Notebook: Julian Love may be emerging as Notre Dame's next triple-option defensive ace
SOUTH BEND — After Brian Kelly and Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo met for a postgame handshake, the latter was compelled to linger in a cold downpour to pump the Notre Dame coach for one last piece of information.
Niumatalolo wanted to know if linebacker Greer Martini was a senior, hoping that he wouldn’t be around for future ND-Navy clashes, like the one scheduled Saturday night in San Diego (8 EDT; CBS-TV).
“He’s tried to block him; he can’t block him,” Kelly related after a soggy 24-17 Irish Senior Day win last November that did in fact include Martini among the Irish players saying goodbye to Notre Dame Stadium. “He was our player of the game. He got the game ball.”
Martini collected a career-high 15 tackles Nov. 18 against the Mids, giving him a stunning total of 61 in six career games against triple-option offenses, most of which came before he was a regular in the Irish lineup.
“Dude’s an animal,” said current ND linebacker Drue Tranquill, who will assume Martini’s role Saturday night. “We watch his film every day. Watching the tight lines he takes, his footwork. There’s always something to learn from that.”
Martini is currently looking for his next football opportunity after being released from the Green Bay Packers practice squad on Oct. 4.
So who now becomes Notre Dame’s best triple-option defender as the No. 3 Irish (7-0) meet a backpedaling Navy squad (2-5), sporting its longest losing streak (4) since 2011?
It could very well be junior cornerback Julian Love, who has faced Navy twice and Army once, and has 25 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and an interception to show for it while playing both corner and safety at times in those games.
“Julian’s just a baller,” Tranquill assessed when asked to explain Love’s success against the triple option. “You put him on the field, and he’s going to hunt the ball down and make plays. Terrific closing speed. He’s able to run the alleys for us and bring ball carriers down.”
Another candidate would be junior safety Alohi Gilman, who amassed a game-high 12 tackles in his last ND-Navy game, though he was playing for the Midshipmen at the time, in a 28-27 Navy win in 2016.
In Gilman’s two career games versus triple-option offenses, both during his freshman season at Navy, he collected six tackles against Air Force and eight against Army. Gilman sat out last season per NCAA transfer rules after leaving Navy following his freshman season.
He has started every game this season for the Irish and is Notre Dame’s third-leading tackler, with 38.
“The first thing that he does is he brings kind of a toughness, if you will, a swagger to our defensive backfield,” Kelly said of Gilman’s play this season. “I think it’s rubbed off a little bit on our safeties. Certainly he’s a really good player. He’s athletic. He’s tough. He can play the ball.
“But I think his presence has equally brought that kind of influence, if you will, to others, and has elevated their game as well.”
By the (record) Book
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book finished ND’s 19-14 win over Pitt on Oct. 13 by completing his last 10 pass attempts.
The nation’s leader in completion percentage (.752) would need to hit his next 16 attempts, Saturday night against Navy, to break Everett Golson’s school record of 25 consecutive completions, set in 2014.
Reaching the No. 2 spot on the all-time list (14 consecutive) is far less daunting. That place in the Irish record book is currently shared by Brady Quinn, current Irish QBs coach Tommy Rees and current ND director of player development Ron Powlus.
Kelly, incidentally, lauded Rees earlier this week for his role in helping develop Book into the No. 8 QB nationally in passing efficiency.
“You can’t just go out there and run the offense and be starting from square one,” Kelly said. “I think we have to start with the premise that Tom did an incredible job of laying down a foundation and an understanding of our offense without (Book) really being the starter.
“Secondly, showing a lot of respect and confidence in a young man that was a backup for a year and a half. So when (Book) got the opportunity to play, he had the confidence of his quarterback coach that he could go in and do the job.
“That requires behind-the-scenes work, one-on-one meetings, spending time with him, building a relationship.”
There was a touching postgame reunion after last year’s Navy-ND game when brothers Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa of Notre Dame and Adam Amosa-Tagovailoa of Navy got to spend some time together.
They won’t get to play against each other Saturday night, though, because Myron is still healing from a broken foot suffered in ND’s Sept. 1 season-opening win over Michigan. But the sophomore remains on track for a mid-November return to be a key reserve at defensive tackle behind senior Jerry Tillery.
Adam, meanwhile, made his first collegiate start last weekend, against Houston, and the senior is expected to start again at left offensive tackle against the Irish.
As to why the hyphenated last names are in a different order, both boys wanted to honor their late grandfather, High Chief Seu Tagovailoa (who also happens to be Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s grandpa). But Adam was getting ready to graduate from the Naval Academy Prep School when he decided to hyphenate.
Knowing that his mom would have to wait much longer to hear his named called at graduation if his last name began with a “T,” he opted to keep Amosa first.
• Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said Tuesday that Mids leading rusher Malcolm Perry was probable for the ND game.
Perry missed much of the second half of last Saturday’s 49-36 loss to Houston with a leg injury. He also missed last season’s ND-Navy game because of injury.
Perry, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior, has played quarterback but lately more slotback. He has rushed for 729 yards on 127 carries and seven touchdowns. As a passer, he has completed 8 of 23 for 185 yards and one TD with an interception.
• ND linebacker Drue Tranquill said Wednesday night after practice that he expects to be wearing the cast on his left hand “another week or two.”
The grad senior suffered a broken metacarpal in his left hand in ND’s 38-17 rout of Stanford on Sept. 29, and has worn the cast in the two games since.
• Navy has lost eight straight games away from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Who: No. 3 Notre Dame (7-0) vs. Navy (2-5)
When: Saturday at 8 p.m. (EDT)
Where: SDCCU Stadium; San Diego
Radio: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Notre Dame by 23 1/2