Notre Dame will face Navy and Army in back-to-back weeks in 2016, a situation coach Brian Kelly hoped to avoid after back-to-back weeks of option offenses led to a rash of injuries for the Irish front seven.
Kelly attributed injuries to linebacker Ishaq Williams and defensive lineman Kona Schwenke and Sheldon Day to the style of offense employed by Air Force and Navy, teams the Irish faced in consecutive weeks this season. The cut-blocking nature of those option offenses contributed to Louis Nix sitting out both games, creating less-than-ideal depth up front.
"It's unfortunate," Kelly said after the Nov. 2 Navy game. "It's the style of offense that the academies play. It is what it is."
Notre Dame will play Navy every year as part of the program's three permanent rivalry games (USC and Stanford are the others), but won't face an additional option offense in 2014 or 2015. But 2016's Shamrock Series date with Army falls a week after Notre Dame plays Navy -- and with Army hiring Todd Monken, who runs the triple option, as its next coach the Irish will have to go through the cut blocking gauntlet again.
Kelly and athletic director Jack Swarbrick tried to avoid it, but came to the realization it was the best scenario on the table.
"As we spent more time looking at it it was the lesser of two evils, if you will," Kelly said. "I felt like I was okay going in that direction over another scenario that I wasn't -- there was no way that we were going to go another direction that had to do with playing an opponent earlier. I didn't feel we'd be in the position then."
Notre Dame opens the 2016 season at Texas, then gets a reprieve at home against Nevada before facing Michigan State. Whatever the scenario was, chances are it involved playing a more difficult Week 2 opponent, leaving the Irish with a brutal three-game stretch to open the season.