Two players Notre Dame will lean on in preparing to stop the Navy offense
One of these players is a household name. The other, not so much. But this week, they have a lot in common. No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1) is expecting big things out of both of them in preparing to play Navy (2-6).
Graduate student linebacker Drew White. There is the name Fighting Irish fans are more than familiar with. Sophomore preferred walk-on quarterback Chase Ketterer. That one might take some research for some, but he will be as important to Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly as anyone wearing a gold helmet this week.
White has been a staple for the Notre Dame defense for five years now. He has started the last 33 games. He ranks third on the team in total tackles this season. Ketterer has not played a single snap in blue and gold, but he will take plenty of them in a meaningful role in practices leading up to Saturday's 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBC).
Ketterer played quarterback at New Carlisle (Ind.) New Prairie High School. The Cougars ran the triple-option offense. Navy, of course, is well known for employing the triple option at the college level. Ketterer’s job this week? Simulate Navy starting quarterback Tai Lavatai on Notre Dame’s scout team offense.
A big reason why the 5-11, 203-pound Ketterer is on the Notre Dame roster is for this one week. Preparing to play Navy is a unique challenge. Having operated the offense for the entirety of his high school career, Ketterer has an ability to give the Notre Dame defense a similar look to what it will see from Lavatai on Saturday.
“We really liked his competitiveness and thought he was an outstanding athlete, but this was a conversation that we had when we entered into this kind of agreement,” Kelly said.
Ketterer ran for 2,496 yards on 307 attempts as a senior at New Prairie according to MaxPreps. He piled up 5,494 yards in 40 games for an average of 137.4 yards per contest. He is going to have White and Notre Dame’s other defensive starters on their toes in practices all week.
Kelly said Ketterer has actually handled 80 percent of the scout team reps in the last month. He has been a key player behind the scenes for a while now, but his importance has certainly been magnified given the opponent appearing next on the schedule.
White, meanwhile, has played against Navy twice. It would be three, but the two teams didn’t play each other last year for the first time since 1926 because of schedule alterations due to COVID-19 and White redshirted during his true freshman season in 2017.
Still, White is as familiar with the Midshipmen as anyone on the Notre Dame roster. He totaled six tackles against Navy in 2018 and 10 tackles in 2019. Kelly said it’s a combination of White’s intelligence and athleticism that allows him to excel against Navy.
“He is as fit as any player we have,” Kelly said. “He just takes care of himself. And he’s made himself to where he is today.”
As fit as White is, the human body is the human body. Even the fittest of athletes are not immune to injuries. Kelly said if the Notre Dame linebacker corps had more depth, White probably would have sat out last week’s game against North Carolina. He is battling a shoulder injury.
“I’d be less than truthful if I said he was 100 percent for last week’s game,” Kelly said. “If we could, we wouldn’t have played him. But trying to keep him out of the lineup is another thing. He battled through it.
“I think he feels so much better this week even after playing than he did the last week. The expectations are really high for him to be closer to where he has been.”
That’s good news for Notre Dame. The Irish have beaten Navy in nine of 11 games during Kelly’s tenure, so it’s not like missing White would have been a sentencing for a loss. Especially against a Navy team that just picked up its second win of the season in the last week of October.
Still, the Irish would rather have White in a game that is going to lend itself to plenty of opportunities for linebackers to make tackles. Notre Dame isn’t going to run much dime defense against Navy, if any. It could certainly be one of those brisk afternoons in Notre Dame Stadium when the public address announcer gets used to saying, “Tackle made by No. 40 Drew White.”
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