A walk on the wild side for Notre Dame's Julian Love

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Keep an eye on the pitch man in Navy’s offense.

That’s Julian Love’s guy.

Every year, when the Notre Dame football team takes a crash course in dealing with the Midshipmen’s triple-option offense, it’s a nightmare of preparation – especially for the young guys.

Concepts and responsibilities that have been taught for the first eight games of the schedule are rendered obsolete.

Just part of the deal for the Irish veterans. But for a guy like Love, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound freshman cornerback from the Chicago suburbs, Saturday’s battle with Navy has all the makings of a walk on the wild side.

Everybody on the Irish defense has an assignment. The big guys up front have the fullback, the first option. Linebackers will key on quarterback Will Worth, who can run like a fullback but has shown a knack for throwing the ball (299 yards passing in last week’s loss to South Florida).

That leaves the pitch man for Love. That means, while having one eye trained on Worth for the possibility of a pass, he has to be ready to make a tackle in the open field.

Love has seen plenty while playing in each of the first eight games of his Notre Dame career. He has 21 tackles, two pass break-ups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery.

But he hasn’t yet seen an offense like Navy’s.

“You can’t really prepare for it,” said junior safety Drue Tranquill. “You have to go out there and experience it.

“Big thing we’re telling our young guys: Eye discipline and technique this week. You have to defeat the cut blocks. Your eyes have to be right in the (Navy) backfield. You can’t miss the guy coming upfield.

“I remember playing them my first time. It’s nothing you can really simulate with our ‘look’ (scout) team. Our ‘look’ team does an incredible job, but it’s something (Navy players) have done for four years.

“It’s at a different speed. It’s something you have to adjust to as the game goes on.”

Junior middle linebacker Nyles Morgan has his own words of advice for the youngsters.

“‘Take the first series, and don’t get caught up in it,’” Morgan said. “‘Don’t let it freak you out. Things are going to be going fast. (Navy offensive linemen) are going to try to cut (block). They’re coming in hard and they’re not stopping.’

“‘Take it easy. Read. React. Then, go. Do what we’ve been doing in practice.’”

Maybe easier said than done when on game day, but Love is at least respecting the challenge ahead, even if he’s not exactly sure what it will be.

“It’s going to be a war,” Love said. “There will be a lot of physicality throughout the game. (Navy) will be very disciplined. We have to be, too.

“Everyone has to believe that other people will do their jobs. That’s the biggest thing against this type of offense.

“We’re expecting high speed; a very intense game. We have to do our job and be technically sound and play with full effort. (Navy players) have been trained to play with full effort.

“We have to match that intensity with our play.

“The biggest challenge (against Navy) is just doing our jobs. We have to read our keys and play with max effort. You know Navy is going to bring high intensity every game. They’ve got such great discipline. We have to match that intensity.

“The focus for me is the pitch guy. I can’t take my eyes off him. I believe the guys inside will handle their job. I’ll have their back if needed, but it’s just a matter of doing your job.”

Although he has yet to experience Navy’s version of the triple-option first-hand, Love is comfortable in the fact that having played in eight games so far gives him a confidence and understanding of the game.

“(The game now) looks very different (from early in the season),” Love said. “I don’t have the need to look up now and see how many people are watching. I feel I play much faster, which is good.”

Especially when he’s chasing the pitch man.

Notre Dame’s Julian Love (27) tries to tackle Duke’s T.J. Rahming (3) during the Notre Dame-Duke NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA