and guard double team Joe Schmidt, and the slotback and wide receiver block Max Redfield and KeiVarae Russell.
Sheldon Day covers the dive and James Onwualu goes outside to cover the pitch and chip the blocking slotback.
The Irish still have this play fairly well-covered because Redfield beats the block from the receiver. But Keenan Reynolds cuts up inside of Redfield and gets a nice gain out of it (helped out by a slight block in the back on Redfield).
Navy also tried lining up in their base spread formation and motioning one of the slotbacks outside.
The goal is the pull the outside linebacker out wide without the rest of the defense noticing.
Navy does this and runs veer to the side of the motion. Joe Schmidt and Greer Martini (yellow stars) don't fall for this and shift outside.
Martini covers the pitch and Schmidt bears down on Reynolds. Reynolds cuts up inside of Schmidt, who misses the tackle. Redfield overruns the play, Jaylon Smith misses a tackle, and Reynolds again makes a nice gain on a play that should have been stopped for minimal gain.
Here is another example.
Navy has shifted the slotback out wide and you can see Shumate, Martini, and Schmidt communicating in the picture.
The guard is supposed to block Joe Schmidt but Schmidt is already outside of the guard, making the block nearly impossible. The guard expects Schmidt to be on the hash (yellow star) but Schmidt moved outside anticipating the option play.
The guard (yellow star) has no shot. This time, Schmidt blows the play up and Sheldon Day makes the tackle coming from the backside of the play.
From the previous two plays, it is obvious that the Irish defense flowed hard to the outside to stop the option. Navy took advantage of that aggression with misdirection.
Navy lined up in the spread formation and put one of the slotbacks in tail motion, showing veer to the offense's left side (bottom of the picture).
Instead of running veer, Navy ran an option play with the fullback as the pitch player to the other side with a pulling guard as a lead blocker. Nearly the entire defense fell for the fake.
Notre Dame only has two players outside of the hashmarks on the side of the option play.
Reynolds options off Jaylon Smith and the fullback has plenty of room to run. A nice tackle by Russell minimized the damage.
Navy also tried a few different formations to add extra blockers to their option plays.
Here, Navy is in an unbalanced line with a slotback split out wide. They have a wide receiver lined up at left tackle and their left tackle on the right side of the line. Navy uses the extra offensive tackle to block Schmidt and the slotback to block Matthias Farley.
You'll notice Navy's blocking scheme does not account for Elijah Shumate. Notre Dame must be in a man defense based on their alignment, so by blocking the safety with the slotback, the idea is that Shumate will follow the slotback towards the middle of the field and run himself out of the play.
The tackle blocks Schmidt (yellow star) and the slotback goes inside to block Farley, but Shumate does not fall for the trap.
Shumate plays the pitch and makes a tackle for loss.
On this play, Navy lines up in the unbalanced formation again but with the slotbacks in their usual spots. The two circled players are option off on the dive and pitch. Again, Navy's blocking scheme does not account for Shumate
It's an easy play for the defense. Shumate covers the pitch, Onwualu covers the QB and Reynolds goes nowhere.
While the unbalanced line did nothing to confuse Notre Dame's defense, Navy did success with their double tight formation.
Navy uses the defense's aggressiveness against itself here . The wide receivers lined up tight gives Navy an extra blocker on the linebackers. Navy's goal is the wall off the inside defenders and let the outside defenders flow outside to stop the option, but then hand it off to the fullback right in between everything.
Navy double teams Sheldon Day, who is usually the dive player on option plays. The slotback and receiver seal off Farley and Martini. Onwualu flies upfield to go after the QB and Cole Luke stays outside to help on the edge.
Whether he trips or dives on purpose, Onwualu ends up on the ground. You can already see the lane forming for the fullback.
Navy creates a wall of blockers and Cole Luke (circled) has no chance at stopping the fullback. Easy touchdown.
Overall the Irish defense played well, outside of a bad opening drive and sloppy sequence at the end of the first half. Notre Dame didn't do much that was different than what they did against Georgia Tech. Navy had some counters up their sleeves but wasn't able to find something that allowed them to consistently move the ball. When Navy lined and tried to run the option, the Irish were generally able to rally to the ball and make a stop. Navy had some success with misdirection but couldn't break a big play outside of their first play of the game.
What should make Irish fans happy is that the defense successfully ran the same scheme against two option teams with pretty good results. The scheme also doesn't seem to be tied to one player. After the debacle against Navy in 2010, Bob Diaco found out that putting Manti Te'o in the middle of the field and using him to blow up option plays in the backfield was a pretty good strategy. In 2013, Diaco tried that same strategy with Carlo Calabrese in place of Te'o. The results were... not great. But the results this year versus Georgia Tech and Navy are based more on players being in the right place at the right time to make plays as opposed to one player playing a critical role.
On top of that, Brian Kelly seems committed to making this option defense part of the DNA of Notre Dame's defense. Notre Dame now has a scout team - the SWAG team - dedicated to stopping the option, led by walk-on QB Rob Regan. That allows the Irish to practice against the option at full speed. And with a scheme already in place, it allows younger players to learn the defense and be prepared when they have to face the option for the first time.
It may seem silly to dedicate that many resources for an offense the Irish will face once - and occasionally twice - a season, but Kelly identified it as a weakness and went about fixing it.