by John Vannie
Notre Dame takes to the road for the first time in five weeks to face Navy, whom the Irish have beaten 42 consecutive times dating back to 1964. Paul Johnson’s Midshipmen are 5-2 this season and are coming off a bye week after losing their starting quarterback against Rutgers on October 14.
When Brian Hampton injured his leg and was lost for the season, the job of running Navy’s efficient option offense fell to Kaipo Kaheaku-Enhada. The Middies average over 316 rushing yards per game, and Kaipo’s task will be to keep the ball away from the Irish and Brady Quinn. When asked how Kaipo will perform after using the bye week to prepare for his first career start, Johnson supported his new quarterback and backup Jarod Bryant.
“He’s human. Is he going to be a little uptight Saturday right before the game? Probably and so will I. But I would be uptight if Brian was there too. Once he starts playing he will be fine. I’m not worried about him or Jarod. Both of those guys have played in some big games. They will be OK.”
Johnson is probably correct provided Navy can stick to its base attack. If they fall behind and have to throw the ball, it’s doubtful that Kaipo can keep them in the game. Navy has run the ball six times for every pass this season, and their 5.4 yards per carry average is the main reason.
Hampton had been the team’s leading rusher prior to his injury, but Adam Ballard is a productive fullback and diminutive slot back Reggie Campbell is a triple threat running the ball, returning kicks and as the team’s leading receiver. The Middies will certainly try to catch the often-vulnerable Irish secondary with play action shots downfield.
Navy’s offensive line is on the small side as one might expect. The right side appears to be the weakest, so look for the Middies to run away from Victor Abiamiri. Kaipo is also only 5’11”, so the Irish should be able to knock down a few of his pass attempts.
The key for the Irish is to win the battle on first down and ultimately force Navy into third and long situations. As long as the Middies are able to gain 5-6 yards on first down, they will stay in the game.
Defensively, Navy has done a good job early in its first seven games by allowing only 14 total points in the first quarter. It will be interesting to see if they can jump out to a quick lead while Notre Dame adjusts to the option attack, while at the same time frustrating the Irish with a quick 3-4 defensive alignment.
The defense is built around 280 lb. nose tackle Larry Cylc and senior linebackers Rob Caldwell and Dan Mahoney. End John Chan joins Mahoney to lead the team with 4.5 sacks each. The secondary has some talented players, especially sophomore cornerback Rashawn King and free safety Jeromy McGown.
Notre Dame should be able to run the ball provided they can solve Navy’s scheme and maintain discipline in its blocking assignments. Brady Quinn should have time to throw and put enough points on the board to overcome any early success by the Midshipmen. The outcome should not be in doubt after halftime.
The Irish enjoy favorable matchups in all three phases of the game, but the offensive line will be tested mentally as much as physically. After a dismal effort against UCLA, this group needs to be aggressive and efficient against all three service academies on the schedule.
The question among Notre Dame fans is not whether the Irish will win, but how well they will play. Coach Charlie Weis expressed displeasure this week with his team’s standing in the polls, but the best way to alter voter perception is to dominate regardless of the opponent. As much as the fans want the team to turn in a break out performance, Navy is talented enough and certainly coached well enough to give the Irish a few problems and stay away from a blowout.
NOTRE DAME 31 NAVY 14