Navy glad to be rid of Notre Dame LB Greer Martini

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Greer Martini wanted to soak up every last moment in Notre Dame Stadium.

As a senior with his eligibility expiring, the Irish linebacker and captain won’t play another football game in South Bend.

But he wasn’t expecting that those final moments would include 42 minutes and 42 seconds of trying to defend Navy’s triple-option offense.

“I didn’t know that, but yeah. It felt like longer than that,” Martini said following the 24-17 Irish victory.

Martini was needed for every last defensive play. Navy’s final chance came down to slotback Darryl Bonner attempting to throw a pass to wide receiver Tyler Carmona on fourth-and-5. The pass was off target, but Martini just so happened to be the closest Notre Dame defender in coverage.

“I saw the guy kind of pulling the ball back, so I knew something was up there,” Martini said. “I just looked and he was kind of wide open. I just ran to him … I don’t think that was my guy specifically. It was just kind of like being in the right place at the right time.”

That’s the story of Martini’s career against Navy. In all four games against the Midshipmen, Martini finished with at least a team-high in tackles. His 15 tackles on Saturday pushed his career total to 44 tackles in Navy games.

Martini has been so productive against Navy in his career that Midshipmen head coach Ken Niumatalolo sought him out after the game.

“He came up to me and said, ‘Are you graduating?’’ Martini said after the game. “I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Thank God.’”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Niumatalolo mentioned Martini to him as well.

“Ken Niumatalolo asked me if he was a senior, and he hoped that he would not be back next year,” Kelly said. “He's tried to block him. He can't block him. He was our player of the game. He got the game ball.”

Martini had already made 10 tackles before the first half ended Saturday. Notre Dame’s defense allowed Navy to pick up 318 yards on offense, but Martini was usually nearby.

“It’s just kind of good scheme, good plan,” Martini said. “I’ve always kind of excelled at the triple option. I was just going out there and playing with a lot of confidence.”

But it’s about more than just a good game plan. Irish linebacker Nyles Morgan receives the same game plan. He still has a hard time explaining how Martini excels so much at stopping the option. And he’s tried to pick his brain for pointers.

“Football guru,” Morgan said of Martini. “I don’t what else to say. He just finds the ball.”

Said Kelly: “He was physical, he played with the top of his pads. I mean it was a clinic in terms of the way he played the linebacker position today.”

The task of tracking down Navy’s ball carriers took its toll on the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Martini. After the first drive of the second half, Martini was given a bit of a break to regain some energy.

“I was pretty tired,” Martini said. “I’m not going to lie. It was just more so being out there a lot more than I usually am.”

That doesn’t mean Martini was willing to cede any ground against Navy. After the game, Kelly admitted he considered employing a “surrender defense” to let Navy score quicker on the goal line in order to get the ball back with enough time for a final series in the first half.

Kelly didn’t use that option, and Navy eventually scored on a one-yard run by quarterback Zach Abey with 1:08 left in the second quarter. The Irish responded with a seven-play, 62-yard touchdown drive that used one minute to tie the game at 10.

How would Martini have reacted to the suggestion of a surrender defense?

“I wouldn’t like that,” he said. “As a defensive player, why would we ever surrender?”

The concept almost seemed foreign to Martini.

That’s the kind of response expected from a captain. The kind of response expected someone who excels against the agonizing Navy offense.

Just because Martini has played some of his best games against the option, that doesn’t mean he prefers it. But if it meant the opportunity to play more football at Notre Dame, he’d welcome it with open arms.

Even if it required another 42 minutes and 42 seconds of triple-option defense.

“Playing the option is not a lot of fun,” Martini said. “Just for me personally, I’m kind of sad. It’s kind of dwindling down. I probably only have two more games left. I’d play as many games as I could.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame’s Greer Martini (48) takes the field on Senior Day before Notre Dame's 24-17 win over Navy in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN